A Graduate’s Resilience Carries Her Through to the Next Chapter of Her Life
Erika Vaughn, of Berkeley Heights, is a bright and ambitious young woman who loves to learn. A recent graduate of Union County College with her Associate in Arts degree in early childhood education, she will be continuing her education at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison this spring. But like many young adults today, finding the path of her career has taken many twists and turns. Thankfully her experience at Union helped her find her way.
Ms. Vaughn was born and raised in Berkeley Heights and is a 2010 graduate of Governor Livingston High School. She was active in sports in high school and did well academically. In her senior year, she applied to multiple universities and was accepted to her top choice, the University of Delaware. In the fall of 2010, she began her collegiate career there as a psychology major.
After a year and half at Delaware, Ms. Vaughn found she still had not adjusted to the large university environment and having changed her major to early childhood education, she was now further behind with completing her degree. It was time to come home but she didn’t want to stop going to college. She decided to attend Union for the spring 2012 semester to catch up on credits while she determined which institution she would transfer to in the fall. It was a plan that she and her parents were happy with, little did they realize Union County College would be the right fit.
During her time at Union, Ms. Vaughn also worked part-time as a teacher assistant at a daycare center and in an internship at the accounting firm where her mother works. By working as a teacher assistant, she confirmed for herself that she enjoyed teaching. At the internship she learned that she also could work with numbers, which would later influence other decisions in her life.
At the same time, as she made more friends and settled in at Union, she learned about Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year institutions. If a student’s grades are good enough, after one semester at Union, they are invited to become a member of PTK. Ms. Vaughn received her invitation in the fall 2012 semester.
Despite working part-time and taking courses full-time, she found the time to become more active with PTK. Her life at Union continued to blossom and her grade point average continued to climb. The environment at Union, its small classes and readily accessible faculty, were an ideal fit for Ms. Vaughn. She ran for an officer position with PTK and was elected Vice President of Service for the fall 2013 semester.
When Ms. Vaughn first went to college, she chose psychology as her major due her love of helping people. A good listener and always one to step up and assist others, her role as the VP of Service was a perfect fit. Her responsibility was to coordinate PTK’s service activities. This past fall, PTK was the lead organization for the C4 Week – a week-long series of events that supported the Community College Completion Challenge- a pledge by Union’s students to complete their degree. Ms. Vaughn described this experience as “an amazing opportunity to work with all members of the College community, not just my fellow students, but members of the faculty and administration. To see all the planning and hard work come together during the successful events throughout the week filled me with joy and a feeling of accomplishment. Everyone had a good time.”
On Jan. 15, 2014, Ms. Vaughn graduated from Union County College with her Associates degree in early childhood education. During the Commencement Ceremony, she was the student speaker and addressed her fellow graduates. In her speech she spoke about the need to be resilient in life, something she had personally experienced during her academic career. She stated, “You become stronger from the hardships, learn from mistakes, and keep moving forward. If you should look back, you will see how far you’ve come, and all that you have achieved. This is the beauty of resilience. Not only do you become a stronger person, but you are more prepared for the challenges that you encounter.”
Ms. Vaughn started classes at FDU at the end of January where she has been accepted to a joint BA/MA program. She will complete her BA in mathematics, a minor in psychology, and an MA in education. When she is done she will be qualified to teach middle school math. Yet, always planning for the future, she envisions herself, later in life, as the principal of a private or charter school. However her school would be a little different than those in the education system today. In her vision, students would attend from 7am to 7pm, all meals would be provided, each day would begin with physical exercise, the day would be filled with academics and the late afternoon with sports and the arts. Students would be engaged all day long and parents would know their kids were safe. Ms. Vaughn realizes that some may see her idea as impractical; others may call her a visionary. She believes it to be a realistic part of the future; a future in which, no matter where life’s path takes her, will be improved thanks to her resilience.
Pictured with Ms. Vaughn are Union County College Board of Trustees Chair Victor M. Richel and Union County College Trustee Frank Bolden. Both Mr. Richel and Mr. Bolden are also residents of Berkeley Heights, NJ.