Updated: 9/25/2012
author: Rich Johnson

For Loudoun Student, Life's 'Peaks and Valleys' Led To UVA: An Interview with Dan Jenkins



Rich Johnson: Why choose the program over another four year school?

Dan Jenkins: I chose the University of Virginia BIS program for several reasons.  First had already tried a four-year degree at a much younger age.  Since leaving Virginia Commonwealth University in 2000, I had walked through the peaks and valleys of life, up and down the work world, and experienced spiritual rebirth, marriage, family, love, divorce, and the loss of my father.  I was in a place of transition three years ago when I came to work as a Writing Center Consultant for NVCC.  

Secondly, I feel more ready to complete a degree at thirty-two than I did at twenty.  This degree takes advantage of every gift I believe God gave me, and I want to use them well, and for the benefit of others.  Writing, research, reading, and an interdisciplinary approach all make use of what I thought through most of my twenties were my only talents.  Now, with this program, I feel like I belong, and that great "mishap" in my early adulthood of leaving college was just an affirmation of timing.  I never quite got over failing out of college, and trusted God that I should complete a degree for the benefit of my loved ones and family.  All it took was a sign a Reynolds building hallway, weeks of thought, the nudging of very important and dear colleagues at NVCC, whom I consider friends, and a great conversation with Bernadette Black to pull the trigger.

Bernadette, the NVCC BIS representative for UVA, was charmingly convincing.  She echoed the exact same sentiment I had repeated constantly in my mind, so I jumped the gun.  “The time is now,” she said.  I drove home that night absolutely elated that I could transfer to the University of Virginia.  I completed my application essays that very night.

RJ: Why is this program best for you?

DJ: This program will challenge me intellectually as well as spiritually.  I have craved structure and discipline these last four years of my life, and since this summer, when I began to complete my science transfer credits, I began to notice a change.  My mentors were right!  I must work hard, and I must focus.  The University of Virginia provides an excellent opportunity here at NVCC for students like me who could not believe that degree completion was a possibility.  

The degree has three concentrations: social sciences, humanities, and business, and even though I haven't decided my concentration yet, I know I'll have the answer in three or four semesters.   I am confident the answer will surprise me.  In addition to a scholarly focus, this program gives me a good track for teacher certification in the state of Virginia, or a solid foundation for transfer to a graduate program.  I’d love to go for an M.F.A. in Creative Writing.  I've spent most of the past two years around English professors, and just watching them and speaking with them has taught me so much about the challenging, vexing, and rewarding profession that they live every day.

In addition, the University of Virginia BIS faculty, staff, and students have made us feel very welcome.  When I saw the signs advertising University of Virginia here at NOVA, my knee-jerk thought is, "not me.  Never me."  I can say now with great confidence and acceptance that I am a student of the University of Virginia.  The redemptive reality of this gift in my life -- when I thought all was academically lost for me is now the greatest surprise and joy of my life apart from my growing relationship with Christ, and I am deeply humbled.

I look forward to studying subjects and fields I know nothing about.  I look forward to overloading on writing classes, sociological approaches to topics I know nothing about.  I look forward to writing hard.   I will probably take every creative writing class afforded to me, much like I did here at NVCC with Nathan Leslie and Bridget Pool.  That's it.  Writing hard.  And reading hard.  I look forward to stumbling and getting up again.  I look forward to that moment where I discover I'm not the writer I thought I was, both good and bad.  Or I'm not the writer I could be -- yet.  Finally, I look forward to a degree from the University of Virginia.

The degree being part time has allowed so much flexibility in my life.  I can remain close to my Mom here in Northern Virginia and support her as much as I can.  I can still visit my stepsons who live in Smith Mountain Lake, whom I love very much.  I can still work and earn a living, and I can still compose music.  Will all that change a little?  Yes.  However, I think this degree is for those students who have experienced change with all of its highs and lows, with all of its joys and sorrows, and the program's multi-layered, interdisciplinary and seminar approach puts the student in a classroom, and he or she must participate, must grow, and must contribute.  This degree program is the only one for me.

After the first half hour of orientation, I felt like I belonged.  I was ready to go.  The staff did such an excellent job at acclimating new students to the University of Virginia.  Each student received a peer mentor, a 1-year veteran of the program.  The peer mentor helps new students adjust.  Students can ask questions, contact them, and form friendships.  The professors were, are, and will be very accessible to students.  In addition, President Theresa Sullivan, UVA's stalwart leader, spoke at orientation and sat among us, encouraged us, and listened to us. 

While I will always call NVCC my home, UVA BIS has given me a second chance.  I couldn't imagine being anywhere else right now.

RJ: What do I hope to get out of this program?

DJ: I hope to finish.  That's my hope.  I believe God has always had my best in mind.  Whether or not I’ve been listening, or agreed to His plans, well, that’s a different story.  In this program, He’s given me an opportunity, and he's opened a door.  I am deeply thankful for it.  I know that this opportunity is my second chance.  

Where will I go after the University of Virginia?  I’d like to attend graduate school, but we'll see.  At least I know that the horizon is clearer, the steps easier to understand and manage, and the hills foreseeable. I recommend this program to the student who doubts, and I challenge them to overcome those doubts and start running.   I've battled alcoholism and addiction all of my life.  I’m still here.  I believe this program to be superlative.  I owe a great thanks to those who nudged me along, with Jeremy Ruane, Writing Center Director, and Profs. Nathan Leslie and Bridget Pool spurning me along.  What began in August 2010 with a cold in-person call for a job at the Writing Center has now enriched me, and I know for a fact I’m ready now.

I'd love to teach.  I'd love to write.  I'd love to continue composing music, and I'd love to read about, travel to and visit with, all the places and people that swirl in my mind that make the stuff of this life and the core of great fiction, memoir, poetry, and song.  Do I have a specific goal?  Provide for a family at 40, yes.  Other than that, I don't know.  But this program has helped me to see the horizon and make it a reality.

To read more about the UVA BIS program, read Rich's story here .