Second chances result in success for Georgia Gwinnett College student
Shaun Mitchell’s first go-round at college didn’t end well, but it started off great. He went straight to Georgia Perimeter College after graduating from Parkwood Christian Academy in Stone Mountain in 2007. He studied hard, stayed on top of his classes and earned straight A’s in his first semester. It fell apart quickly after that.
“The problem was I didn’t love school. I was only there because my parents and mentors wanted me to go,” he explained. “But pressure and obligation are poor substitutes for passion. I started skipping most of my classes, and then I started failing most of my classes. After a couple years, I decided to stop wasting money.”
He left behind any ambition for higher education and went to work with a friend building websites and smart phone apps. He discovered he had a knack for information technology (IT), but not for promoting himself and finding clients. Several years of starting-and-stopping different jobs, freelancing, and even starting his own company followed as he tried to build his IT skills. Ultimately, he wound up bouncing between different restaurant jobs to pay the bills.
“Restaurant work had a lot of pros, but the cons — stress and being a dead-end job — began to really wear on me,” he said. “More importantly, there was no passion in it. It wasn’t a lifelong dream.”
In the meantime, he had noticed a significant difference between his knowledge set when it came to coding and that of his friends with formal training.
“I wanted to take my abilities to the next level and get a job besides waiting tables,” he laughed.
He decided to give higher education another try, but this time at Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC).
“This time, I was doing it because I wanted to,” he said. “I had spent several years at this point building up my skills as a developer. I learned who I was. And now, I wasn’t coming to school hoping to learn a new trade. I had my trade. I was pretty good at it. I wanted to shine. And for the first time in my life, I was actually excited about school.”
He had accumulated enough knowledge about IT out of school that he immediately became a mentor to his fellow classmates. This didn’t go unnoticed by his professors, one of whom helped him acquire a position in the Academic Enhancement Center. It was there Mitchell discovered his passion for helping others with learning, “both with school and, in general, becoming who they want to be.”
Mitchell believes the sense of community and family at GGC is what sets it apart from other schools. He said it was that sense of family that lead him through the challenges of school to being a college graduate. He loved being able to help his fellow students with IT, but he needed their help in other subjects just as much.
“I’m great at IT, but I am horrible with many other subjects,” he said. “So, I had a lot of people help me out, too. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned at GGC is this: on your own, you can do anything you set your mind to when your heart’s in it, but when you combine your strengths together with others, the results can be unbelievable.”
Mitchell says that, ultimately, he’d like pursue the theme of helping people learn and become a professor. First, however, he plans to gain as much versatile experience in IT as possible.
“I legitimately enjoy everything from web development to software development to database management to systems administration to hacking,” he said. “I want to do as much as possible to be able to best prepare my future students for whatever path they want to pursue.”
He wants people to know the most positive changes in his life happened when he finally got in touch with himself and started following his heart.
“It might get a little wonky at times, but it's the only way to reach your full potential.”
Mitchell joins more than 750 students who will graduate at GGC’s hybrid spring commencement, scheduled for May 12 and 13. The celebration kicks off online at 7 p.m. on May 12 with keynote addresses by GGC’s president, commencement student speaker and Alumni Board chair. The celebration continues May 13 with in-person ceremonies at 8:30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
In-person ceremonies will be live streamed at www.ggc.edu/commencement.