Igniting a career: College promise program leading to career in healthcare industry

Published 7:05 pm Wednesday, January 18, 2023

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By Jeanna Baxter White

Word Master Media Group

Merritt Killian decided early on that he wanted a career helping people, and Ignite Davie has helped him take the first step toward making that dream a reality.

Growing up, his dad was often on deployment with the Air Force, so he and his siblings sometimes went to work with their mother who was a nursing supervisor at a nursing home. He remembers spending time talking with the residents who became like second grandmas and grandpas.

“It was really my first experience being surrounded by people who needed care, and it planted the seed that I wanted to help people and be there for them when others weren’t.”

Thanks to Ignite Davie College Promise, the 2021 Davie High graduate recently earned his associate degree at Davidson-Davie Community College at a minimal cost. This month, he will begin classes at N.C. State University as a transfer student majoring in genetics and minoring in health, medicine, and human values, with the goal of attending medical school to become a doctor or physician assistant.

“I would enroll in Ignite Davie 100 times over again; it’s a great program,” he said. “Many students couldn’t afford to continue their education without its financial benefits. It provides many opportunities for students like me to pursue education after high school, whether that be a technical or a transfer degree. I was very fortunate to be able to be a part of this program.”

Ignite Davie pays tuition and fees with a stipend for books for graduates to attend Davidson-Davie Community College (DDCC) full-time in a certificate, diploma, or associate/transfer program at either campus. Students must live in and attend school in Davie County to take advantage of the program. The funds kick in after any other scholarships or federal student aid have been applied.

Since Killian moved to Davie County in sixth grade, Ignite Davie paid for 75 percent of his tuition and fees. With many years of school ahead of him, he is thankful for the financial savings.

“My siblings and I are responsible for paying for our own education, so I had already considered starting at the community college. When my counselor, Ms. (Erin) Brown, told me about Ignite Davie,  I was excited about the opportunity. Not many students in other counties have programs or initiatives like Ignite Davie to help them pursue their education beyond high school, and I am grateful to be a part of it.”

Killian’s parents encouraged their children to pursue further education in order to have an easier start than they did. His father learned avionics in the military and is a technician at HondaJet. His mother earned her associate degree in nursing at Catawba Valley Community College. Killian will be the first in his family to attend a university. It’s a role he feels prepared for thanks to the excellent preparation he received at DDCC.

“My teachers were absolutely amazing. Mrs. Klinger made me appreciate math at a higher level. She was always by our side if we had any questions or needed help.

“My favorite class of all time was Anatomy & Physiology. Mrs. Phelps was willing to do anything she could to help. She explained concepts in a way that even students with no prior knowledge could understand, and furthered my interest in medicine.

“I know that some students think community college is beneath them, but I want to assure them that it’s not. Since DDCC has a credit transfer agreement with state-supported schools in North Carolina, the professors are required to teach the same things you would learn at a four-year school. You won’t lose out on your education because you went to community college, but you will save a ton of money.”

Killian also worked at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Davie Medical Center as a CNA/Emergency Department Technician/Unit Secretary, and volunteered at Novant Health Clemmons Medical Center in the radiology department, to gain experience in the career he is passionate about. At Novant, he observed colon and rectal surgeon Dr. Nicholas Robinson perform surgery. Another highlight was shadowing Davie Medical Center hospitalist Dr. Allyson Mentock. He enjoyed the hospitalist’s whole-patient approach to care and hopes to be able to do the same someday.

Killian’s advice to high school students?

“Start early and begin taking Career and College Promise dual enrollment classes during your junior year. My dual enrollment class credits allowed me to complete my associate’s degree a semester early. Had I started them my junior year I could have finished even earlier.

“Take Career and Technical Education classes. Taking Biomedical Technology 1 & 2, Health Science, and Anatomy & Physiology confirmed my interest in a career in healthcare and helped prepare me for my courses at DDCC. I was also able to complete my CNA certification.

“Explore your interests and discover what you want to do and who you are as a person. It’s okay if you don’t know, now is the time to begin figuring it out.

“Apply for scholarships. You may need the additional money even if you enroll in Ignite Davie.

“Enroll in Ignite Davie. I promise it’s worth it.”

“Ignite Davie is playing an instrumental role in preparing students like Merritt for their future careers while saving them and their parents thousands of dollars in tuition and fees,” said Carolyn McManamy, director of DavieCONNECT. “Ignite Davie is an investment in our students and at the same time, it is an investment in Davie County. We are providing students with the opportunity for more education and training as well as developing our own talent pipeline to meet the needs of our business and industry.

“It is very rewarding to read our student success stories and know that Ignite Davie is also impacting the vitality of our community, the success of our employers, and the prosperity of our future generations.”

This college promise program is not just a promise for today but for generations to come. So far, Ignite Davie has raised more than $2 million toward the $3 million endowment that will ensure that today’s kindergarteners will have these same opportunities when they become seniors in high school and are looking toward higher education.

To learn more about Ignite Davie, the complete eligibility requirements, or to contribute, visit IGNITEDAVIE.com.