PIKEVILLE – Collan McCoy sits alone in his office during his lunch break at the University of Pikeville, preparing for the rest of his day. That day could include helping unlock a dorm room after a student’s been locked out, getting a new student acquainted with where their mailbox is, or even ensuring that a homesick freshman feels comfortable in his new surroundings.
“I love this job so far. It’s kind of blown my expectations out of the water,” McCoy says, smiling and sitting in the Student Services office at UPIKE.
As a student life coordinator, McCoy, a Martin County native, spends most of his time in a male freshman dormitory, planning meet and greets and mediating roommate dilemmas.
“I look at it as kind of a big brother position,” he adds.
Having graduated from UPIKE just a few weeks before starting his job there in June 2016, McCoy says it seems like he was meant to mentor these incoming students, even though the ink on his own diploma from UPIKE was hardly dry. However, that preordained career easily could have been missed had it not been for the help of the staff at the Big Sandy Community Action Program.
Big Sandy CAP provides Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) career advising services in Magoffin, Johnson, Martin, Floyd, and Pike counties under contract with the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP). The services help people re-enter the workforce or upskill to new, better jobs and careers. In addition to assistance to dislocated or underemployed adult workers, the agency also provides workforce services to at-risk youth and area employers.
“I’m from Inez, Ky., so, a really small town, not much going on there,” McCoy reminisces on his life before college. “I grew up in a family that was pretty poor. My mom worked three jobs most of my life. She was a single mother.”
Being from a small town, it was easy to know who to talk to if you ever needed help with anything, McCoy says. That’s why when he decided he wanted to try working during high school he turned to Kayla Jude, expert career advisor with Big Sandy CAP.
“Kayla had a big presence in my high school through a work program she had. I applied to be a part of that, but somehow mixed it up and wasn’t able to,” he says, adding that Jude must have never forgotten about him.
McCoy didn’t let that mix-up slow him down on his course to getting a college degree, though. Once he had graduated high school, he said it was just a matter of finances as to where he chose to go to college. UPIKE fit his needs perfectly after offering him a soccer scholarship.
“I was putting myself through college on my own money and on my own merit. I’m a first generation college student. No one even in my distant family has gone to college,” he says. “It was always a dream of mine to go get an education.”
Even with good grades and financial aid, McCoy was still fronting much of the money he needed for school and other bills himself, and, as a college freshman, that became increasingly challenging to deal with.
Jude had continued to stay in touch with McCoy throughout his first year in college, and, after his second semester, let him know there may be a program that could help ease the financial burden on his shoulders.
McCoy set up an appointment to meet with Jude in her office at in Pikeville during the summer between his freshman and sophomore years at UPIKE.
“There were a few requirements,” he remembers. “I took some kind of online test at their office there, and had to tell them my income and how much financial aid I received.”
Once McCoy was enrolled in the out-of-school youth program, Jude set to work helping him apply for grants that would help pay for his tuition at UPIKE. One of those grants, McCoy says, was the reason he was able to graduate with a bachelor’s degree on time and without having to sacrifice necessities.
“I was putting myself through college, so this grant was basically a miracle that came out of nowhere, and seriously eased the burden on me,” he says, the earnestness clearly written on his face. “It was an amazing thing for me.”
McCoy explains that the grant paid him $2,000 each semester for three semesters, and then $1,000 during his last semester at UPIKE.
“Every semester, I would save [what was left over after my tuition was paid] and put it toward the other semesters or put it back. Actually, the car I have now, I bought most of it with the money from the grant,” he says.
“I’m just a little poor kid from Eastern Kentucky who wanted to go to college, and without the grant I’m not sure I would have been able to do that,” he adds.
Even though McCoy had known Jude and the Big Sandy CAP were available to help him during his high school years, he admits he never really knew the extent of the services offered there.
“I always knew that Kayla (Jude) was the one that I could turn to if I ever was unemployed or was needing work or just needed help making a résumé or doing a cover letter,” he says. “I never realized how much she helps college students with career planning and stuff like that also.”
Looking back, McCoy says he thinks he still would have made it to where he is now in life had he not received the help he did from Jude and the Big Sandy CAP, but admits the road would not have been nearly as easy or clear without that help.
“I’ve always had kind of a drive to me. If I set my mind to something, I’m going to accomplish it,” he says, smiling. “I’m just always thankful for everything they’ve done for me, and I would strongly encourage anyone who has any questions to feel free to inquire with them anytime.”