When Sarah Dunbar first enrolled at Castleton University, the campus seemed a long way from Craftsbury Common, her hometown in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. She missed her family and friends, and as she didn’t have a car, she was dependent on other people for rides off campus. And although she’d participated in Upward Bound, a college-readiness program, in high school, the first-generation student occasionally doubted her ability to succeed in college.
At Castleton, Sarah found a home away from home in the Academic Support Center (ASC). Through the Summer Transition Program, Sarah met Director of Academic Services Kelley Beckwith and other academic counselors. They helped her select classes, manage her time, and navigate financial aid options. She sought tutoring from the ASC’s Math and Writing Clinics. She even found part-time employment as a Learning Center Assistant, scheduling appointments and assisting staff with administrative projects. And even when she didn’t have a particular reason to visit the ASC, it proved an ideal place to study. “It’s the right environment to focus,” she remarks.
Outside of the ASC, Sarah found success in the classroom, earning all As her first semester at Castleton. Slowly, she started branching out, joining various clubs on campus.
ASC staff noticed a change in her. “When Sarah first came to Castleton, she was on the shy side and a bit underconfident,” says Kelley Beckwith. “That quickly changed as her success in the classroom emerged. She then began challenging herself in other ways.”
Today, it’s hard to remember Sarah ever doubted her ability to thrive in college. The senior multidisciplinary studies major has a 3.83 GPA. During her time at Castleton, she’s visited St. John and Iceland through travel-study courses. In addition to serving as the Vice President of Academics in the Student Government Association, she is involved with the Student Education Association and the Rotaract Club. She has also served as a Community Advisor, mentoring students in the residence halls.
Sarah freely admits that juggling her various pursuits can be challenging. “I made sure the things I wanted to do really counted,” she says. “Yes, they look good on a résumé, but they served a purpose personally and professionally.”
Despite her many commitments, Sarah has found time to give back to TRIO and the ASC. In addition to working as a Learning Center Assistant, she has served as a Writing Clinic tutor and a TRIO Program Assistant. In these roles, she has mentored and sometimes counseled other first-generation students. “I like knowing I’m helping a student who is in the same position I was when I first started,” she says.
But don’t count on Sarah to start dispensing advice. She takes a far more laidback approach to mentoring. “When I’m the mentee, I want to feel free to make mistakes,” she explains. “Our conversations should be a two-way street. I have as much to learn from my students as they do from me.”
After graduation, Sarah hopes to teach elementary school in Vermont. Eventually, she intends to earn a master’s degree in education. “I’m fortunate to have found something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life,” she says. “Castleton made me fall in love with teaching.”
Sarah hopes other students will embrace adventure in their college journeys. “Be a trailblazer,” she urges. “Trying new things will be scary at first, but you’ll never know if you like them until you give them a go. And you’ll never know what you’re capable of until you try.”
-Dorothy A. Dahm