Father, Daughter, and Two Nontraditional Journeys

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Robert and Paige McAfee

A Granite State Family Legacy

In 2018, Paige McAfee reached a crossroads with her education. A talented ski racer and dedicated student, Paige was able to adjust her schooling starting in fifth grade with the help of the Franconia Ski Club’s “winter term” program for kids, which brings the classroom to the mountain during New Hampshire’s ski season. It allows young athletes to nurture their skiing talent while attending school slopeside at Cannon Mountain. Paige thrived in this environment and often returned back to her public school after winter term at a more advanced level. This trend continued and by seventh grade, Paige had advanced beyond the curriculum at her school.

As a result, Paige’s teachers assigned self-paced online coursework and she spent the majority of her school day working independently. Feeling isolated from her peers and not fully supported or challenged by her school, Paige wondered if there was another option. Her father, Robert McAfee, had a potential solution: his own alma mater.

Robert’s Story

A native of Woodstock, New Hampshire, and the sixth child in a family of seven, attending a four-year university after high school wasn’t financially realistic for Robert, even though he excelled academically. As a result, he decided to join the U.S. Coast Guard as an Electronics Technician and eventually worked his way up to Petty Officer First Class. After Robert’s eight years of military service, he was recruited into a position at General Electric as a Field Engineer and launched a successful career. In the workplace, Robert began to observe how a college degree could open doors.

I saw so many people higher up in the company making better money and benefiting from my efforts more than I did. I decided to get credentials like them so I could move into these positions and advance my career.

Robert’s sister suggested Granite State College, then named the College for Lifelong Learning. She explained that the College was focused on adult students and may be able to help Robert earn his degree. He decided to enroll and soon learned more about how to maximize transfer credits.

With a little exploration, I found that I could stack credits from other institutions within the University System of New Hampshire and speed up the process of earning my bachelor’s. I couldn’t afford to take years to finish a degree, and this gave me a way to accelerate the process.

Granite State College Alum, Robert McAfeeLuckily, Plymouth State isn’t far from home, so Robert took courses at their campus and then transferred these credits to Granite State College. Robert was strategic with his course selection and aggressive with his timeline, taking multiple courses each term and also fulfilling requirements through College Level Examination Program (CLEP®) testing. He earned his bachelor’s degree in just 11 months, graduating with a 3.93 GPA.

Energized by his success at Granite State College, Robert began to consider options that he would never have explored in the past, including graduate school.

He applied to William and Mary, a nationally competitive business school and was accepted into their full-time MBA program. Feeling empowered, he soon started his own business, building a career on his own terms. For him, being his own boss was priceless. To this day, he credits Granite State College as a catalyst for his success.

Recognizing Paige’s Promise

Paige’s parents, Robert and Danielle, recognized Paige’s sharp mind at a young age. They saw how she was able to learn things quickly with very little, if any, repetition needed in order for her to fully comprehend the material.

Paige McAfeeAs she began to skip grades in school, Robert and Danielle worried that she would get bored and stagnate academically. Skiing was a great help, as it gave Paige new challenges outside of the classroom. Still, Robert and Danielle recognized the risks that could arise if Paige grew disinterested in school. They were committed to keeping her engaged, especially with teenage years on the horizon and complexities this stage of life can bring.

At age 13 and upon completion of seventh grade, Paige and family agreed that it was time to explore alternatives to public school. They considered private schools, ski academies, and other high school alternatives; however, there was no clear best fit. Some options lacked the flexibility that Paige would require in order to stay active in competitive ski racing and others weren’t vigorous enough to meet Paige’s academic needs. At that point, Granite State College came to mind.

Robert shares:

Many years earlier, the College was the right fit for me as a nontraditional student. I thought to myself, “Paige is definitely nontraditional, too. She’s just at the other end of the spectrum.”

Paige Becomes a College Student

Granite State College Student Paige McAfeeRobert reached out to admissions and was quickly put in touch with leadership at Granite State College. The College’s willingness to get involved impressed the McAfees. Although the College noted some potential challenges—such as the admission requirement of a high school diploma or equivalent, and the age restrictions associated with taking equivalency exams— they committed to helping the family navigate potential barriers at the state level and explore whether exceptions could be made for an exceptionally bright young student.

