John Shiffert: Clayton State is Dreams Made Real

Clayton State is Dreams Made Real

“My dream is to walk on all seven continents, so I would like to travel to poor areas all over the world. I also hope to establish medical facilities and schools in impoverished communities to help in their development. As a citizen of the developed world, I believe education is to key to a better standard of life.”

“Some days it still feels unreal. It’s a blessing. To see all the hard work and dedication my teammates and I went through to pay off was a thing of beauty. It’s been an experience that I’ve always dreamed of.”

Dreams made real is what Clayton State does, and even the biggest dreams – like walking on all seven continents, or becoming the first member of your family to go to college and then winning a national championship — are made real for students like biology major Sotheavy Vann, who dreams of walking on the continents, or Tanisha Woodard, a national champion, an NCAA Division II Basketball First-Team All-American, a Clayton State psychology major, and the first one in her family to graduate high school and continue on to college. Woodard had one dream made real by holding a national championship trophy, and another dream made real by holding her acceptance letter to college


Clayton State is an empowering experience, a place where students from a wide range of backgrounds and experience come to receive an excellent education and develop relevant skills to position themselves for later professional achievements. Students like Vann, who came to Clayton State as a dual enrollment student and has continued on with her studies because she sees Clayton State’s Biology Department as enabling and empowering her dream of medical school, and of walking on all seven continents.

“I am on the pre-med track, so I plan to use my studies in biology to go to medical school,” she says. “Although I could have chosen any other major and fulfilled the required pre-requisite to get into medical school, I believe that a biology degree would best prepare me for the MCAT and medical school. As of right now, I am undecided about what type of physician I want to be, but I do know that I want to be a doctor that is most needed in third world countries.

Another Clayton State student who has been empowered by his work on and off campus is Eric Simmons, a Masters of Art in Teaching (MAT) graduate student as well as a graduate of Clayton State’s undergraduate English program. He developed his skills in a practicum at Morrow Middle School, learning the importance of classroom management, lesson plan organization, and how to connect with students in a meaningful way.

“You need to be able to think quickly on your feet in the event that lesson plans, activities, or the day in general, does not go as planned,” he says. “In those events, it is important not to become rattled and to calmly transition to an alternative assignment.

“My practicum experience at Clayton State University was a very positive one. I had the ability to work in classroom settings ranging from a seventh grade language arts collaborative classroom to a 10th grade Honors English course.”

These experiences enabled Simmons (and his MAT fellows) to fully prepare for the challenges he faces in the classroom, explains MAT English Program Coordinator Dr. Ruth Caillouet.

“I want this program to help improve the quality of English education not only in our surrounding counties but also beyond. I want our graduates to help re-think the way that writing and literature are being taught in America’s schools. This is a chance to help change lives by making it possible for future educators to finally get their dream of teaching English.”

Dreams come in all shapes and sizes. Brian Roberts, a senior Communications and Media Studies (CMS) major had a dream of a career as a videographer. He started working as a volunteer on television sets, learning how to operate professional video equipment and soon after started working as a live camera operator for high school sports on Georgia Public Broadcasting. After two seasons of sports, he was offered an internship at GPB where he currently works as an intern production assistant and secondary camera operator for the local television show Georgia Traveler. During his senior year, Roberts has used his CMS skills as a photographer and videographer for the Department of Athletics and has also been assisting as a freelance videographer for the Department of Image and Communications.

Of course, the Clayton State faculty have also had their dreams made real, have also been empowered by their teaching. Faculty members like Dr. Michelle Furlong, chair of the Department of Natural Sciences and a working mom.

“I want (my daughter Delia) to be successful and see me in that light,” Furlong says. She is also honored to lead the department as it continues to grow and transcend. She is dedicated to promoting excellent teaching and student success.

“I met all my dreams,” she declares, “I made it and I’m really happy.”


Clayton State students come from a wide range of backgrounds and experience. Indeed, the concept of diversity itself is a wide-ranging one at Clayton State, taking in far more than race and ethnicity. As President Dr. Thomas J. Hynes has noted, “we must continue to deepen and enrich that diversity to include student connections to international experiences, connections across not only race, but class, prior educational and geographical experiences, and ethnicity.”

As a result, it is the very diversity of the people, their interests, and their dreams that bring the Clayton State community together and give everyone a feeling of inclusion. A prime example of that inclusion is recent graduate Tony Yaacoub.

A native of Beirut, Lebanon, he originally came to Clayton State through the Georgia Rotary Student Program, and found that his dream was right here in Morrow, so he stayed on afterwards to complete his degree (in May 2012) in mathematics. Along the way, Yaacoub became president and founder of Clayton State’s International Student Association, a DEEP Peer educator, a member on the Student Fees Committee, a member of the Financial Club, a Dean’s List student and an attendee and presenter at several scholarly mathematical conferences throughout the southeast, and the winner of the William A. Watt Award and the Mathematics Outstanding Senior Award from the College of Information and Mathematical Sciences.

If that’s not enough inclusion, Yaacoub capped his time at Clayton State be being named the Homecoming King in February 2012.


Education at Clayton State is more than informing students, it’s about engaging students in a dynamic learning experience and preparation outside the classroom that challenges them to develop a depth of understanding, both inside and outside their fields of study.

For example, engagement at Clayton State is the Non-Traditional Student Organization putting on a “Welcome Back to Your Dream” Meet & Greet, to allow non-traditional students, a group that often has difficulty becoming engaged with the college scene, to mingle and get to know each other.

Engagement in learning is about Christina Gardner being offered a computer science major’s dream internship for the summer of her senior year as a full-time employee at United Services Automobile Association’s world headquarters in San Antonio, Tex., thanks to the networking and opportunities available through the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference she attended in Atlanta.

Supportive Community

Finally, Clayton State is a supportive community. There is a sense of support, and of student-centeredness that’s hard to miss. That support starts with the efforts of the First Year Academic and Retention Center, and continues throughout the student’s Clayton State career, including the careers of graduate students. It includes student services like financial aid, career services, University Health Services, counseling services, the library, the HUB, and a wide variety of non-academic programs in the Office of Student Affairs… the list goes on and on.

“My experience at Clayton State University has been incredibly positive,” says Master of Science in Nursing student Debra Curry, a past recipient of the Clayton State Retirees Association scholarship. “Regardless of the services utilized – financial aid, dental and health services, the center for academic success, IT, and librarian services – commitment to student success has proven to be the order of the day. My time at Clayton State has reminded me of the joy of learning and discovery and the dreams that emerge from a place of higher education.”

Alisa Kirk is currently the area director of the Clayton State Small Business Development Center. However, at one time she was an administrative specialist in the Clayton State Center for Instructional Development, with a 20-year dream. What happened? She earned her MBA from the College of Business.

“The classes were challenging but the professors were so enthusiastic that it was contagious, and they were all very involved in wanting us to succeed,” she says of her academic experience at Clayton State, also noting that a lot of support came from her fellow students. “Achieving (an MBA) has made me feel that I am capable of much more than I ever dreamed.”

Dreams Made Real

These are just a few stories of how a diversity of people’s dreams have been made real at Clayton State. From the biggest dreams, like a national championship or the possibility of walking on all seven continents, to attention to the “little things” of college life, like engaging non-traditional students, Clayton State is all about making the hoped-for become reality. Dreams of undergraduates, graduates, faculty, staff, alumni; dreams from all walks of life and all academic disciplines; from biology to psychology to teaching to media studies to math to computer science to nursing to business. As an empowering, diverse, engaging, supportive University, Clayton State is dreams made real.