Editor’s note: This commentary is by Monique Priestley of Bradford, who is a graduate of NVU-Lyndon. She telecommutes for her job as director of digital for CampusCE Corporation in Seattle, Washington, and serves as executive director for The Space On Main.
Our state college system is an invaluable resource that should be protected to the best of our abilities. The pleas to keep students in Vermont after high school graduation is equally matched by the pleas for parents and students to recognize that we have a serious workforce talent gap in our state. These pleas can be addressed directly by Vermont schools such as Northern Vermont University (NVU) that offer online, two-year, four-year, graduate, and professional development programs.
I graduated from Oxbow High School in Bradford in 2004. I started my college years off at University of Vermont, pursuing degrees in computer science and Russian. Within the first year, I completed all of the web design courses that were available and realized that I would need to transfer to another school in order to further develop my design skills. Luckily, I was able to stay in-state and pursue an associate of arts in graphic design and a bachelor of science in digital media at NVU. I was even able to continue to explore Russian and had the opportunity to travel abroad to Russia in 2007 with NVU.
I transferred to NVU with both college and real-world web development experience, meaning that I was ahead of other students in several of my classes. Luckily, my supervising professor was supportive, flexible, and willing to work with me. He encouraged me to explore, to work on portfolio development, asked me to assist other students, and was lenient when my non-school life demanded more of my attention. (At this time, I was living in a remote, utility-less cabin in the woods of Corinth, working several jobs, and commuting to and from school.) He could have been annoyed with the extra energy it took to guide me, but instead, he treated me like an adult, expected me to manage my priorities, and was always there when I needed to talk through new technologies that I wanted to learn. All of my NVU professors shared these qualities.
The professors at NVU deliver an incredible learning environment, but they offer so much more than that. They look for opportunities for real-world experience by connecting students to local businesses for project-based learning. They look ahead at coming trends and adapt their lessons. Above all else, they treat the classroom like a professional setting that encourages high work standards, collaboration, and personal development. This is an area where I believe our state colleges excel. By the time I left NVU, I had a robust resume which included project lead experience in a studio environment, I had a multi-disciplinary portfolio, I had presented my portfolio to an audience of professionals, and I had transferable soft skills such as the ability to take criticism of my work.
After graduating summa cum laude from NVU in 2008, I left Vermont to attend University of Washington’s master of communication in digital media program in Seattle. In 2011, I returned to Vermont with a master’s degree and a full-time remote job for a Seattle-based software company. In 2014, I had the fortune to teach an advanced design course at NVU. Teaching gave me the unique opportunity to think through what was most helpful as a student and allowed me to build the class based on my own experience. I structured the course around professional portfolio development and was able to incorporate interviews with colleagues from Seattle and throughout Vermont who were experts in each of our weekly topics.
Had it not been for the positive experience that NVU provided me at a critical time in my life, I would not be the person I am today. I would not be the Vermonter I am today. Since returning to Vermont, I have invested countless hours in community development. To date, I have served upwards of 25 local, regional, and state organizations with a focus on community and economic development. I founded The Space On Main, a nonprofit coworking, conference, and community gathering place on Main Street in Bradford which opened in 2018. I am deeply committed to the success of Vermont, particularly when it comes to our small, rural towns. We all have real opportunities that improve the lives of current and future Vermonters. We have a real opportunity to share what it means to invest in where one lives. This starts with schools like NVU.