When Matt Newman stands in front of a room of high schoolers to talk about life after high school, he likes to share the story behind his Mountain Empire Community College ID cards. That’s right. Cards, plural.
The path to where he is today, a FastForward Career Coach at Mountain Empire Community College, wasn’t a straight one. It took Newman 13 years to try things out, see what worked and what didn’t, before he found his way back to Mountain Empire as a student – and ultimately, as an employee.
After high school, Newman was supposed to go to a four-year university. He applied but never went through with it. Instead, he enrolled at Mountain Empire Community College, and he earned his first of three ID cards.
“I kind of felt like because I was going to community college, that I settled. I thought I was too good,” said Newman. “I was there about two years before I dropped out. That’s when I decided to get on with Wallens Ridge State Prison as a correctional officer.”
On paper, the job seemed like a lucrative job, $16 an hour, compared to the $7.50 you could make at the local market. And the pay and state benefits were good for Newman, until they weren’t. That’s when he earned his second Mountain Empire ID card.
“I decided one day that I wasn’t happy doing my job, so I took some credits in social science and criminal justice,” he said. His coursework paid off, because he got a new role with the prison as a case manager, but he still wasn’t fully satisfied. Here comes the third ID card.
“Here I am, coming back, but this time I graduated with my associate degree, 13 years after I started the process,” he said.
Mountain Empire Community College was so impressed with Newman’s tenacity and grit, that they asked him to be the commencement speaker during his graduation. That speaking opportunity ended up being an informational interview of sorts, because there was a coaching position open and Mountain Empire thought Newman would be a great fit.
“I got my degree to get out of corrections, so the timing was perfect,” Newman said. “I applied for the position, and I got it.”
Newman’s responsibilities have changed a bit since he accepted the position as FastForward Career Coach. Now, he not only coaches and mentors students who are going through career training, but he’s also helping students who are pursuing academic degrees find their way through the program.
“For me, I had a lack of direction. I didn’t have a coach to sit down with me and do assessments and find classes and careers that were a fit for me,” said Newman. “With folks now, I tell them if they want that bachelor’s degree, coming to us first is a cost-effective way to do it, and it’s more efficient to transfer through us then go to a four-year first.”
Newman’s first-hand experience is his greatest talking point, especially when he’s talking to younger students. That’s when he lays his Mountain Empire ID cards, side by side.
“This first person, that’s you. That’s where you are. I’ve been there. This second person, he’s a working adult who is now back because he didn’t finish what he started. And this third person, he looks happy, but he’s not because of the decisions this first kid made.”
Does Matt Newman sound like the career coach you need? If you’re in Big Stone Gap, you’re in luck – but if you’re in Virginia, you’re a click away from connecting with a FastForward coach in your area who can support you every step of the way.