One former student’s struggles created his heart for helping people

Jerome WestIf you’re thinking school’s not the place for you, Jerome West is here to tell you he has thought your thoughts. “I used to hate school with a passion,” he said. “I struggled. It was not a positive experience.”

Now a doctoral student, Jerome’s perspective on education first changed when he earned an associate degree at Stark State. “It was my turning point,” he said. “I felt empowered. That’s what education does.”

After his 1999 Timken High graduation, Jerome worked as a security guard and coached wrestling. “I never thought I’d go to college,” he said. “I didn’t like school and I wasn’t motivated.” A mentor eventually convinced him otherwise, but even while taking classes he didn’t take his education seriously at first, he said.

“Then all of a sudden I had 30 credit hours and I thought, ‘Wow, I’m halfway there.’” When his aunt graduated from Walsh University, he said, “I saw this was vital for more future.”

Always a man with a heart for helping people, Jerome graduated from Stark State in 2006 with a degree in human social services. “I want to change people’s lives, help eliminate barriers.” He’s candid about his initial apathy in school and his anger at his father’s early abandonment, but has used them to his advantage. “I found you can use failure as a stepping stone,” he said. “My struggles help me empower others.”

Earning a bachelor’s degree in organizational management at Malone University, he discovered he wanted to keep going. He earned dual master’s degrees in religious education and counseling at Liberty University online, and has now gone on to doctoral classes at Capella University. “I’m glad I started at the associate degree level or it would have been overwhelming,” he said. “If that seems like too much, start with a certificate. Sign up for one class, then take another. Just start somewhere.”

In the midst of his early struggles in school, “a teacher told me, ‘Jerome, you hate school because you’re not challenged,’” he remembered. That changed when he found motivation by tapping into a compassion for helping youth and passion to give back. His jobs have included mental health case manager, teacher, youth pastor, adjunct professor and wrestling coach. “When you get into social service, you’re not in it for the money,” Jerome said. “I have a passion to help people reach their full potential.”

If he can do it, Jerome said, so can you. “We can no longer use the excuse college isn’t for everyone,” he said. “That’s a cop out. Discover how you learn and who you are; be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. You have to be willing to take a risk, get out of your comfort zone.”

During that self assessment, “find out what you’re passionate about, then connect with a mentor to empower you,” he said, “not just a model mentor to show you, but a visionary mentor who sees your potential and inspires you to make your dreams a reality.”

Jerome hopes eventually to return to the roots of his love affair with education: his ultimate career goal is to become president of a community college. “My experience at Stark State eliminated social, economic and psychological barriers. It enriched my self worth and set me on a path where change was inevitable.”