Alumni Plaza the center of the Dowagiac campus


Courtney Mathews

Admissions counselor Courtney Mathews presents "College 101"

For lunch, hot dogs and burgers on the grill

For lunch, grilled hot dogs and burgers

Hammock down time

Hammock down time outside the Student Activity Center


Shooting baskets



Three girls

Weather cooperated for outdoor activities

SMC Hosts 202 from Area High Schools for Junior Day

Published on May 22, 2024 - 9 a.m.

Southwestern Michigan College hosted 202 high school 11th graders from Lawton (38), South Bend Career Academy (20), Decatur (35), Cassopolis Ross Beatty (27), Berrien Springs (22), Watervliet (four), Covert (16) and Kalamazoo Central (40) May 17 for Junior Day.

Participants visited SMC’s Dowagiac campus for nuts-and-bolts advice on the college admission process.

In her welcome, Vice President for the Student Experience Dr. Katie Hannah said, “No matter what you’re interested in doing, SMC can be part of your senior planning. We have a lot of occupational programs with one-year certificates in things like welding, construction and automotive, as well as associate degrees, so you can stay a year or two and get right out into the workforce.

“For those of you who want to stay close to home, then transfer to a four-year school for a bachelor’s degree, we can provide that for you as well. We have more than 40 degree options,” Hannah said. “We have residence halls you’ll tour today and a total college experience with extensive campus activities,” from research to 39 clubs.

“Because we’re a small school,” Hannah said, “we get to know you as an individual.”

Participants heard from three admissions counselors, Ben Spencer and Bill and Courtney Mathews, who are married.

“We have a completely free application with no GPA requirement,” said Bill, who coaches the Roadrunners’ co-ed bass-fishing team. “We don’t have an application deadline, but the best time is September-November. Getting in early is important for scholarship consideration,” of which SMC offers 250 ranging up to $8,000.

“I did better in college than high school because I tried harder. I was paying for classes out of my own pocket and was not going to waste money and I was studying something that interested me,” Bill said.

With 13 buildings, “We feel big,” Spencer said, “but we have just under 2,000 students. At large universities you could sit in a lecture hall of 400 students — more than in this theatre right now. We have grown our athletics program to nine very competitive teams from which you can transfer to four-year schools. It’s nice to have teams to cheer for, too, because you can get into games for free, and we have intramurals as well. I joined a club because it’s a great way to meet people.”

“SMC is well-known for health services,” Courtney said. “We have one of the best nursing programs in the state with a beautiful facility for it.”

In the William P.D. O‘Leary Building, Maria Kulka, executive director of enrollment management, led an interactive Kahoot session. Phone gamification measured content retention through 18 college-related questions.

At the Foster W. Daugherty Building, Courtney presented “College 101,” drawing on her personal experience of coming from Marcellus, starting at SMC for a general studies degree, then transferring to Grand Valley in Allendale for her bachelor’s degree in political science and sociology.

“I had two very different college experiences, the best of both worlds,” she said. “Here at SMC, rural and small. Then Grand Valley, on a campus with about 20,000 kids. That was a cool experience because I’d never lived in a city before. There were 45 kids in my class in high school. It was eye-opening, but made me grow. One thing I liked about college was it was an extension of still being young and able to make mistakes without huge repercussions because mentors can advise you of what you can do to recover. On a job, you might not get a second chance.

“The real world can be a tough place. College can be an opportunity to continue growing until you figure out who you are and what you want in a cushioned atmosphere. Or, maybe financially, you need to enter the workforce. These are all considerations you have to weigh.”

As seniors, Courtney recommended they “get ahead of the curve” with involvement in extra-curriculars such as sports, clubs or a robotics team, or, “if that’s not your vibe, volunteer, say, at an animal shelter. That lets colleges see you’re involved in your community and can balance multiple things to be successful, so when you come here and join our community, you’re going to give back to our community.”

Mathews, the middle daughter of three sisters, is a first-generation college graduate. “None of you have been in college before, so you don’t know what you don’t know. My parents tried to help me. My mom was a nurse who got her associate degree at SMC, but didn’t get a bachelor’s degree, and the college admissions process changed a lot from the ’90s to the 2010s.”