From Chatfield to the Ivy League

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Growing up in rural Tennessee where there was very little focus on academics, Martin Smith never thought about going to college, let alone graduating from one.  He certainly never dreamed that he could one day attend an Ivy League school and earn not only a bachelor’s degree, but a master’s degree as well.

But, he is the first one to tell you that with education, and determination, there is no limit to what you can do.

Smith graduated from the University of Pennsylvania this spring with dual degrees – a BA in History and English and an MA in English.  His journey wasn’t easy and it took 12 years to get there.

The journey began in 2003, when he enrolled at Chatfield College – the first time.  He was a newly married 19-year-old with his first child on the way, and his first term GPA was a whopping 1.102.  He left after his first year, completing just 19 credit hours.

“I didn’t have the discipline,” said Martin.  “I didn’t know how to be a student.  I was working full-time and had family responsibilities.  I didn’t have the foundation that was necessary to succeed in college.”

For 10 years, he worked in retail, mortgage underwriting, and even ran his own business.  He had another child.  He got divorced.  Then he got laid off from his retail management job.

That’s when he decided to try Chatfield College for the second time.

“I had nothing to lose if I tried and everything to gain if I succeeded, so I thought… why not?”

This time, he felt like he had a better chance at success because he had learned to better budget time and juggle work and family responsibilities.

And, he says, Chatfield gave him everything he needed to succeed.

“The way that Chatfield stresses knowing how to write and communicate, the way classes are small enough that you can learn and interact – not just sit there and listen, the way every faculty member and staff person made it his or her mission to help me perform at the best of my abilities.  All of these things provided an environment for my success,” said Martin.

After graduating from Chatfield in 2015, he was accepted to three incredibly competitive Ivy League schools – the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, and Brown.

He chose Penn, where in two years he not only earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but also wrote and published a novel, two children’s books, and three local history books – all in his “spare” time!

Martin says he was prepared for the rigors of Ivy League academics because of the foundation he got at Chatfield.

“Being able to write and speak effectively makes a huge difference in your success at Penn,” he said.  “Chatfield goes above and beyond to prepare students to be good writers at the college level.  Because I had been well-prepared at Chatfield, I was able to focus on the upper level courses and was able to sub-matriculate and get my bachelor’s and master’s at the same time.

Now he’s headed to Pine Manor College in Massachusetts for a Master of Fine Arts before he goes on to earn a PhD. He’s already been accepted at doctoral programs at Penn and Columbia. After that, he wants to teach and continue to write. He may even find the time to teach online classes at Chatfield.

All of this, he says would never have been possible without the start he got right here in Brown County at Chatfield College.

“I would have not been as successful at Penn had it not been for Chatfield,” said Martin.  “They gave me the support system I needed to be the best I could be.”

His advice to anyone thinking they may not be college material?

“If I can do this, you can too!  I’m not the only one who can go to an Ivy League college.  Just come to Chatfield.  They will help you get started.  They will help you succeed.”

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