Michelle Buckholz is a first-year student who knows some of the darker roads that some people tread. She also knows that one of the best ways to a brighter path is through education. She enrolled at Centralia College seeking a new start and a new career and is earning the credentials that will help her help others.
“My goal is to get a human services degree so I can do social work. I would like to work in counseling,” said Buckholz, a resident of Napavine. “I want to work with teens, to keep them from going down the path I went down.” She said she wants to make a difference in the lives of young people.
Drugs and alcohol were part of her past but she recently completed treatment to get her life back in order and give her the tools she needs as she sets out on a new road.
“I’m here with a fresh start and a focus for what I want to do,” she said.
It wasn’t that she didn’t have things going for her. Buckholz was an honor student in high school some 20 years ago, earned a scholarship and started at Washington State University with great expectations. WSU proved to be too big for her so she dropped out and moved closer to home. Before long she accepted a job in banking, a career she stayed with for 16 years.
Buckholz could have stayed with her banking job but she knew she needed to do something different to help her get her life turned around. That change centered on education.
Centralia College was the logical place since it was close to home. It is her fourth college in 20 years but this time she knows she will get her degree.
“I knew I had to jump in and do it (enroll in college), otherwise I probably would never do it,” said Buckholz. “Now my life isn’t as chaotic as it was. Now it’s going to kids’ games and doing homework. I keep myself pretty structured.”
Also, Centralia College faculty members are helping her find success.
“I’ve got great teachers; they’re all willing to help and they are always available–and that includes on weekends,” she said. “It makes a big difference. I’m determined to finish so I can show the people I’ve let down that I can do this.” She also takes advantage of the tutoring center to help her when the need arises.
Another resource she’s tapped into is Student Support Services, a program to help first-generation students through Centralia College and onto a four-year college or university.
“When I first heard about Student Support Services I thought that it was only for younger students but I was encouraged to apply. I got in and it’s great,” she said.
She’s a single mother of two kids and they also provide a lot of encouragement to keep her going.
She expects she will have this year to earn her two-year degree and then she plans to attend The Evergreen State College. Ultimately she would like to begin her social services career working in the region.
There are aspects of going back to college that are very different. For one thing 20 years have passed and she brings a lot more maturity.
“When I went to WSU the classes were huge. I wasn’t held accountable for being in class, the instructors couldn’t tell if there was a student missing, there were too many in the class. Also, I wasn’t very focused,” said Buckholz.
Now that she has a clear vision for what she wants to do and is going to school where faculty and staff care about her success, the outcome promises to be a lot different this time around.