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Making the grade: Students take different paths in earning academic distinction
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The three Barton Community College students named to this year’s Phi Theta Kappa All-Kansas Academic Team will forever be linked together for earning their distinguished Phi Theta Kappa awards, but each has taken a different path to achieve success. The paragraphs below tell their stories.

Morgan Cooper doesn’t know what it’s like to earn a "B" grade. She’s aced every class since kindergarten. She’s also a dynamo as a back-row specialist on the volleyball court, serving as the team captain this past season for Barton and leading the Cougars to a regional championship and a trip to the national tournament. She was also named Barton Homecoming Queen last winter. But given all the success, Cooper knows all too well what it’s like to struggle. She was struggling for her life last April after she was induced into a coma and was life-watched to Via Christi Hospital, Wichita, from Great Bend Regional Hospital. The coma was induced because Cooper was suffering from continual seizures – 22 a minute. At Via Christi, doctors couldn’t bring her out of the coma. She didn’t awake from the coma for two weeks. After waking, she had to learn to walk again – something she was told would take months. Cooper focused and through occupational therapy sessions, was walking within a week of waking from the coma. The seizures were diagnosed as pseudoseizures – a relief to Cooper and her family because her older brother suffered from epileptic seizures and died from one nearly four years earlier.

Cooper was still experiencing 26 pseudoseizures a day when she was released from the hospital several weeks later. She returned to Barton for finals week, completed what work she could, and was allowed to complete some finals online. Of course, she aced all of her courses for the spring semester, despite her late-semester ordeal.

Today, Cooper still suffers from the pseudoseizures, perhaps six or seven a month, she said. They mostly happen when she’s sleeping at night and she is only aware of them when that occurs because she is extremely tired when she wakes.

After graduating from Barton this spring with an associate’s degree, Cooper plans to pursue a bacehlor’s degree in nursing and perhaps pursue an advanced degree to become a nurse practitioner, or go on to medical school. She’s not certain yet whether she will continue her volleyball career at the four-year level. Priorities have shifted for Cooper, who has matured greatly over the past two years.

"When I came to Barton, it was strictly because they had volleyball and cheerleading, which initially I was doing both," explained Cooper. "I knew I would work really hard because I love school, so academics didn’t even factor into my choice, coming out of high school. Now, it’s all that matters to me. Barton academics are incredible and I couldn’t ask for anything better."

Matthew Koch is a traditional student who is taking a non-traditional approach to figuring out his career path. It’s fitting to say that the percussionist is confident to follow his own drum beat. He’s earned one associate degree from Barton; he will earn another one from Barton in less than four months. The 2008 graduate of Great Bend High School accelerated his progress by participating in Barton’s College Advantage program as a high-school junior and senior, which allowed him to earn concurrent high school and college credit for his work. With the jump start, he earned an associate degree from Barton last May in Automotive Technology, and he will earn a business-finance degree from Barton this May.

While at Barton, Koch plays percussion for Barton’s music programs. He hopes to continue his musical experiences when he transfers to Fort Hays State University next fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business-finance. Koch eventually wants combine his degrees and his interests by opening his own window-tinting business. The future entrepreneur is thankful for the local community college in his backyard, which allowed him the affordability and flexibility to pursue his educational and occupational dreams.

"Barton has given me a lot of opportunities and now they’ve given me another one," he said, referring to the statewide academic honor he has received. "This is a pretty big deal for me. I’m very honored to receive this award. They aren’t handing them out a dime a dozen."

A year ago, Angela Johnson was a national statistic on the negative side of the bell curve. She was among 15 percent of adults in the United States who did not have a high school diploma. Today, the 30-year-old wife and mother of three no longer wears that label. She earned a GED last February and now is among a select group of 49 community college students statewide being recognized for academic achievement.

Originally from Fayetteville, N.C., Johnson’s family relocated to Fort Riley Post one-and-a-half years ago. Once her youngest child was in elementary school, she began to focus on her own education again. She earned her GED through Barton, then began taking Barton’s Leader Skills Enhancement Courses, six-week college classes that are offered to Army families.

"What was I showing my kids, especially with no high school diploma," Johnson explained about her decision to go back to school. "I wanted to show them that I at 30, if I could do it, then they could stick with it and do it. I wanted to show them that they can set goals and reach them; anything is possible."

Johnson has utilized LSEC’s six-week cycle to accelerate her progress toward graduation; she received special permission to take four classes this cycle, so that she can graduate in May. She plans to graduate from Barton with an associate of science degree. Then, she will pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing, or perhaps pursue an advanced degree and become a physician’s assistant.

Johnson’s husband, John, will be deploying soon, so she plans to take the summer off from school, focus on her children and put her educational pursuits on hold till fall. For now, though, Johnson is concentrating on balancing home life, motherhood and a hectic school schedule. But she will take a one-day reprieve from it all on Feb. 17 to publicly recognize her move from one spectrum of the statistical bell curve to the other.

"I am beside myself right now, I just want to jump up and down and scream, which I have done several times already," said Johnson after receiving news about her academic honor. "I honestly didn’t think I had a chance to receive such an honor. My husband is standing beside me saying, ‘I knew you would do it.’"