On May 11, the first cohort of students from Houghton College’s Utica extension center celebrated the completion of their associate of arts degrees. All fifteen of them made the trip to Houghton, NY (Allegany County), to walk the chapel stage with their peers from Houghton College Buffalo, Houghton College Online, and Houghton’s main residential campus.
When asked which parts of the program they’ve found most rewarding, the Houghton Utica students have a long list of classes they’ve enjoyed. Communication, writing, history of religion, music, and anthropology are particular favorites. These courses, one student points out, have given them the opportunity to learn about a variety of different cultures.
All fifteen members of this inaugural cohort originally hail from Burma. Their families, like many others in Utica, settled there after coming to the U.S. as refugees.
Mark Caruana, Dean of Houghton College Utica, says the program aims to educate and empower “students who might not otherwise consider college as an option, or might not be able to succeed in [a different] academic setting.”
Houghton Utica: Education as Opportunity and Empowerment
Eh Moo Gay Walter, one of the graduating students, describes how “Dean Mark” approached him at a service of the Utica Karen Baptist Church, to tell him about the fledgling extension center. According to Eh Moo Gay, the program offered the opportunity of a college education to him and others in his community, including those who came to the U.S. at 20 or 21 years old and were unable to attend high school.
Houghton College Utica offers a rich and broad liberal arts curriculum, designed to support English language learners. In the first year, courses help students adapt to college life while working toward fluency and mastery in written and spoken English, so they can engage their course materials, concepts, and assignments with confidence. The program also involves placements in the local community for hands-on work experience, allowing students to explore possible career options.
A Lasting Impact
Blu Doh Keh, another member of the graduating class, says he knew some of the other members of his cohort before beginning the program, but over the course of two years with Houghton Utica, they’ve formed close friendships.
Now that he’s graduated, Blu Doh Keh is looking forward to visiting his family in Burma (Myanmar). Afterward, he plans to return to the U.S. and pursue more schooling.
“What’s been exciting for me has been to see and to meet students who [at first] seem overwhelmed and a little bit frightened, ultimately not only bonding with each other but supporting each other,” says Caruana. “You can see the confidence growing in them. There’s this transformation in them that is both exciting and very rewarding.”
Caruana is proud of what he hopes will be a 100% completion rate for the first cohort of students in the Utica program. Of the sixteen students who joined the inaugural cohort in 2017, fifteen graduated this May, and one student has taken a year off, but plans to complete the program next year.