After much collaboration between the McAfees, the College, and the New Hampshire Department of Education, accommodations were made for Paige to begin at Granite State College in the 2018 Summer Term at age 13. Paige’s performance in her initial class would serve as final confirmation of her college readiness and signal whether or not she could be successful in a degree program. As such, she took great care with her course selection.

I registered for Statistics because, like ski racing, it’s factual and numbers-based. In a writing class, it’s more focused on talking about your ideas and experiences. I wanted my performance to be based on concrete information, so I chose a topic where I felt my younger age wouldn’t be a factor.

Paige thrived in Statistics and was eager to take more courses. The next term, she registered for three more courses and was put to the test with her ability to manage an ambitious skiing and academic schedule. Throughout October and November, Paige trained internationally in France and Austria, which coincided with Fall Term. The flexibility that Granite State offers, which aligns to the needs of many adults who are balancing work and family, was exactly what Paige needed as a travelling athlete who’s committed to education.

I was on a six-hour time difference while taking three courses and I was having trouble in my Precalculus class. I was falling a little behind so I emailed my professor to explain that I accept responsibility for not meeting his deadline, but I wanted him to know that I wasn’t being lazy. I was just struggling with one of the concepts and trying to work through the material while training in another time zone.

To Paige’s surprise, her instructor, Chris Benton, was completely understanding. In the past, many of her teachers lacked flexibility when she was travelling and assumed that Paige just wasn’t taking her education seriously. As a dedicated student, this always felt like an unfair mischaracterization for Paige, so having a different experience with Granite State College faculty was particularly meaningful.

Professor Benton gave me extra resources to help me better understand the material and handled the situation in a professional manner. I was happy because I haven’t always had teachers that understood that I’m balancing my school work with something I’m really passionate about, skiing.

It’s an example of why I like Granite State so much. We are all coming from a unique situation. I take classes with working moms and people from the military. None of us are exactly the same, but we can relate to each other because we all have lives we’re balancing outside of the classroom.

A Future Filled With Possibilities

Granite State College Graduate, PaigeIn December 2020, just two years after enrolling at Granite State College, Paige successfully earned her B.S. in Business Management. But she didn’t slow down after that. After considering her options, Paige enrolled in the M.S. Leadership program at Granite State College, completing her first master’s degree by the end of 2021. She then enrolled in Granite State’s M.S. Project Management program, which she nearly completed by the time she walked in the College’s 2022 commencement ceremony – a remarkable accomplishment.

Now, Paige is preparing to attend University of New Hampshire this fall to study electrical engineering. Her vision is to become a C-suite executive at a tech company one day.

As far as Paige’s skiing career, her ultimate goal is to earn a spot on the U.S. Ski Team. She dreams of starting in the World Cup and skiing in the Olympic Games. Paige humbly expresses how this is a lofty goal; her supportive parents describe how these aspirations are grounded within the realm of possibility based on her training and performance.

Paige brings a perspective to her goals that’s wise beyond her years. The Olympic hopeful embraces her education as an important part of the big picture.

In the ski racing world, I want to do my best to get to the top, but I’d never sacrifice my schoolwork. I want to be able to be a successful individual and not have to rely on my sport as a crutch. The timeframe for being a great ski racer is slim and I’d risk selling myself short and minimizing other qualities and talents if I let racing consume my entire life.

The McAfee family is thankful for the balance that Granite State College helps bring to Paige’s life. The flexibility that once allowed Robert as a mid-career professional complete his degree in less than a year, has helped his daughter take advantage of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. She’s been able to advance her skiing goals and get a great education. Paige also prioritizes her much needed down time to hang out with friends, get into the latest movies, video games, or books (fantasy is among her favorites), and just be a normal teenager.

Robert concludes:

Nowhere have I seen a more dedicated group of educators and felt so happy to be working with them. When trying to find the right fit for Paige, it felt like there was nothing available for exceptional learners. What we found was the exceptional community of Granite State College and its dedicated faculty and staff. If you’re thinking about taking a course, consider Granite State. You will not regret it. They’re willing to jump right in and help you maximize the possibilities so that great things, like Paige’s journey, can happen.

 

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This blog was originally published in October 2020 and was updated to reflect new details in Paige’s story.