Gateway to College Alumni Shares Success as a Gateway Grad, and What Got Him There

Friday, February 27, 2015

Nick is a Gateway Grad from Lake Washington Institute of Technology. Read his story of personal and professional growth as he found a place in Gateway to College where he could play to his strengths and focus on an end goal. 

Can you tell me a bit about yourself? How did you wind up at Gateway? Why didn’t traditional high school appeal to you?

I grew up in a fairly well-off family. My father was a commercial pilot/small business owner and my mother was a stay-at-home parent for the first ten or so years of my life. My parents never tried to force their views or opinions on my sister or I and I believe that had a lot to do with why I ended up withdrawing from high school.

When I was thirteen, my parents told me they were going to get a divorce. My life fell apart at that point. There was so much legal and emotional drama going on at home that it became all I thought about at school. Thinking about the divorce eventually led me to thinking about getting away from it, and that decreased my attention to my studies even more. Eventually I got to a point where I was failing every class that I was taking. All I wanted to do was to get away from my parents’ divorce as quickly as I possibly could; I knew at that point that I had to leave high school.

I had been obsessed with design since I was young. Experimenting with photography, photoshop, and illustrator became my favorite thing to do. I would research design on the internet basically all day long, even at school. But in the ten years that I spent in K-10 (I didn’t finish grades 11 or 12), I believe there was only two design classes ever offered to me. Excessive research brought me to the conclusion that the only way I was going to be able to learn design right away was by going to college.

Running Start was my first pick but it wasn’t what I expected. The requirements inside of RS still force you to take classes in subjects that are very similar to what you would have taken in high school, just at college level. I still couldn’t take design classes like I wanted to. Finally, in 2009 a law titled SHB1758 passed in Washington State. It allowed me to withdraw from high school, earn an Associate’s Degree, and then be given a high school diploma at the same time.

The day that I found that law, I called Lake Washington Institute of Technology and set up an appointment with the High School Programs office. That was when I learned about the Gateway to College program. I scored as a senior in college for every placement test that I took, but because of my 1.4 GPA from high school (I didn’t do my homework for over a year), I was forced to go into the Gateway to College program instead of Academy. The first quarter was a hassle because of the incredibly low level classes that I had to take, but I was grateful that I was getting a free education, so I sucked it up and made it through.

Traditional high school doesn’t cater to different students. I knew what I wanted to do with my life as soon as I turned 13, but all high school did was shut down my dreams and make me “prepare for college.” It’s absurd that I couldn’t begin to study a particular field before I was college age. “Electives” were given to me but then my advisor told me that I wouldn’t get accepted into college without two years of a foreign language. That took up half of my “electives” and then there were only two quarters left to take classes that I actually wanted to take. The American educational system doesn’t need reform, it needs a complete redesign, from the ground up.

What did you like about the Gateway to College program? In what ways did it work for you?

Gateway allowed me to finally focus on what I loved, design. I graduated from college with a 3.84 cumulative GPA. It is absolutely incredible the difference it makes in your studies when you actually enjoy what you are learning. On top of that, the advisors involved in the Gateway program want, so badly, to see their students succeed. If you are having issues, they will sit you down and find out what is wrong, then fix it. Period.

How did Gateway to College help you reach your goals?

Gateway gave me a way out of a terrible education, it allowed me to focus on what I loved, and it taught me how to succeed. It focused very particularly on me and how I learn, and then adapted to me. Traditional high school forces you to adapt to it; Gateway is the exact opposite.

What have you been up to since graduating?

I’m very proud to say that I am now an Art Director for Wunderman, the largest advertising and digital media agency in the world. I was working full-time as a designer while I was in college, and then got hired at this job about three months after I graduated. Since being hired here I have worked directly on projects for brands such as Microsoft, T-mobile, and Gap. Gateway helped me accomplish one of the biggest goals I have ever had.

If you could give current Gateway students one piece of advice what would it be?

If you enjoy your classes and what you are learning, keep on going, you will never fail if you love what you do. If you don’t enjoy your classes and what you are learning, stop. Take some different classes or go travel the world and figure out what you actually want to do. Gateway allows you to succeed, but it is only different from a typical high school education if you actually know what you want to do.

Describe Gateway to College in six words (or less)

More valuable alternative to American education.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I just want to say thank you to everyone in the High School Programs office at Lake Washington Institute of Technology (especially Kim and Sara), to everyone involved in the overall Gateway to College program, and most importantly to Bill and Melinda Gates and any other supporters of the program for funding a program that makes a difference in so many people’s lives.

You are all the reason why I have succeeded in my professional life and I promise I will give back to this world in some way to make up for the debt I owe you all.

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