After five years as a speech-language pathologist assistant, Austin Oxendine still enjoyed working with his students, but without a four-year college degree, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of being stuck professionally.

For advice, he decided to reach out to a couple of trusted licensed speech-language pathologists. When one of them sent him a link to Montreat College, he was instantly intrigued.

“I clicked on the link, and I found that Montreat College was a Christian school,” he said. “I’ve been part of a church my whole life, so I was very interested. Then, once I was on the phone and talked to Amy Poole, my admissions counselor, I was convinced it was the right place for me. She was fantastic. She really made me feel comfortable, especially when she told me I did not have to take any math because of my transcript. That sealed it for me!”

Austin enrolled in Montreat College’s Adult and Graduate Studies program in August 2022. Just 18 short months later, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders, and he’s currently applying to graduate schools to advance his education even further. Before he walks across the stage to ceremonially receive his diploma in May, Oxendine shared his story of his educational journey at Montreat College.

What is your current occupation?
I have been a speech-language pathologist assistant for six and a half years now. I obtained that degree from Fayetteville Technical Community College in 2017.

I work at an elementary school that’s preschool through 4th grade. I have a caseload of 50 students, and we meet either one time a week for 30 minutes or two times a week for 30 minutes depending on their ISP. These kids are like my kids! My favorite is working with PreK and kindergarten because those ages are hilarious. We work on whatever their goals are on their ISP.

I like to do activities because in speech, there’s no curriculum. In the classroom, you have to follow a curriculum, but in my room, there’s so much you can do and accomplish in a speech therapy session.

Why did you decide to return to school?
Now that I did it, I know that it’s where God has placed me and it’s what I was supposed to do. I didn’t linger and think and meditate on whether or not I could do it. One day, I was in the pool with my best friend, and I just said, “I’m going to do it.”

How was your experience working full-time while taking college courses?
To be honest, the year flew by so fast. It was hard work, but I liked it. For most eight-week sessions, I took two courses, but in three sessions, I had three courses. The experience that I already had in the field helped me with my bachelor’s degree. When I started at Montreat, I had been working for five years, so I had a lot of experience. I could then apply what I was learning directly to my treatment sessions. It was helpful when I had assignments where I could relate to a specific treatment session I had with a student.

What are your long-term goals?
I’m definitely interested in learning a lot more and working with the adult population, but I am also a little interested in instructing and holding a management position. I work through a private agency in the school, and we have two clinical managers in our office. They’re both licensed speech-language pathologists, and I look up to them highly.

What are the biggest benefits of Montreat’s AGS program?
How the instructors included God in everything really caught my eye because my faith is important to me. Some of my professors would say, “I’m praying for you this week,” and they would give us inspirational scripture. When I started, I had a tragic death of a loved one in my family, and that happened around finals week of my first semester. My professors were just so understanding, and that meant a lot to me.

What advice would you give to other AGS students based on your own experiences?
Pace yourself and don’t take on too much. Know your limit to balance yourself because you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. If it takes you longer than 18 months, that’s fine. There are moments when it’s draining, but the strategy that worked for me is just working a little at a time and not just waiting till the weekend because you have the whole week to do your work and you know all the hard work will be worth it.

Why would you recommend Montreat College?
The first reason I would recommend Montreat is that it’s faith-based, and every instructor I have had has been supportive. When I was in high school, teachers told me that college instructors wouldn’t care about me, but I have not found that to be true. I would also recommend Montreat because of the eight-week increments that helped me obtain a degree in a short amount of time. I wish Montreat had a graduate school program for me because I would definitely apply.