Casey Cole lays out the five things she wishes she'd been told as a Lee student
Professor Casey Cole hasn’t always been lecturer in theology. Not too long ago, she was a Lee student herself.
Known for her popularity among students and aesthetically pleasing Instagram profile, Professor Cole connects with students primarily because she understands what it means to be one.
“College is about who you are becoming, not just what you are becoming,” Cole said. “For most students, you are getting the first stab at doing life on your own as an adult.”
A teacher in the School of Religion for three years, Professor Cole has built relationships with students on Lee’s campus by instructing several core classes: Intro to Theology, Benevolence and Gateway.
Cole had the idea to share five things she would want to go back and tell herself as a Lee student from her personal journey of learning the hard way.
“I know a lot of things now that I wish someone would have told me then,” she said.
1) Take advantage of whatever help is available to you, especially professors.
Being the first in her family to come to college, Cole came to Lee with little assistance from others.
“Because I didn’t have anybody actively help me, I didn’t know that I was allowed to actively seek help,” Cole said. “I don’t remember anyone ever saying to me, ‘Let me help with you this stuff,’ when I was an undergrad.”
For the majority of Cole’s time at Lee, she had little interaction with professors outside the classroom. “I never asked for help when I needed it,” Cole said. “If I thought I was doing poorly I just sucked it up. I would have never guessed that professors would want to engage me outside of the classroom.”
It wasn’t until a professor offered to help her write her cover letter for graduate school that Cole realized that professors would be willing to do more than teach. “It wasn’t until my last semester that I realized professors will help you with life, and they want to!” Cole said.
Lee provides many resources to students. The key for student success is taking the initiative to seek the help that is made available.
“Sometimes, you don’t know if you don’t ask,” Cole said.
2) Your calling is to skills and activities, not a job
When Cole came to Lee, she knew her calling was to be a missionary.
“I had a strong calling on my life for as long as I could remember to teach the nations,” Cole said. She saw education as the one stop on her journey to reach the position of missionary. “I was so dead set that I was going to be a missionary that I wasn’t going to change what I did in college because I already knew the call of God on my life.”
Cole realized later that her understanding of what it meant to be a missionary was limited in its scope.
“This idea that I sensed on my life to teach, and specifically teach other nations, I called a ‘missionary,’” Cole shared. “Once I had a word for it I let that word define what I thought it looked like. I thought to be a missionary I had to move to a third-world country, marry a preacher, live in a hut, eat bugs and hold tent revivals!”
But during her time conducting her master's in theology at Lee, Skip Jenkins offered Cole the opportunity to teach some classes.
“When I started teaching here I felt alive,” Cole said.
Cole never imagined that her international mission field would be the classroom. Thanks to of Cole's bachelor's degree in TESOL, Dr. Carolyn Dirksen assigned several students from foreign countries to Cole’s classes.
“It was like this light bulb went off in my head,” Cole said. “I am already doing what I was called to do. I teach the nations! Except I do it from Cleveland, Tennessee and my title is different.”
It wasn't the job title of missionary that God had called Cole to, but rather the use of her skills and activities with the international community.
“Understanding that calling and vocation are not always to a job,” Cole said. “They are towards skills and how can you do those skills in any job.”
3) Find balance in the stress
When Cole first came to Lee, classes were easy—that is, until she neared graduation.
As Cole’s classwork became more challenging, she had to quickly learn how to find balance between the stressful demands of the classroom and extracurricular activities.
“The thing about balance and stress for me is two answers: choices and priority,” Cole shared. “You have to learn to prioritize something and then make a hard choice and stick with it.”
During her time as an undergrad, Cole wishes she would have made her education more of a priority. “I was really consumed with my social life and did enough to get by,” Cole said.
Cole realizes now that working harder in her classes would have helped her down the road.
“There’s something in studying that teaches self-discipline,” Cole said. “I wish today that I was more self-disciplined. I could have cultivated those habits in school.”
4) Seek a mentor for future planning on marriage and finances
While Cole did not initially seek help in college, the mentorship of Dr. Sara Ortega-Higgs, associate professor of Spanish and French, showed her the value of having a mentor.
“She cared to train me outside the classroom,” Cole said. “She trained me a lot about decision-making and seeking peace.”
And Ortega-Higgs has specifically mentored Cole in the areas of marriage and finances. “I feel like sometimes in the Church we love to tell people what doesn’t matter, the only thing that matters is loving Jesus,” Cole said. “It turns out there are some really important things that help you love Jesus.”
Replicating her mentor’s example, Cole takes time outside of the classroom to invest into her students.
“That’s why I spend so much time talking one-on-one with students, developing relationships with them, so that they can ask these things—because you don’t have a class necessarily on this,” shared Cole.
Cole encourages her students to find someone they can seek advice from in the areas of marriage and finances. “You have to find someone who is ahead of you in the game,” Cole said.
5) Be resilient
When life becomes challenging it can seem easy to quit.
For Cole, learning to tough it out in college was a challenge.“I felt more out of place socially here,” she said. “I had to learn to have more emotional and social resilience.”
The social environments of a dorm and classroom brought challenges that Cole had to learn to work through. “College is a great time to learn how not to quit,” Cole shared. “You get a lot of good practice in a really safe and gracious environment.”
Cole sees similar struggles in her students and encourages them to fight and be resilient when things get hard.
“What’s having is worth working for,” Cole said. “Your education is not going to be handed to you. This is a lot more than just having data passed to you. You should expect to work for it.”