Student of the Month Mackenzie "Mack" Smith

Mackenzie “Mack” Smith made the most of the quarantine time during the pandemic. He seized the opportunity during his layoff from work to improve his prospects for future career advancements by enrolling in college. The decision came with challenges, however, scholarships, combined with the flexibility that comes with online learning, made it possible.

In his role as Team Lead at the Mineral Wells, WV-based Hino Motors Manufacturing, Smith realized his opportunities for promotions were limited without a degree. Constraints on his finances and time made it difficult to envision how he would overcome this obstacle. Then, in March 2020, the pandemic forced a worldwide shutdown and Hino paused its production and laid off its employees. As the quarantine persisted, 45-year-old Smith grew anxious about when and if the company would call them back to work. His concerns were compounded by the realization that this region provided him with limited employment opportunities without a degree. “I realized I couldn’t do anything else here, making what I make, without further education.”

Motivated to make the best of the downtime from work, Smith enrolled at WSCO in the online business management technology program. His timing happened to coincide with the college’s application window for scholarships. To his favor, Smith was awarded the Spring Start institutional scholarship as well as the Nine Oak scholarship through the WSCO Foundation. “Scholarships made it possible to take the classes that I did,” admitted Smith. “I couldn’t have afforded to [go to college] without them.”

Shortly after he started taking classes, he was called back to work. Although he was enrolled in online courses that didn’t necessarily interfere with his work schedule, Smith suddenly realized he needed to figure out how to successfully juggle being a full-time student with his full-time job. His desire to do well made him hyper-focused on utilizing every moment efficiently. “I would be sitting in my truck sometimes with a flashlight studying for a class and my alarm would go off to remind me to go into work,” he laughed. The avid outdoorsman even found it necessary to include his laptop among his gear during his weekend camping escapes. “You do what you have to do.”

While his first semester provided him some challenges, it gave him important insight on how he could best proceed this fall without being overwhelmed, including enrolling in 8-week condensed courses. This flexible learning option allows students to spread their classes over two 8-week sessions within the semester, which for many, allows them to maintain full-time status. “I’m excited about the idea of getting the same hours without being overwhelmed by so many classes.”

While acknowledging going to college and working full-time isn’t without its challenges, Smith offers encouragement to other adults considering a similar pathway. “It isn’t too late. It will seem overwhelming, and it may be difficult to get back into learning in a school environment, but it absolutely can be done. You just have to want it enough to make it happen.”