A degree in making a difference

Charles McGee

Charles McGee is the first to admit he’s not your typical college student. At age 47, he brings a lifetime of experience into the classroom. This experience includes his service on a US Navy Aircraft Carrier during the Gulf War as part of Operation Desert Shield.

Growing up in underserved neighborhoods in Chicago and then Grand Rapids, MI, Charles never imagined he’d be able to attend college. So he enlisted in the Navy. After his military service ended, Charles moved to Flint and began working with My Bother’s Keeper, a shelter for homeless men. It was there that he realized he wanted to pursue a career helping people rebuild their lives. He knew the best way to do that was by earning a college degree.

Charles enrolled at a local community college, then with the help of a scholarship transferred to UM-Flint to pursue his Bachelor of Social Work. While finishing his degree, Charles has continued his work with My Brother’s Keeper. But now he has the opportunity to apply his newly gained knowledge to his job.

“I’ve been able to incorporate classroom learning to my job,” explains Charles. “I’m using what I’ve learned to improve the way we bring community members into the program, manage their cases, and make sure we’re connecting them to the services they need to get back on their feet and become self-reliant.”

Charles credits his professors and courses at UM-Flint with imparting valuable skills for his profession. “I’ve learned the importance of time management, how to have more patience with others as well as myself, how to bring people together to work on a project, and how to tackle tough problems,” he says. “All of these skills are directly applicable to what I do in my work.”

Along with career-ready skills, Charles has also found a support system at UM-Flint. “Because of my age and experience, I’m an unconventional student,” he admits. “But the faculty here has never treated me any differently than other students. They’ve encouraged me, shown an interest in me, and have helped me realize that I can be a game-changer in the field of social work.”

For other students who also want to become game-changers, Charles encourages them to attend UM-Flint. “People who study and teach at this campus are here because they want to be here, because they want to do something to make a difference,” he says. “There are so many opportunities to have a positive impact on this community, just steps from campus. We’re all coming together to keep this city alive. If that’s something that interests you, then UM-Flint is the place to be.”