Posted on Sunday, February 2, 2014


20-year old Kayla Miller readily acknowledges her good fortune. The second-year student at MECC will be able to get her associate’s degree then transfer to UVA Wise to pursue her bachelor’s without taking out a loan or spending a dime of her own money (or her parents’) on tuition, thanks to the college’s AIMS scholarship program.

“If it wasn’t for Mountain Empire, I would be in a pile of debt because my parents simply can’t afford to send me to a high-dollar, four-year school. I fall into that

category where I get zero dollar Pell grants.”

Miller won’t be the first in her family to receive a college education.  Her mother received her bachelor’s in psychology but focused her energies on raising a family instead.

“So, I will be the first one to get a bachelor’s degree in something that I know I’m going to use and that I love.”

Miller says her experience as a substitute teacher in Wise County helped her decide on a career in special education.

“My ideal situation would be to be a regular classroom teacher with a collaborative classroom – the special needs children coming in and out or the low-severity special needs children staying in all day. Things like that.”

Kayla Miller

Miller admits that it’s going to be tough leaving MECC when she graduates in May. But she adds the time spent there has been enormously beneficial.

“The smaller college experience helped break me into college before I made the huge jump to the University in Wise. Now, I feel better prepared to go up there and keep my studies up than I would’ve been had I gone straight from high school.”

Accompanied by several of her fellow MECC students during a recent trip to Richmond for Every Day Is Community College Day, Miller carried a message for state lawmakers:  we’re not here just begging for money.

“By us coming here shows them that this is what we’re doing. They’re allowing us to reach our goals and our dreams by the community colleges helping us get those four-year degrees and get those careers.”

Miller wants her friends who joined the workforce right after high school or who might be undecided about their futures to know that community college is more affordable than they might think. Her advice?

“Don’t waste the opportunity that you have when it’s right there at your fingertips.”'

Craig Butterworth

A native of Richmond, Craig Butterworth is an award-winning broadcast journalist and communications professional. He has worked as a spokesperson, staff writer and editor for a variety of non-profit and for-profit organizations throughout the Richmond area.

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