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New Macon State programs produce first 4-year grads

Macon State College’s first graduates in the new bachelor’s programs in history, English, biology and math are among the more than 800 students — the largest class ever — set to receive degrees during the 2009 commencement today.

“We certainly are very proud of our graduates because this means that they have met their personal educational goals and they are prepared to contribute to work force and economic development in the area,” said Barbara Frizzell, the college’s vice president for academic affairs.

“Our students tend to come from the local area and they tend to remain in the area unlike other local institutions that recruit from other areas and tend to return students to those areas,” said Frizzell, a 34-year faculty member and administrator, who will be delivering the graduation address.

The commencement ceremony will be at the Macon Coliseum at 10 a.m.

Of the 835 degrees and certificates to be conferred today, 455 will be bachelor’s degrees, according to information from Macon State, which offers 17 bachelor’s degrees with 29 different majors.

Most of the charter graduates entered the school between 2004 and 2005 with plans to pursue a two-year study track and then transfer coursework to a four-year college or university.

Macon’s State’s introduction of the four programs, some students said, was an unexpected opportunity to remain at a hometown college with the advantages of a close-knit learning environment and an affordable tuition.

Laura Fortson, who along with about five students will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in history, Thursday described her feelings about the formation of the program in 2007.

“If I’m not mistaken, they introduced the degree on my birthday, March 21,” said Fortson, a 23-year-old Macon native and the valedictorian of this year’s graduating class. “It was a gift from God.”

Fortson said she began studying at the college as a senior at Mary Persons High School in Forsyth, which participates in Macon State’s joint enrollment program for accelerated students.

A survey course on world history was one of her first classes.

“I was so fascinated by it, I think that’s what got me to continue,” she said. “The way the professor taught ... it wasn’t just a linear class. It was cause and effect. It was stuff you just don’t hear.”

Fortson, who plans to enter a civil service training program at Robins Air Force Base before going to graduate school, has been active in various student organizations on campus, including the History Student Organization, Model United Nations, Macon State Honor Society, Phi Theta Kappa and Phi Alpha Theta.

Speaking to her fellow graduates today, she said she plans to deliver a message of hope.

“What I really want to speak about is overcoming despite obstacles. Life is difficult, but we have to keep on moving. Our overall quality of life will be better in the long run having pushed through,” she said.

“Macon State is a lot harder than most people think. In this history program, one thing they teach us is to write and to write well. Coming into this, I didn’t consider myself a good writer. It wasn’t an easy four years. Now I can honestly say I’ve learned how to be an excellent writer, speaker and communicator.”

Molly Talbert, 24, said she enrolled at Macon State in 2004 to obtain an associate degree in information technology and after she did, she decided to get an English degree, too.

“I was really drawn to the classes. I knew automatically that’s what I wanted to do,” the Warner Robins resident and honor student said.

Talbert, who was an active member of Macon State’s English Studies Organization and presented coursework at the college’s Culture of Conflict undergraduate writing conference last month, used her senior project to examine literature by contemporary Southern women writers and the treatment of their female protagonists.

She said her opportunities to study outside of the classroom, share her interests with other students and learn from passionate professors have marked her experience at the school.

“The English department and the whole humanities department have worked overtime. You actually wouldn’t know it was a new program,” Talbert said. “You can tell the professors were really excited about some of the new subjects they were teaching.”

While unaware before Thursday of the historic component to this year’s graduation, she said: “I think that’s really good. It really marks where Macon State is going. They’ve been working so hard to get these new programs and now it’s paying off.”

Talbert said she has aspirations of attending law school or becoming an English professor, but she will be taking a break from school to work and evaluate her options.

An estimated seven graduates will receive the English degree today.

When Shannon Kerrigan came to Macon State in fall 2005, having moved from Aiken, S.C., to Crawford County the year before, she said she had reached her goal of attending a “hometown school” and was en route to getting a bachelor’s degree in biology.

“The plan was to spend two years here and go someplace else,” the honor student said Thursday. “But come that time, I didn’t want to leave.”

Kerrigan, who is among the estimated 13 biology majors graduating today, was able to continue her studies at Macon State.

She said not having to disrupt her track and remaining under the tutelage of her instructors provided her an overall “great” time at the school.

“I don’t think there was one best experience ... two years of being in my major classes,” she said. “I’ve spent a summer in the biology department at UGA. From what I’ve seen and heard, you don’t have that personable relationship with your professors there or at other schools. Here, your professors are your professors, but they’re your friends.”

Kerrigan, who participated in the college’s Natural Science Network and the International Students Studies Association, will be attending Tuskegee University as a veterinary student in the fall.

“It has grown so much since I’ve been here,” she said. “I hope one day to drive by and see a ‘University’ behind Macon State.”

To contact writer Ashley Tusan Joyner, call 744-4347.

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