Name: Julie Marlatt
Class: Heartland Class of 1999
Degree: Associate of Arts
Interviewer: Colleen Reynolds
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Julie: Hi. I am Julie Marlatt, and I am a Heartland Community College Alum. I earned my associate's in arts degree and graduated in 1999.
Colleen: Julie, what led you to Heartland?
Julie: Well, I was a first-generation student. I attended Tri-Valley High School, a small high school just right outside of Bloominton-Normal. I wasn't really sure what my path was going to be or what I was supposed to do, but I saw all my other friends going to college and making plans and I said, 'I better figure something out, and I better go some place.' So I looked to Heartland Community College. I had somebody else that I knew that was attending here, and they were able to show me the ropes and kind of explain how you get to different classes because some were in church basements across town, and some were actually at the campus off Route 9. So they helped me navigate and figure out how to get started and fortunately, I ended up on the right path to earning my assoicate's in arts degree as I was just kind of fumbling through and just taking classes, as someone directed me. I met with Academic Advising and they said, "Okay these are the classes you should take."
So I just plowed ahead and took semester by semester.
Colleen: So as a first-generation college student, what kind of challenges do you think you faced?
Julie: I had no clue what college was all about. No one in my family really spoke to me about what it meant to go college. You know, when ACT testing was going on, nobody said, "Okay you need to prep for this, and this is what you need to prepare for because it's going to impact what you do when it comes time for college." The most influence I had was when I was nine years old, my grandfather would always talk to me about college. "Julie this is something you need to do. You may not understand what all this is right now, but this is something you need to do." My uncle had actually graduated from college so he had some experience with sending my uncle through there, but no one in my immediate family had that background, so I really had to figure it out on my own. I did not know what financial aid was. I did not know what a FAFSA was. I did not know that there is funding out there to help you go to the community college. I had to pay my entire way to go to college. I did not have anybody supporting me for that. So I ended up working full time at Sears. I worked there for seven years and they actually gave me tuition reimbursement, so I got 75 percent of my school paid for as I was earning my associate's degree, and then of course my bachelor's degree as well. But I used my tax refund and I scraped money aside every single term to be able to pay for my tuition and books, and I commuted and I drove from home. But I still worked full time and I juggled that, so it took me three years to earn that associate's degree but I got it done. It took me a little bit to figure out.
Colleen: Did you feel like there were some support systems here at Heartland for you? I know you went back at a time when the College was very new and where, in some cases, maybe those support systems weren't systematized or a full department?
Julie: There was actually a really great program -- I think it was a class, maybe a two-credit-hour class -- and it was about career development, college placement, and just your next steps. It was within the Counseling and Advising department, and I had the opportunity to meet with an advisor for a couple hours every week and we would talk about planning and what's next, and 'how do you figure out your next steps' and 'how do you do career searching'; 'what is the Occupational Outlook Handbook'; 'what are these resources that you can put in your toolkit to help you figure out your next path'? So while it's not the Student Service component that they have now here at the College, there still was resources there back in 1996 that I was able to count on and that really made an impact on my life and helped me get to the next step.
Colleen: At what point did you figure out what you wanted to be when you grow up, and how do you think you were led there?
Julie: That was a fun process. I really enjoyed working with people and helping people so I thought, 'You know I am going to major in Psychology. This is what I want to do. I'm going to get into that profession where I can guide people through their troubles.' And then I utilized that resource -- Occupational Outlook Handbook -- and I saw that you need to get a master's degree and doctoral degree to do what you want to do and as a first-generation student, I really didn't understand what that meant and I was scared and I said, 'Okay, I am changing my mind. I am not going to do that.' Well, that was right at the time as I was applying to Illinois State University. First of all, I was surprised at myself that I actually earned my Associate's Degree and I successfully completed it. Part two was, 'Cool, I am going to go and I am going to apply to a University.' I had to pick a major, so...I still liked helping people and working with people. I worked at Sears and I was in Human Resources. I was a store trainer, so I was always guiding people on how to work in the retail environment. I'm like,'Okay, I like talking in front of people. I like working with people.' I looked through all the majors and there was something called Speech Communication. So I was like, 'Hmm, this looks like something I would like.' I looked at the catalog...I looked at the course descriptions and I got excited about it. So I switched from Psychology to Speech Communication. But thankfully, because of all the courses I took here at Heartland prepping for that major in Psych, I only had one other class I had to take at Illinois State in Psychology to complete my minor. So I came right in. All my classes transferred. Everything was completely transferred over -- no troubles whatsoever with the associate's in arts degree. I only had one class for the minor and then I got to focus on the Speech Communication courses and that is when I decided that's what I wanted to pursue. As far as figuring out what I wanted to be in life, I still had no clue. My parents asked all the time, "What are you going to do with a Speech Communication degree?" It's not that degree where you're studying Elementary Education where you're going to be a teacher, or Accounting, where you're going to be an accountant. They had no idea and I said, 'You know I will figure it out.' And little did I know there was actually a profession in Admissions and I found that out later, which is where I ended up in my career.
