In her sophomore year at The University of Toledo, Stacie Starr became pregnant. The same year, her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
She returned home to Lorain County, giving up on her dream of becoming a teacher. Then she found Lorain County Community College’s new University Partnership program.
“At a time when I felt hopeless because I wasn’t going to be able to pursue something I loved, LCCC’s University Partnership had just begun,” says Starr, who earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Ashland University through the program. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to become a teacher once I became pregnant. The University Partnership was a blessing. It saved my life. The fact that I could stay home and earn a four-year degree — I’m without words.”
Today, Starr is a classroom supervisor at Murray Ridge Center in Elyria, where she works with students with developmental disabilities to transition them into the next phase of life.
“I love working with youth and seeing impossible situations become possible,” she says, sounding like she could be talking about her own life many years ago. “Seeing students knocking down those obstacles gives me the most satisfaction.”
James W. Chapple, Ed.D., an education professor and faculty mentor at Ashland University who teaches through the University Partnership, says that, like Starr, many participants in the education program are nontraditional students.
“They have children, they are employed, they have families to take care of,” says Chapple. “We try to be creative.”
He says the college focuses on excellence, training teachers to be the best of the best. That training has paid off for Starr, who graduated in 2001, and in 2014, when she was a ninth-grade teacher in Elyria City Schools, won the “LIVE! with Kelly and Michael” Top Teacher Search contest.
Her success results from her genuine care for her students.
“When I pull up to Murray Ridge, I know I’m going to be greeted with smiling faces and students offering hugs,” says Starr. “It’s my slice of heaven.”
Starr has made it through adversity to come to a good place in her life. Her mother has passed away, but her son is thriving as a student at the University of Cincinnati; two other children are attending LCCC. And her office is a reflection of who she is today.
“My office reflects my personality,” she says. “Everything around me represents who I am or where I’ve been in life. The dragonflies in my office represent my mother. I try to keep what means the most to me near to me.”