NCI partnerships fit lifestyle needs

Whiney Cassell family supports and encourages her dream of a teaching career. Her children created handmade notes of encouragement, honoring Cassell’s hard work, as well as the efforts of her classmates, (L to R): Jacklin Clark, of Patrick Springs and Casey Tucker, of Spencer. (Contributed photo)

Whitney Cassell wanted to continue her education and pursue a teaching career, but finding a traditional higher education program that would mesh with her adult responsibilities proved difficult – until she tried the New College Institute (NCI).

Cassell, 28, said she started to attend Radford University after graduating from high school. She then attended Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC).

“Then, I tried to go through” classes offered by the Old Dominion University in Norfolk, she said, adding that attempt was short lived due to a number of factors, including a lengthy commute and her family.

Cassell said she realized it would be the same for most traditional programs, “especially if you don’t have the resources or the ability to go off to a four-year university, or if you’re older and have a family.”

After learning about NCI, which partners with other institutions to provide access to degrees, certificates, credentials, internships, professional development, and non-credit educational opportunities, Cassell said she decided to try again.

She enrolled in Longwood University at NCI, and joined with other NCI students to earn a degree while attending classes in Martinsville.

“I liked that I could take classes in person and at night,” Cassell said, adding her class schedule was a hybrid of offerings, with half of her classes online and the remainder in a classroom.

“It fit” her lifestyle, Cassell said. “I could still be a mom, and NCI enabled me to continue my education.”

NCI staff and those with partnering agencies “are very respectful and encouraging of families as well,” Cassell said.

In fact, during a recent class presentation, Cassell’s youngsters distributed handmade notes of encouragement to many in Cassell’s class.

“They came down to watch and showed their support,” she said.”They had made handwritten notes for all the juniors and seniors because they had seen how hard I had worked and knew everyone else had worked hard too,” Cassell said.

A senior with Longwood University at NCI, Cassell is preparing to help out in classrooms as a student teacher this fall as she continues the path to becoming a teacher.

She said that would not have been possible were it not for Longwood’s belief that “we don’t just change our students’ lives. We support families.”

It certainly has worked for Cassell.
“I love that I am able to be a mom and go to school,” she said.

NCI is a state-funded educational entity that provides access to bachelor’s degree completion programs, master’s degrees, teacher endorsement programs, teacher recertification courses, and more through partnerships with colleges and universities.

In addition to college-level degree and certification programs, NCI offers experiential learning opportunities, summer camps, non-credit lecture series, financial aid resource events, and other community programs to promote access to education throughout the region.

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