Colleen: I'm interested in how you got there. How did you find out about that career and then decide that you wanted to commit to it?
Julie: Well with Admissions, since I kind of fell into attending college on my own, I really didn't know there were people out there that got paid to talk to other people about going to college. But I found myself, all through my college experience, communicating with other people. 'Hey, if I can do this...if I could figure out how to navigate Heartland Community College, and then figure out the financial aid process once I went over to Illinois State University, and navigate through this whole system...you can do this too.' And I just found myself naturally doing it. And so after I graduated, I saw that there was an ad in the newspaper, The Pantagraph, and it was advertising for Lincoln College and it said that they wanted an Admissions Counselor. [I had]no idea what it was but it mentioned that you would talk to students about going to college. I was like,' I can do that. I am already doing that.' So I interviewed at the Lincoln Campus. I was extremely nervous. I interviewed against 80-some people. It was a very quick interview for your first time in; you got about five minutes and it was the next person and it turned out they were going to hire two people -- one for the Lincoln campus and one for the Normal campus. Lincoln College Normal had just launched their bachelor's degree programs and they needed an admissions representative to bring enrollment for that program. The president at the time, Jack Nutt, said, "You know Julie, you're familiar with the Bloomington-Normal area." He felt like I had what it took to be able to work in that role and I had the opportunity to launch that program at Lincoln College-Normal and work with an excellent group of people there. I had a lot of mentoring and a lot guidance but we also had to carve out an niche. We had to figure out how to do it because we had never done it before Lincoln College, and within the first year I knew that that was the place for me. I pursued my master's degree at Illinois State University in College Student Personnel Administation. I did that while working full time and thankfully I had the flexibility to be able to pull that off and I had an amazing experience and was able to move up the ladder at Lincoln College. I was promoted to assistant director, associate director of admissions and also marketing, and then I was able to take the position of director of admissions at Lincoln College-Normal, where I held that before I decided to move on to another institution. But that is really where I got my start.
Colleen: So it seems like a lot of the time management and other skills that you experienced at Heartland led you down the path. It almost seems like it was meant to be.
Julie: It was absolutely meant to be. From when it started of how I got my path, and how I found where I am at. I am extremely passionate about helping first-generation students get acclimated and find out that they do have an opportunity to continue their education and actually pursue an education, or even the working adult who is saying, "I have to work full time, I can't juggle this." Well, I have that side too. Even though I was technically a traditional student, I was working full time and juggling my education. So I feel like I can speak to both populations and without going through these experiences and getting my start at Heartland Community College, there's no way I would be where I am at now as the coordinator of admissions at the College of DuPage, and it has really taught me all the foundation that I need, and I have been able to be successful at different places because of my start here.
Colleen: What would you say to current students today who are facing some of the same struggles that you faced or who don't quite yet know what they want to do? I think we have quite a few students who are in that position.
Julie: When it comes to prospective students who are juniors and seniors in high school that are looking and exploring, I highly encourage you not to put Heartland Community as your back-up school or your number three or four. Heartland Community College should be within your top-ranking school choices and you need to check them out just as much as you are checking out that four-year public and four-year private. It truly is all about the fit and the benefits that you are going to get out the campus like Heartland Community College -- smaller classes sizes, the one-on-one attention you are going to get from faculty -- it's a huge advantage, not to mention the affordability component. That is one benefit of it. But you can end up leaving here with half of your bachelor's degree done with little to no debt and that is huge especially in this economy. You can still get all the same experiences that you are going to get at a four-year school and you can make that transfer and you can do extremely well, get positive grades and then you can get additional scholarships based off the grades that you earned here at the community college. So I strongly encourage you to put it as a number one and check it out and see if it is a good fit for you. I also recommend that as you're finishing up high school you take four years of math and make sure you are prepping for that math and do well on your placement test. Math was a challenge for me and if you really work hard at that math component, it's gonna make the transition into earning your degree much easier. Take the time, earn that degree because that is something nobody can take away from you and that's going to increase in value over time. So I strongly encourage at whatever point you are, whether that's personal enrichment or to actually earn that degree or certificate to see if Heartland Community College can be that fit.
Colleen: Julie Marlatt, thank you for sharing your story.
Julie: Absolutely, thank you so much for having me here, Colleen.