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One student’s story, finding her place at MCC

Darlene Smith

MARSHALLTOWN – Moving from school to school until she was a senior in high school, Darlene Smith never felt she had found the place where she belonged until she enrolled at Marshalltown Community College.

After attending three different middle schools, three different elementary schools and five different high schools due to moving around and life circumstances, Smith found it difficult in the education system and never had the desire to go to college. “Because I moved around a lot when I was younger it was hard for me to be confident and fit in. I was always relearning things I already knew or coming in on subjects that had already been started.”

Smith primarily grew up in Las Vegas, NV where, in her opinion, the educational system wasn’t what it should be and her family was anxious to get away from the city. “Teachers failed to recognize that not everyone grows up the same way. We don’t necessarily understand slang terms or meanings that others do.”

In 2011, Smith and her family moved to the Marshalltown area. She finished high school at West Marshall and graduated in 2012. At the time, she didn’t believe that she did well in class so didn’t consider attending college. Being a Mexican-American, in her families’ mindset, they believed that when you graduate from high school you go into the workforce. She worked in several customer service positions at Meskwaki and Walmart. She realized that customer service was not the area that she wanted to be in and decided to explore attending college.

She wanted to overcome her fears. Her biggest fear being that she doubted herself. She doubted whether she would be able to juggle being the mother of two, a 6-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter, and wondered if she would succeed in college.

Her father passing in 2015, a little over 5 years ago was another influence for Smith to return to her education. “My dad always wanted me to go to college. He said you need to be somebody.” Smith’s father was a waiter at a casino on the Las Vegas strip. “English was not his first language. I helped him try and learn English and he even taught me some French he learned at his job. I was always proud of him for learning to communicate. He is a big reason I wanted to go to college.”

Not only is Smith attending MCC and going to graduate in Spring 2021 with her Associate’s Degree but this past semester she earned all As. She is also a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. “I have had a great support system with my mom, boyfriend and his daughter. She has been great about watching my kids when I am in class and they feel so comfortable with her. They have all pushed me to keep working hard.”

Another person that has been a big influence in Smith’s drive to succeed and always a big supporter is a West Marshall High School art teacher, Lori Sogge. “She was one of the only people that interacted with me at West Marshall. We were almost more like friends. I didn’t blend in well at school and didn’t make many friends. She got me into art and why I am here and interested in graphic design. She made me see that even if my art wasn’t like everyone else’s that is what made it special.” Drawing has always been a passion for Smith and she is hoping to keep the creative side to the career she does choose.

Smith’s mother has been a big supporter during her time at MCC. “We have become best friends through the years. She is really proud of how far I have come and how well I have done at MCC.”

Smith isn’t sure what her next step with be after graduating from MCC but she has already been accepted to Iowa State University. “I have kids and it’s a long drive. With winter and I’m not sure how many classes I can take online I’m not sure if I will attend after graduation or not.” Smith has considered taking a year off her education and then returning to ISU and searching for employment in the time between with the Associate of Arts Degree she will earn. “I appreciate my time at MCC. A bachelor’s degree would get me more career-oriented education.” The classes that she took at MCC were a wide range and not centered on a specific career. “When I took Graphic Arts Principles class, I realized I need to practice more with the software that is used in this field. I want to improve my skills and figure out my next step.”

When asked if she is enjoying her time at MCC she commented, “I have had great interactions and specifically appreciate the other older students. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one and they can relate to what I am dealing with. Everybody is here for their own reason.” One specific class that Smith mentioned was her public speaking class. There were students that were parents, fresh out of high school and everything in between. “I loved the diversity. We shared so many different stories and talked about our lives. We were friendly with one another and were able to open up.”

Along with the classmates and friends she has made, Smith has enjoyed the instructors that she has had as well as the ones she meets in the halls. “I am glad for the people I have met here. Everyone is friendly and I have found common ground with some instructors that I have never even had. They are really good people willing to help you and the teachers really care.”

Being a member of Phi Theta Kappa and becoming more involved this semester is something that Smith is looking forward to. “I know that volunteering is a big part of what they do in the community. I am looking forward to feeling more like I belong in the community.”

Smith has enjoyed her time at MCC. “It’s been hard work but worth the effort. I am proud of the grades I’ve gotten and the GPA I have maintained. I encourage anyone older no matter what your age, you can do it. You can go to college. Just put in the effort and don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

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