May 9, 2013

Southeastern Illinois College has a long and proud history of providing accessible and affordable higher education to citizens of its district, and a bridge either directly to a career, or in preparation for transfer. 

Those were the types of results Shawna Browning of Carmi expected – a stepping stone to a four-year institution and then a solid career in a computer science field. Along the way, though, Browning – a Spring 2013 graduate with honors – has sought out the full community college experience – with opportunities for personal growth, expanded horizons, service, and learning both in and out of the classroom.

Browning’s time at SIC actually began before her high school career ended, as she took some college courses during her summer breaks.

“I had heard about SIC throughout high school, and had such a good experience that I even got my mom to go here to further her education,” Browning said. “Taking classes during high school made the workload much easier because I had some of my generals down already,” she added.

Once on-campus, Browning quickly involved herself with the college’s TRiO/Student Support Services program. TRiO provides education counseling, cultural events and field trips, mentoring, and more to students who meet program guidelines. Browning qualified both via income guidelines and as a first-generation college student, and quickly found that the TRiO staff encouraged her to broaden not only her cultural horizons, but also her career aspirations.

“I was going to be a computer science major, because it came easily to me,” said Browning. “I enjoyed it, but there was not that passion to set it into motion. With the workshops and advice that I got through TRiO, I decided to really sit down and think about not only what I wanted to do, but who I wanted to be…and they helped me decide that I have a higher calling. I know that my goals and aspirations are high; I thought they were impossible…TRiO dared me to dream and challenged me more than I ever thought possible.”

Browning now plans to go into the field of robotics, concentrated especially in the medical field. Between watching her grandmother’s struggle with the pain of arthritis, and speaking with a close family friend – Mac McGarvey – about his time in the military and in veterans’ hospitals, Browning felt a call to that career.

“Working on prosthetics to improve the quality of peoples’ lives would be amazing,” she said. “After watching my grandmother struggle, and hearing Mac’s stories, I decided I would strive to keep other people from suffering the same way, and I want to help the people who have risked so much for our rights, safety and protection that they live with the scars of the battlefield.”

Browning also had involvement with the highest levels of SIC administration, as she served as student trustee to the SIC Board of Trustees during the 2011-2012 school year.

“I gathered so much during the year I was there. I learned a lot about how much board members think about the students here in each and every case on campus,” Browning noted.

Browning has also served as student government vice president, and president of SIC’s Phi Theta Kappa – the national honors society for community colleges. Browning said the group just completed an anti-bullying campaign, garnering nearly 250 signatures at SIC pledging to stand up to bullying, and even taking the message to a local elementary school.

Browning’s mother works at that school, and reported back, that a week later, the elementary school students were still talking about the PTK presentation on bullying, and were applying the principles on the playgrounds.

“This has really showed me that if you see a problem, you can make a difference,” Browning said. “I wanted to tackle this issue for a while, but with the support of my fellow members, it was made possible.”

So when looking back at her time at Southeastern, Browning will have a treasure trove of memories upon which to reflect. What she won’t have, though, is a mound of student debt.

“I worked hard in high school and got the presidential scholarship for my grades. TRiO helped me get scholarships, and even with filling out my FAFSA,” Browning said. “Between scholarships, aid, and a few hours working on campus to help with gas, I have no debt. It means the world to me. To achieve my dreams I am going to have to go to school for a long time, so I am glad that I have two fewer years of debt to pay back at the end.”

Browning touted the personal nature of Southeastern as a big key to her success.

“SIC is wonderful,” she said. “It’s small enough that you get the individual attention that you need…the teachers challenge you and push you to achieve your best.”