Three years ago, when military spouse Heather Emch learned she and her Air Force instructor pilot husband Capt. Scott Emch were moving to Columbus for his next military assignment, Emch did her homework.
“Because I knew that dental hygiene was the career I wanted to pursue during our three years in Mississippi, my search for a school was very specific,” the 28-year-old said.
Her research led her to Meridian Community College. “It was the closest community college to our location in Columbus, and also had some of the best graduate and national board pass rates around,” she said.
Once she enrolled in the MCC Dental Hygiene Program, Emch found her educational home.
“My instructors have been amazing, my classmates have become my sisters. Although the program has been tough, it has also been incredibly rewarding,” she said.
Her desire to reach her dream led to Emch to receive her associate of applied science from MCC’s Dental Hygiene Program on Friday during the College’s commencement ceremonies, and now the couple is on their way to the next assignment.
“I feel like I’m prepared for the next chapter of my life and not a single part of me is fearful of taking those next steps,” she said.
Getting to that finish line took planning, coordination and it wasn’t easy. “These last two years at MCC have been some of the most challenging years of my life,” she said. “I am a non-traditional student not just in the sense that I’m older, but also in the sense that I am not a local. I have six years of marriage under my belt and have chosen to live apart from my husband to make my own dream a reality,” she said.
So Emch would live in her rented apartment in Meridian Sunday through Thursday and return to her home and husband in Columbus on Friday and Saturday. “I would have loved to have a daily commute to school, but with the clinic hours and studying, it just wasn’t feasible to drive the 1.5 hours every day to get home,” she said.
She credits her husband as being totally supportive. “He truly is an amazing man,” she said. “We have worked very hard as a couple to make this life work … our work. It has taken unconditional love, patience, and communication to do this but I’m so happy we decided to,” she added.
Emch also thanks the support from her instructors and classmates. “Without them, specifically, my time at MCC could have been completely different. I have such strong and amazing friendships with the others, and I know that my instructors will always be there if I need them,”
she said. Also, Emch said MCC Veterans Services Coordinator Pam Baranello offer help from day one. “I always feel like she has my back when it comes to working with the Veterans Affairs in understanding and receiving my full benefits.
She added, “I think having someone on site to help with these transitions has made life much easier for me during my time at MCC.”