PENDLETON --- So many words come to Herm Allen's mind when asked to describe 21-year-old Koshier Dawson, whom he befriended and mentored while serving as her counselor in the Educational Talent Search (ETS) program.
Determined. Committed. Wise beyond her years. Resilient. "Most important, she is genuinely kind," said Allen, who is coordinator of ETS at Tri-County Technical College. He met Koshier when she began the ninth grade at Westside High School. Allen has been there for Koshier, now an Early Childhood Development (ECD) major at Tri-County, through some dark days following the deaths of both of her parents.
"In high school she didn't have a circle of friends and felt as if she didn't belong. I offered encouragement and told her don't look for friends. Be one. I started to see her flourish after that, finding friends and connecting with fellow ETS participants," he recalled.
"ETS gave Koshier a good peer group to identify with. They share a common goal. They were like minded and college bound. Like her, they had high aspirations."
ETS is designed for students, like Koshier, who have the potential for college but not the resources. ETS, which has been federally funded at Tri-County since 1981, is designed to assist students in grades 7 - 12 with academic support, cultural exposure and assistance in understanding their educational opportunities and options.
ETS is part of the TRiO programs which are designed to provide academic and motivational support to first-generation (neither parent has a bachelor's degree) and income-eligible students in Anderson, Oconee and Pickens counties who might otherwise have found higher education beyond their reach.
ETS program services are free of charge to those who qualify.
Specifically, Tri-County's ETS provides academic, personal and career counseling; middle school tutoring by mentors who are retired teachers; online tutoring for high school participants; study skills and SAT/ACT workshops; cultural activities; and assistance in completing and submitting college admissions and financial aid applications.
ETS counselors assist students with one-on-one counseling and with setting up action plans to apply for scholarships and to build a strong college application, he added.
When Koshier received her Tri-County acceptance letter in 2012, her mother was in the hospital in the final stage of kidney failure. She says she has dealt with the tragedy of losing both of her parents by moving forward, by keeping going. She was very close to her mother, who died just two days before she was to begin classes at Tri-County. Koshier, still reeling from losing her father to a brain aneurysm in 2009, questioned whether she was ready for another challenge.
"I asked myself what my mother would want. I made it to the first day of classes. I said I can't let this overcome me. It reinforced my desire to succeed. She was my main motivator," said Koshier.
"She began moving forward and pulling something positive from this. Wisdom comes through hard times. I often say there is a message in our mess," said Allen.
She entered Tri-County as a university transfer (pre-med) major after graduating from Westside High in 2012. "I wanted to begin at a small college, where transportation was not an issue," said Koshier, who rides the Electric City bus to class every day.
She felt accepted and at home her first semester at the Anderson Campus, where she says she was a name, not a number. "I took 16 hours my first semester. I threw myself into my studies, which I don't advise any freshman to do," she said. Koshier, who has a learning disability, was failing biology for the second time and needed to make some decisions. She realized she needed to reassess her academic strengths -- and her major.
Since Koshier was to take classes at the Pendleton Campus the next semester, Anderson Campus Counselor Butch Merritt put her in touch with Croslena Johnson, director of Student Life and Counseling. Johnson helped her to address some financial aid issues and talk about career choices.
"It was a big reality check. I decided I want to work with children so I majored in ECD. I want to bring something positive to their lives. Working with children, sometimes you are their family and you may be the only support that child gets," said Koshier.
"When she told me she was enrolled in the ECD program, it resonated with me. She is a nurturer, with a kind demeanor and so patient," said Allen.
Changing her major solved the academic challenges. Koshier celebrated her first time on the Dean's List last semester.
But there were still challenges at home.
The loss of her parents left her and three siblings struggling to survive. "It was hard to pay bills at home and I didn't know where to start," said Koshier.
"When she came to me, she wasn't having a pity party. She was looking for answers," said Johnson. "I talked to her about being resourceful and identifying her needs and priorities."
March of last year was a breaking point for Koshier. She moved out of the family home into the Salvation Army Shelter for three months. "It was good for me. It was my first step towards independence, but my family was upset that I was staying there," said Koshier who is now living on her own and holding down two jobs, one of them as a work/study in Johnson's office.
"This young lady is amazing. I'm very proud of her. She is a hard worker and she perseveres -- no matter what. "She is strong minded and focused. When I first connected with Koshier, I just needed to make sure she had the support and resources she needed to get on her feet and be successful. It is very difficult for students to concentrate on academics when they are struggling to meet the basic needs most of us take for granted. It can really impact an education. Fortunately, Koshier never considered quitting college," said Johnson. "She has learned how to be resourceful. Although she has gone through so much, she continues to look beyond herself to help others."
"I told her it's not where you start but where you end up," said Allen. "She reached a turning point when she changed her major and solved the academic challenges. Now she can be a role model for others. I tell her someone is always watching you. You may be the encouragement that others were for you," he said.
"I'm proud of her and who she's become. Although she has separated physically from her siblings, she can be a model for them. I'm glad we've had the opportunity to cross paths. I told her the other day, 'you have a lifelong friend in me,'" said Allen.