Macon Early College 2012 graduate Ethan Edwards went to Raleigh this summer to represent the Western North Carolina Early Colleges, specifically Macon Early College, at the annual New Schools Summer Institute Conference.
Edwards, 19, will return to North Carolina State University on Friday to prepare for his sophomore semester with the Wolfpack where he is studying mechanical engineering. Edwards began attending MEC in 2008 and graduated in 2012 as the class valedictorian. In addition to his high school diploma, because of the unique opportunities at MEC, Edwards also graduated summa cum laude with an Associates Degree from Southwestern Community College. While attending MEC, Edwards made a commitment to his community by becoming an active member of the Clarks Chapel Community Development Organization, Clarks Chapel United Methodist Church and was an Eagle Scout.
When asked by MEC Principal Todd Gibbs to speak at the conference, Edwards immediately agreed and was excited for the opportunity to brag on his alma mater.
"I thought it would be good to do something like this for my high school," said Edwards. "I was given the information about what I needed to do, including the theme which was 'Leading, Learning,' and on my way out of Mr. Gibbs' office, I asked him how many people would be at this conference. 'Oh, probably about 850 to 900,' he said. That made me a little nervous, because out of all the 40-odd college classes that I have had, not one of them was public speaking."
Despite being apprehensive about speaking in public, Edwards spoke to a crowded room about the impact MEC has has on his life.
"MEC is a very unique school in the way that a student earns both their diploma and an Associates Degree during their high school career," said Edwards. "There are trade-offs in forms such as no sports, the limited number of students who can enter MEC, and sometimes even limited scholarship opportunities for graduating students, but MEC has several traits that 'traditional' high schools cannot offer. One advantage is that students are able to experience a college-like setting that helps to prepare them for a four-year college or university. This is done in several ways, whether it's having to plan your college classes with an advisor, go to an instructor's office after hours at SCC, or having to keep up with your progress on your own, very much like at a university. I have myself doing all of these things at NC State, and I am very happy to have had the preparation while at MEC."
During his speech in Raleigh, Edwards explained that his decision to attend MEC was not an easy one, but something he needed to do to ensure his future.
"I knew that by going to MEC I would have to leave almost all of my friends and sports behind but I was prepared to make the sacrifice in preparation for my plans for the future," he said.
In addition to the advantage of dual enrollment in college courses at MEC, Edwards said he benefited from the classroom size.
"Another advantage that MEC has is that class sizes are small, so it is a very comfortable setting for both the students and the teachers, and pretty much everyone knows each other," said Edwards. "It is also advantageous that students are able to connect and network with college instructors. Lastly, a very important advantage is that because a majority of your classes are taken at SCC, a student is exposed to a very wide range of different kinds of testing, which is very helpful when adjusting to the testing process at a university."
With all of the opportunities available through MEC, students are afforded opportunities that leave lasting impressions on their lives.
"The number one influence that MEC has had on me is that it taught me to get to know my instructor, whether they are MEC or SCC, and to not be afraid to ask questions," said Edwards. "This has been the most invaluable skill that I have learned in high school, and it has helped me to no end at NC State. In fact, the more I talk to the teacher and ask more questions, the better I do in their class."
With the vision of ensuring that every student in North Carolina graduates ready for college, career and life, North Carolina New Schools was launched in 2003 by the Office of the Governor and the North Carolina Education Cabinet with initial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Since its inception, North Carolina New Schools has joined with partners in business, education and government at every level to develop and support innovative schools that share a fundamental goal: Engage all students with powerful approaches to teaching and learning and graduate all students ready for college, careers and life.