Discovering, connecting and transitioning

July 13, 2015

In only three semesters at JCCC, Nate Andersen found friendship, maturity and a life plan

When JCCC alumnus Nate Andersen graduated from Shawnee Mission East High School in 2013, he felt academically ready for college. But he didn’t know what to do with his life, and he knew he had some maturing left to do.

 “I could have gone off to a huge state school, but I felt like I would drown in such a big, impersonal setting,” Andersen said.

He chose to attend Johnson County Community College for two main reasons.

One, he wanted to connect with his classmates, his college and his professors.

Two, he didn’t want to waste time and money studying classes with a university-level price tag, only to find he wasn’t much interested. JCCC was priced right.

The right environment

“I had friends who went off to school, and they’d sit in large lecture halls, taught by teaching assistants, who maybe were or were not good teachers, and they’d just feel lost in the crowd,” Andersen said.

“I knew JCCC had small classes, and that’s what I wanted,” he said. “I also wanted classes that offered me a chance for discussion, not just lecture.”

His expectations were met, Andersen said, and he received an added bonus:  a strong social network.

As a freshman at East, “I was a social hermit: polo (shirt) buttoned all the way to the top…I was completely geeked out,” he said.

Gradually, he began to engage with people in his high school and expanded his interests. By the time he graduated, he felt more comfortable with his friends and with himself.

Motivation from friends

Starting college meant starting over, though, and starting over is never easy. By coincidence, a few students were enrolled in multiple JCCC classes with him. The overlap made it easier for someone to suggest the idea of a study group, and from that group, friendships grew.

“Once I met a couple of them, they sort of sucked me into getting involved,” Andersen said. He joined a club for entrepreneurs (a predecessor to the current Enactus club) and then the student senate.

Each time he joined an activity, it became a little bit easier, he said.

“I guess I became more accustomed to that awkward stage,” he said, knowing that it would quickly end.

Putting family first

Staying close to home was important to Andersen for another reason, too. His father grew gravely ill only months after losing his life partner. The medical reason may have been complications following a surgery, but Andersen is sure his father died from a broken heart, unable to continue without his husband.

During the months he was at JCCC, Andersen cared for one dad and then the other. “Being at JCCC meant I didn’t have to play the ‘what if’ game. The college gave me the opportunity to be at home, and I consider that time I had with them extremely valuable.”

Moving forward

In the spring of 2015, he was ready for a change. He accepted a spot at Shimer College in Chicago, a small liberal arts college minutes from the downtown Loop.

The college prides itself on a discussion-based model using primary sources, but Andersen said he experienced that same model at JCCC, too. He didn’t just study The Republic; he had access to a complete source document.

He also had in-depth discussions with professors. “Barbara Grinter (faculty, sociology) used to sit with me outside class, and we’d discuss topics from class, or maybe she’d just see how I was doing,” Andersen said.

“That’s something that really meant a lot to me,” he said. “Because she showed she really cared about me.”

Andersen would like to attend law school after Shimer and study to be a patent lawyer. Ideally, he’d like to represent the inventors who want to make the world a better place but have no idea how proceed from prototype to production.

“I want to work with budding entrepreneurs in the sustainability, medical and educational sectors,” he said.