'We are doing the impossible'
“If people don't know what to do with their lives, I send them to Central Carolina Community College!” said Kimberly Neiss of Cameron, a 2010 graduate of the college and a single mother of 10.
Neiss speaks from experience. So far, five of her children have graduated from or are attending the college. She plans for the others to do so also.
Neiss was divorced in 2003 and received custody of the children, then ranging in age from a toddler to teens. In 2005, her oldest sons, Thomas and Patrick Gietzen, withdrew from high school.
Determined that they must continue their education, Neiss began searching and found Central Carolina Community College’s Adult Education Center in Lillington.
Thomas received his high school diploma, and Patrick earned his GED. She encouraged them to continue their education, and both enrolled in college courses at CCCC.
Then, the store Neiss worked at closed, so she decided it was the right time to return to school. She chose CCCC for herself and said she was impressed at the education she and her sons were receiving.
“I loved my experience at CCCC,” Neiss said. “I loved my instructors and everyone whom I and my kids had the privilege to learn from. They build you up as you go along and advance from class to class.”
Theresa Gietzen, Neiss’s daughter, smiled as she recalled her mother’s enthusiasm.
“Mom is awesome!” Theresa said. “She always taught us that having a good education is the most important thing you can do for yourself to get further in life. She told all of us, ‘I found your college. Everybody is going to CCCC!’”
From 2007 to the present, education at CCCC has been the family focus. The only exception has been the oldest daughter, Mary Scrivens, of Rolla, Mo., who is earning a degree from Campbell University via distance education. In the 2009-10 school year, Neiss and five of her children were all attending CCCC at the same time.
“We spent a lot of time in the Financial Aid Office,” she said, recalling the careful planning, as well as the help received, to finance educations for herself and multiple children.
As the younger children have grown, they have followed in their siblings’ footsteps and enrolled at the college. Those too young to go have seen the success achieved by their older siblings, and also followed their mother's example.
“Mom’s the hardest worker in our family,” said Julia, 14. “She's always talking about doing things the right way, doing things better.”
Neiss gives credit to her children, who had to work hard and watch after each other because she was working at several jobs.
“We stuck together and had faith,” Neiss said. “I always told them, ‘We are doing the impossible: everyone's going to school.’”
Then, with a smile, she added, “We've come a long way. I'm so proud of them.”
CCCC President Bud Marchant said he is impressed with and proud of Neiss and her children.
“Our mission as a college is to serve as a catalyst for personal, community, and economic development by empowering people through education and training,” he said. “Kimberly Neiss and her children are wonderful examples of this. They have benefited from the college's programs and student-focused learning environment and, in turn, are going out into their communities to be successful, contributing citizens.”
The achievements of the family at CCCC include:
• Neiss graduated in 2010 with an associate degree in arts and is now an executive administrative assistant with BHI Army Guesthouses at Fort Bragg;
• Thomas Gietzen, 25, of Sanford, received his high school diploma through Adult Education in 2007 and is now completing his associate in arts degree. He has enlisted in the Navy and, with his education, will enter as an E3 Seaman with an electronics technician specialty.
• Patrick Gietzen, 23, of Sanford, earned his GED in 2007 through Adult Education and enrolled for college at CCCC. He graduated in 2012 with an associate in applied science degree in mechanical engineering, mechanical engineering technology diploma, computer-aided manufacturing certificate and computer-aided drafting certificate. He is now a manufacturing engineer at WST Industries.
• Andrew Gietzen, 23, of Rolla, Mo., is earning his final four credits for his associate in arts degree through the college’s distance education program.
• Theresa Gietzen, 22, of Sanford, earned her high school diploma through Adult Education and went on to graduate in 2011 with an A.A.S. degree in laser and photonics, with honors. She now works in research and development at Cree Corp. She is continuing her education at the college, working on her associate in science degree.
Theresa learned about the laser and photonics program when her middle school class toured the Lillington campus, a regular event hosted by the college.
“I was so impressed,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be part of it. When I attended CCCC, I felt all the teachers really cared about my education and beyond. The college not only gave me a well-rounded education, it also prepared me for my career. I couldn't be where I am today without my degree.”
• David Gietzen, 19, of Sanford, received his GED in 2009, earning an almost perfect score on the exams. He is on schedule to graduate in the spring with his associate in arts degree.
Neiss’s four youngest: Margaret Gietzen, 17, and Ruth Gietzen, 15, students at Overhills High School; Julia Gietzen, 14, a student at Overhills Middle School; and Deborah Gietzen, 12, a student at Johnsonville Elementary, all live at home with their mother. She sees CCCC in their future.
Margaret already has her plans. Because of her family’s experience with the college, she said she is going to attend CCCC and then transfer to North Dakota University and get her doctorate in physical therapy.
According to the family matriarch, “My family is a walking advertisement for CCCC.”
Dr. Anthony Harrington, CCCC lead history instructor, had several members of the family in his classes.
“Kimberly Neiss was an excellent student,” he said. “Obviously this idea of a hard work ethic rubbed off on the two children I had, Thomas and Patrick. Both did an excellent job in my class. Now, for anyone to get a college degree, you must put 110 percent into it. These folks did that.”
Harrington added that when faculty and staff are committed, that attitude rubs off on students and they will push for success.
“When I was hired back in 1988, CCCC had made up a button to wear: ‘No College Cares More,’” he said. “That still rings true after 50 years of service to Central North Carolina.”
For more information about the college and its programs, visit its website, www.cccc.edu/.