In January, soon-to-be Greenfield Community College graduate Justin MacDowell will travel to The Netherlands to start his first semester studying at University College Utrecht. MacDowell, who never finished high school and will receive his Associate in Arts degree from GCC this month, was one of only 200 students accepted to the highly competitive international Honors College of Utrecht University. Justin will study toward a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Sciences, focusing on political science and international relations and joining students from around the world in the 700-student international community at the English-based Honors College.
How did 23-year-old MacDowell of Brimfield choose a college in The Netherlands? The story of MacDowell’s choice starts with his grandmother who passed away before he was born. His mother’s mother was Dutch and lived in Dutch Indonesia. Learning about his family’s Dutch history as a young boy, MacDowell became intrigued with The Netherlands. At age 12, he traveled with his family in Europe and especially enjoyed Holland.
Remembering how much he enjoyed his earlier trip, MacDowell visited Holland for a week this past May. He fell in love with the country and became determined to attend college there. In researching possible Dutch colleges, MacDowell found UCU. In college, MacDowell had developed a strong interest in working in the fields of human rights and international relations. He is drawn to UCU’s international focus and small size. UCU students spend their second year studying abroad and MacDowell hopes to study in Israel for that year.
MacDowell’s journey from dropping out of high school to acceptance at an Honors College took him through three other community colleges before he arrived at GCC. After getting his GED, MacDowell studied briefly at Holyoke Community College, but didn’t know what he wanted to do. He also studied at Bunker Hill Community College and Quinsigamond Community College before finding something that really motivated him and he enjoyed studying. Passionate about human rights, MacDowell is particularly interested in the conflict in Israel and Palestine.
GCC was the right school for MacDowell. He said, “I love GCC. The other schools I attended are too big and I slipped through the cracks. I drive an hour to get to GCC because it is the small student-based school I needed. Many GCC faculty members had a big influence on me: Carol Gray inspired my interest in human rights issues, Abbie Jenks taught me a lot about resolving conflicts big and small, and I love acting because of Tom Geha’s performing arts class. I’ve also learned from other students at GCC. In a politics class, there were students from Kazakhstan and Lebanon, students with first-hand experience of issues we discussed in class. I had a 0.4 GPA in high school and now I have a 3.5 GPA at GCC. I have learned that no matter how low you get in life, hard work pays off if you’re motivated. You really can do anything you set your mind to. It was such a daunting process to apply to a school like UCU, but I did it.”
Professor Abbie Jenks was not surprised to hear that MacDowell was accepted at UCU. Jenks, Program Coordinator of Human Services and Advisor of GCC’s Peace, Justice and Environmental Studies program, said, “Justin stood out in my class on conflict resolution and mediation because of his insight into his own experiences and conflicts in the world and his great writing and academic skills. He was hungry to learn about conflict resolution and quite knowledgeable about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Applying and being accepted to a college in another country is not easy. Clearly, Justin has empowered himself and found his direction, and found mentors to help him succeed. At UCU, Justin will get an international perspective and be able to pursue his dream of doing international human rights work. Justin is a model for other students pursuing their dreams, and perhaps someday he will become a mentor for others.”
For information about University College Utrecht, visit http://www.uu.nl/university/college/en/Pages/default.aspx
By Mary McClintock, ’82
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