Education’s transformative power
In the students at Ohio State’s campus in Lima, Dean and Director Charlene Gilbert sees the power of education to transform lives. Through education, she believes we are planting seeds that will reap a great harvest for generations to come.
In a few weeks, I will complete my first year as the dean and director of The Ohio State University regional campus in Lima. My duties are many and varied, but one of my favorite events this year was titled the “The Gift of Education,” which was an evening dedicated to thanking the community members who support our scholarship funds. I found myself deeply moved by the stories of the students who had received scholarships and inspired by the generosity of the donors who made those scholarships possible.
Our ability to provide financial support to our students — who have the ability to succeed in college, but have limited resources — is critical to our mission as a public land-grant university. As a nation, we have embraced the importance of higher education as essential to the future of our country, our labor force and, indeed, our democracy.
We know that a four-year college degree increases a student’s long-term earnings and significantly decreases rates of unemployment. We know that in the last recession, workers with a college degree fared much better than workers who did not have a degree. In addition, there have been numerous studies that have documented the economic and social impact of a college degree on the lives of students and families. Higher education is a very good investment — perhaps one of the best investments we as a society can make in the future of our children.
Last year, when I looked out at our entering first-year class, I realized that the students who walked onto campus that day were changing their lives and we, at Ohio State Lima, were not just serving those students, but we were serving their families and their communities. The students on this campus will be the future lawyers, doctors, veterinarians, entrepreneurs, teachers, social workers and engineers in our communities. And many of them are talented students who would not have been able to pursue higher education if it were not for Ohio State Lima.
I consider it a great privilege to be part of the Ohio State community. I am particularly honored to be part of the Lima campus, where we have a deep commitment to ensuring that the students in our community have access to one of the state’s greatest educational resources.
So, all of this is why I have made access to higher education my life’s work. In addition, as some of the older, wiser members of my Southern family would say: I, myself, am a living testimony to the transformative power of education.
My grandfather was a farmer. He had a fourth-grade education; he believed deeply that higher education would change the lives of his children. And he was right. He used his small farm to give every one of his 17 children the opportunity to go to college, including my mother, who graduated from the Flint River Farm School in Montezuma, Georgia. Years later, she graduated from a university one state over in Alabama, became a registered dietitian, married my father and was a first lieutenant in the United States Air Force.
In the space of 10 years, my mother had escaped poverty. She is now one of the longest-living members of her family, is healthy, has seen both of her children graduate college and, most likely, will live to see all four of her grandchildren graduate college as well. Her grandchildren have no idea about the journey my mother has traveled.
One day, when I tell my own grandchildren her story, the point in the story where the road changed for her and our entire family will be the moment in which my grandfather decided to send my mother to college. He did not know what was down that road; he had no way of knowing how much my mother’s world would change. He didn’t know the opportunities that were waiting for my mother. There was really no way my grandfather could have envisioned the generational impact of that one decision, but his intuition that higher education was a pathway forward was prophetic. And his decision to risk everything on education has forever changed my family.
My mother’s pursuit of a college degree changed her future, just as hundreds of students here at Ohio State Lima have had their futures changed by that same gift of education. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring, but we do know that through education, we are planting seeds that will reap a great harvest for generations to come.