A total of 189 first-year Aiken Technical College students attended an orientation on Thursday – with about 100 accompanied by their parents or other family members and friends.

The parents’ participation is essential in providing support for their children, said ATC President Dr. Susan Winsor.

“A college education anticipates opportunities for careers or opportunities to transfer to a four-year college,” she told the students. “You’re investing in your own future with the support of your families. I congratulate you on taking that first step toward your goals.”

Michael Dowd, a non-traditional student, enrolled at ATC – his first venture into college after more than 20 years. He took some prerequisite courses over the summer and will focus on his choice of computer technology.

Dowd is enjoying his new experiences, and added, “This gives you a different perspective.”

ATC asked its new students within each program area to sit together and meet with faculty and staff members. Three teenagers and longtime friends – Strom Thurmond High School graduates Cody Griffith and Ben Clements and Wardlaw Academy graduate Tonya Baynham – talked before the formal program. All three plan to complete core courses and transfer to other schools.

Baynham was a teacher cadet her senior year, learning about the teaching profession. She completed an internship on campus in a kindergarten class. ATC is a good choice for her before she goes on to USC Aiken to get an early childhood education degree, she said.

Winsor encouraged the new students to get involved with some of the wide range of campus activities. ATC also offers services that include counseling and academic support.

Current students Ashley Morgan and James Kelly attended the event to talk with the newcomers about the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. That organization requires a 3.5 grade point average, but the effort is worth it, Kelly said – paving the way for potential scholarships to four-year schools and for great job recommendations. Both of them have stories that can inspire the first-year students.

Morgan graduated from Aiken High School in 2003 and went to work in Augusta as a customer service representative. She was laid off in 2013 and chose to enroll at ATC. After completing her prerequisites, she is one of 10 students chosen for the radiologic technology program.

“It’s funny where life brings you back,” Morgan said. “Instead of feeling sorry for myself when I lost my job, I used that opportunity to come to this school and get my degree. It’s an amazing reconnection.”

Kelly graduated with honors from Strom Thurmond in 2000 and signed up with the U.S. Army National Guard. In recent years, he has worked as an EMT and helped out as a school bus driver before working in the law enforcement field for two years. He is planning to complete a paramedic course and go on to the School of Nursing at USCA.

“I was raised by my grandmother because of some hard circumstances,” Kelly said, “I knew I wanted to do something in health care. I want to talk to the students here, because it’s not where you start, but where you complete. That’s the biggest thing.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.