"How Community College Has Changed My Life"
Eric Essen, Kaskaskia College
2008 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest Winner
Like many high school students, I was not certain about my future education plans.
Even though I was an honor roll student, I did not want to pursue a four-year college
degree. To me, school was something I had to do to get a good job. It never held my
interest. Therefore, I did not want to devote more than two years to my post-secondary
education. I wanted to graduate as quickly as possible, with enough background for a
I thought I would eventually enjoy a career in computers. I had been building and
restoring them since I was 14 years old.
Eric Essen, winner of ICCTA's 2008 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest
One thing was for sure; I was interested in
either a small technical school or a community college.
I wanted something entirely different from my experience in a large St. Louis school district. Anticipating a move
to Carlyle, Illinois, I toured the campus of Kaskaskia College. The staff and teachers
were cordial and very accommodating, and the school environment was intimate and personable.
It seemed to meet all of my academic needs. Consequently, I enrolled in the Cisco
Networking computer program.
After starting classes, I was introduced to Kaskaskia College's Trenton Education
Center coordinator. She had heard of my knowledge with computers and was looking for
a computer teacher for the senior citizens classes. She recognized my strengths and
gave me a wonderful opportunity. I was hired to teach Computer Understanding I,
Computer Understanding II, and Introduction to the Internet. To my surprise,
the more I did my lesson plans and taught my classes, the more I enjoyed it.
I discovered that I did not want to be behind the scenes repairing and setting
up computers. I wanted to be the person introducing others to the world of technology.
For the first time, I was excited about school and what I wanted to do with my life.
During my second semester at Kaskaskia College, I changed my major to secondary education.
I thought I would enjoy teaching high school computer classes. However, during my first
education class, my instructor placed me in a third-grade classroom. I had to observe
the teacher and students for an entire semester. It was such a great experience that
I decided to pursue a certificate in secondary education. I want to help elementary-aged
children navigate the computer in a safe and informative way that will enhance their
To say the least, my community college has changed my life. It has been instrumental
in helping me make a career choice. It has helped me discover my passion for teaching.
Caring faculty and staff saw my potential and gave me the opportunity to use my talents
and explore new possibilities. Kaskaskia College has given me a wonderful foundation for
the rest of my academic studies. At only 20 years old, I can already say I am a faculty
member. I hope to always be a part of the community college system.
Eric Essen received a $500 scholarship for his winning essay, donated by the Illinois Community College System
Foundation. For additional information on the Paul Simon Student Essay Contest, please contact
Kim Villanueva at 1-800-454-2282, ext. 1.
Illinois Community College Trustees Association|
401 E. Capitol Ave., Suite 200
Springfield, IL 62701-1711
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