Student story: Persevering together

By Mary Beth Hope

A son needed his dad’s help at college. In the end, they graduated together

Scott and Ethan Baldwin, a father and son from Blue Springs, were delighted to be among the more than 600 Metropolitan Community College (Missouri) graduates who crossed the stage to receive diplomas May 13 at Starlight. But the moment was made much sweeter because son Ethan, who is blind, had overcome mountains of obstacles to arrive at commencement.

Their MCC journey began when Ethan signed up for his required science lab course at MCC-Blue River in Independence. Unsure which class would best suit his needs, Ethan opted for Geology 101, and Scott accompanied him to the first class to serve as his son’s note taker.

When instructor John Rucker floated the idea that Scott should consider taking the class himself to earn college credit for attending and taking notes, a new objective emerged for Scott.

He had started working toward an associate degree several years ago but never finished. But at his instructor’s urging, he took steps to identify the classes he still needed, and he and Ethan began pursuing twin associate in arts (A.A.) degrees.

They ended up taking several classes together, but Dad would need to take more classes than his son to reach the finish line.

Not surprisingly, the path was not always easy for Ethan. Scott explains that when Ethan was a young child, the family was told he had a low IQ and would not be able to accomplish things like attending college.

Well, attend he did. In fact, Ethan graduated with a 3.3 GPA.

Getting vital support

Both Ethan and Scott say a lot of the credit goes to MCC Disability Support Services for providing the accommodations and access that enabled Ethan to complete his coursework.

“Throughout his life, we have dealt with IEPs (individualized education plans) and disability offices,” Scott says. Their experience with disability services in the Blue Springs School District was excellent throughout Ethan’s time as a student there. But, Scott adds in a loud whisper, “MCC’s was even better.”

Both have kind words for MCC faculty as well.

Scott says he previously attended classes at a four-year state university but learned better and enjoyed his experience more at MCC. “Here, you can actually absorb things through the professor,” Scott says. “You’re not just talked at; you can actually be a part of the class.”

Ethan says he had a lot of top-notch instructors at MCC, including Rucker. “I didn’t think I would like (the class) at first, but the instructor made it very accommodating,” Ethan says. “He made it joyful to be in that class with him.”

Rucker says he enjoyed the Baldwins’ inquisitiveness and the challenge of presenting the material in a way that would work for Ethan.

“I remember they were both willing to ask questions, which in my view is critical,” Rucker says. “I also remember really feeling challenged by trying to figure out how to convey some of the more visual things to someone who is blind. … It was an interesting stretch for me, and I appreciated that.”

The Baldwins say that for one geology test, each student had to accurately identify 25 rocks — no small task for someone without the benefit of sight. Ethan could hold and feel the rocks, of course, but he was also encouraged to ask questions about each rock’s hardness, color and material.

But Ethan identified 24 out of 25, his proud father says, adding, “I got a 24 out of 25, and I can see!”

Father and son completed their degree programs in Spring 2020, so the pandemic meant waiting a year to participate in an in-person commencement ceremony.

Ethan says he is proud of his dad for going back and getting his degree, and Scott echoes the sentiment.

“Ethan has had a lot of obstacles to overcome,” he says. “We’re super proud of him.”

This story originally appeared here.

Mary Beth Hope

is the marketing coordinator for institutional projects at Metropolitan Community College-Kansas City.