Phillip Imel, an associate professor at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) who was named a Fulbright Scholar this year, has positive things to say about his experience as a community college student.
The 53 year old Greenup native attended Ashland Community College, an ACTC predecessor, before transferring to Morehead State University and later doing doctoral work at the University of Virginia.
"Without ACC, I can unequivocally say that I would not be where I am today!
“I, like most of the students who attended ACC, worked a full-time job and went to college full-time. All the professors were approachable and it made for a place of community.
“My professors knew me by name and in the first semester of my second year, my chemistry professor helped me get a position at Allied Chemical Corporation in Ironton Ohio. This was a life changing event for me!
“Many of the students that I graduated with at Greenup County High School went directly to a university and came back, for various reasons, and attended ACC. ACC was my first choice. All of my class sizes were small and the teaching excellent!
“I started classes in my summer after graduation, and I was shocked at the level of difficulty of the courses. My first semester I had 2 B's and one C, and that never happened again!”
Imel teaches accounting and finance at NVCC, and he will teach those subjects for the next 10 months at Urals State University of Economics in central Russia. The prestigious Fulbright program sends teachers and students abroad to foster international relationships and share teaching methods.
He appreciates the power of education to change people’s lives, which is one of the reasons he enjoys teaching. “Reading and education were central to what my mother wanted for us,” he said. “Like a lot of people, we were poor but we didn’t know it.” His mother scrimped to send him to school in Greenup. Then he worked his way through college.
Asked if community colleges are still relevant today in giving other people the same opportunity he had in the 70s, Imel answered, “they are more relevant today than then!”
“As a University education grows in cost, it only makes sense to attend a community college for the first two years, especially in the light of the abundance of transfer agreements that allow entrance into a university as a junior!
“I have taught at universities, but by choice I teach at a community college. Why? Because I like to teach, and teaching is the central mission of community colleges. Universities are about research, and rarely will students get professors to teach their lower level classes, unless it is a huge class of 100+. Usually university students will get graduate assistants in their initial classes.”
“Interaction with professors can help students through the learning process, and that is an advantage of community colleges,” Imel said. He still remembers the ACC professors who exposed him to a new world of learning, such as Ernie Tucker in history, Professor Georgakis in economics and Dan Bailey in agriculture.
“Even at my large college, we never have a class over 45 students, and I have open office hours so my students can visit me anytime that I am in my office or make appointments if they wish,” he said.
Imel believes that community colleges are for more than transfer students.
“We live in a culture today that believes that to be successful you must have a graduate degree and that is false! Community colleges fill a needful niche for those students who are interested in getting into the work force quickly with a technical degree, and this is not offered at most universities. I have had accounting students who finished a two year degree and went directly to work, sometimes before graduation, at a position with a future.”
Philip’s mother still lives in Greenup and works at the greenhouse owned by Imel’s brother Kenny. His nephew Andrew Imel started college at ACTC last fall.
“The reason I am attending ACTC is because I feel that I can get a great education here,” said Andrew, a Greenup resident and 2011 graduate of Greenup County High School.
“I am also active in my community, working, a member of Little Sandy Volunteer Fire Department and an Assistant Scout Master of Troop 172. ACTC gives me a great opportunity to learn and focus on my education while living at home.
“At the moment I am looking at a few options for my career goals,” Andrew said. “It is difficult to select something that you are going to do for the rest of your life. But at least I’ve started college, and that’s the first step.”
For two generations of the Imel family, community college has been the first step. For Philip, it was the first step in an international career. For Andrew, it’s the first step into the adventure of life.