GCC Class of 2016 Graduate Susan Howarth is 'Grateful'

Wednesday, May 25, 2016
 

The student body at Gateway Community College (GCC) is a microcosm of the larger community. Each student has astory to tell. Many see GCC as a stepping stone toward a four-year university degree, and others as a financial necessity.
 
For graduate Susan Howarth, it was a chance for new opportunities and a new life. When Howarth graduated from high school in 1984, there was "not as much of a push for students to go to college; probably about 50-60% of students went to college, everyone else went into the workforce,” she explained.
 
After years of working as a medical transcriptionist and administrative coordinator she felt her prospects were limited. She was a single mother with a college-aged daughter, she struggled with severe health complications, she went through a divorce, and she remarried. It was then that she realized she needed to go back to school if she was going to make a good living and be happy.
 
"Being in school at 50 was terrifying at first,” she explained. “What exactly was it going to mean to be a student after 30 years? How could I leave the safety net? I had to learn how to be a student at this age; it's different from just coming out of high school.”

Howarth knew she could do it, but the additional concern of caring for her new husband made her hesitate. “How could I leave my husband, who was severely visually impaired with 90% blindness, alone for extended periods of time?”  Howarth had no idea what to expect. Then she remembered the insightful words of her father: “The things you regret are not the things you failed at, but the things you didn't try.”
 
With medical challenges of her own, Howarth became increasingly interested in how nutrition impacts well-being.

“You can directly influence your own health,” said Howarth.

She chose Gateway Community College for its accredited Dietetic Nutrition program. She was impressed with Marsha Doran, program coordinator, for taking time to meet and discuss the specifics. "Her welcoming attitude and positive demeanor contributed to my wanting to go to Gateway," said Howarth. “Throughout the program, my professors, advisors, and peers were very involved and supportive. Even if I couldn't find something, someone was there to help."
 
As a non-traditional student, Howarth found comfort in the resources Gateway offers through the Center for Educational Services, Student Accessibility Services, and the First Niagara Library and Learning Commons. Despite her initial trepidation about returning to school after 30 years, she found that she excelled at GCC: She is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, a work-study student in the Office of Student Success and Counseling, and the vice president of the Nutrition Club, which participated in the summer undergraduate research program at Eastern Connecticut State College for public health.
 
“It feels good to be a part of something I’m passionate about,” she said, “but also to be genuinely making a difference in people’s lives.”
 
Howarth will start her new career after graduation at a company that recruited her during a career fair at Gateway. “They were looking for what I was offering,” she explained. “But the company was impressed enough that they created a position that was specific to my qualifications. There’s room for creativity for whatever you want to do. Your experiences will always be determined by what you put into it."
 
Howarth calls her time at Gateway 'a blessing.' Mother and daughter are both members of the Class of 2016, albeit at different colleges, and husband, Kieran, who has since had surgery to improve his eyesight, is now a Visual Arts major who works part-time in the GCC Public Affairs and Marketing Office. In fact, in that capacity he was instrumental in the design of the new college seal, which will be unveiled at this year’s commencement.

"To share this experience with both my daughter and my husband as we’re all going through it, has been a blessing. My husband and my daughter motivated me to get started. When she started school, I helped her, and when I started school, she helped me. To be able to finish my program, two weeks after daughter graduated from college, and being a part of the first graduating class that has the seal which was created by my husband, just makes me full emotionally, and forever grateful."