POWELL, Wyo. - Toni Cook took a couple of years off after graduating from Cody High School in 2002. When she was ready to resume her education, she became a full-time student at the Northwest College Cody Center. She earned an associate of applied science degree (AAS) in business management in 2006 and is now back in classes on a part-time basis to pick up a second associate's degree.
She took time between her studies and her job as an administrative assistant at West Park Hospital to answer questions about her educational path and her experiences attending classes off campus.
Q: Why did you choose to wait two years before starting college?
A: When I graduated from high school, I didn't know what I wanted to do. There was a time when I considered joining the Air Force. I also thought about massage therapy. I'm glad I waited because now I know what I want and how each of my classes will help me in the real world.
Q: You were working minimum wage jobs. How could you afford college?
A: The first year I afforded it through federal Pell Grants. That really helped out. My second year, I qualified for grants, but I also took out a little student loan. That's also why I chose Northwest-it's affordable. The way the business management program was set up helped, too. I went to classes in the morning and then helped out at my parents' restaurant during the lunch rush (her parents owned Noon Break). I studied in the afternoon and then went to my night job at a rental car agency at 4 p.m.
Q: Why did you take classes at the Cody Center instead of on campus in Powell?
A: I didn't want to drive every day, plus it was more convenient with my jobs being in Cody. If I had gone to college right after high school, I probably would've wanted to live in the residence halls on campus. But after being on my own for two years, that wasn't important to me.
Q: Were you able to earn a degree without taking any classes in Powell?
A: I took all but one class in Cody. That's because I wanted to take my English in a classroom. I just felt better about learning English when I could see the teacher in the class. I ended up taking an online English class later and was surprised. It was really not that bad, but I wasn't ready to make that leap right at first. I feel that way about math, too. That's the nice thing about having the campus so close, you have options for how you want to take classes.
Q: How hard were your classes after being away from school for a couple of years?
A: Not that bad. There was a group of us who went through the whole two-year business management program together. It helps to have familiar faces to talk with and compare notes with when you're all in it together.
Without a doubt, my capstone was the most challenging class. We worked in groups on a business simulation. We acted basically as the head of a company, but didn't have any idea what product we were selling. We didn't really know what we were doing until we changed something to get the outcome and then would realize from the outcome what we needed to do differently the next week. We really had to work hard at it. Then we had to analyze and put together a public presentation at the end. It doesn't sound too bad, but it was not much fun.
I loved my public speaking class. I didn't think it had much to do with my degree, but it's a requirement. I was very nervous when I first started, but once we got out there and did two or three speeches, it was a breeze. We got really into it and had discussions. It was so much fun. Ray Burns was the teacher. I knew him before, but I didn't know he owned Cody Custom Cycle until I started that class. I thought that was pretty cool that he took time out of owning his own business to come in and want to teach.
Q: You already have your associate's degree in the bag. Why are you going back to get another one?
A: When I started, my goal was to get a degree as fast as possible so I could get a better-paying job. That's why I went for an associate of applied science degree in business management. It gave me all the technical and business classes I needed, without all the advanced English and math classes. It worked. I've got a great job that I probably wouldn't have had a chance at without a degree. But now I want to go for a bachelor's, so there's no way to get out of those math classes. Can you tell I hate math? This will give me an associate of science degree (AS), which will transfer to a four-year college.
Q: Now what?
A: Well, I plan to finish my AS next year and then I'll look into my options. It would be great to stay in Cody and take classes through the University of Wyoming Outreach Center in Powell, but I don't know for sure.
Q: Any advice for others who are thinking about taking classes at the NWC Cody Center?
A: Before you do anything, call Nancy Gilmore (senior office assistant for the Cody Center). She's great. Whatever you want to know, she'll tell you what options you have. She does everything; she's even brought books to me from the college bookstore in Powell. It's great to always have someone there to help you when you need it.