Dylan Cooke didn’t receive letter grades until he came to SUNY Broome, and his path to college was decidedly nontraditional.
In fact, he and his family lived in an RV until he was around 10 years old, traveling the broad plains of the Midwest and seeing the country’s natural grandeur, including the Grand Canyon. Thirteen years ago, they settled in Owego, and Dylan completed his education through homeschooling. Along the way, he was involved a local, secular homeschool group, taught classes to younger students in history and fantasy writing, and ran roleplaying games to spark their imagination.
To take the next step and attend college, Dylan needed to pass the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC), the national high school equivalency exam. Enter LaunchPad, a program begun in 2015 by SUNY Broome Professor Jennifer Musa and Math and Engineering instructor Craig Jefferson. Classes meet every Tuesday night at the George F. Johnson Library for adult students who want to earn a high-school equivalency credential. Dylan was the first student to complete the LaunchPad program, and to pass TASC.
“It definitely was a stepping stone that made me more confidant,” Dylan said.
The connections he formed with SUNY Broome during LaunchPad made a definite impression. In fact, Dr. Musa ended up giving him a personal tour of campus.
“Working with professors Musa and Jefferson made me feel that these people from this organization are taking the time to help this community,” he said.
Finding his path
For his first semester at SUNY Broome, Dylan has focused on general education classes, but also took the opportunity to pursue theater. It’s an interest he first developed with the homeschool group, which staged Shakespeare plays every year. This semester, he took part in the Halloween Common Hour reading of The Bells by Edgar Allan Poe, an event he particularly enjoyed.
In fact, there have been many unexpected threads connecting his homeschool experience with SUNY Broome and, ultimately, his future. For example, the homeschool group met in the Boys and Girls Club at Western Broome, where Dylan also worked as a lifeguard and then in after-school childcare. He followed the childcare job to Homer Brink Elementary School once that branch of the Boys and Girls Club closed.
Working with young people who attended public schools, he was struck by the differences between his upbringing and theirs, punctuated by letter grades, state tests and a much more regimented academic style.
“When I was their age, I was goofing off. They’re dealing with all of these things I never had to, responsibilities I never experienced until later in life,” he said. “It put me in the headspace to come to college.”
That job, along with this semester’s psychology class with Professor Jesse Boring, developed into something more: a possible career path.
“I never thought I liked children, but some of these kids can be the most real you can get out of people,” he reflected. “Next semester, I plan to take child development classes.”
Pushing his boundaries
Dylan Cooke’s major influences include Rev. Douglas Taylor, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Binghamton, where Dylan is a member and volunteers, and Professor Musa from his LaunchPad days. When he learned about Dr. Musa’s involvement in the Spring 2020 Neuroscience and Evolution class — which culminates in an eight-day visit to London and Bruges in Belgium – he jumped at the chance to enroll.
It won’t be Dylan’s first overseas trip; his father is British, and he has visited the United Kingdom several times. But the trip will push his boundaries in other ways: He will go overseas with his peers, to learn about a particular field relevant to his future in psychology.
For her part, Dr. Musa is also excited to have her former LaunchPad pupil in her SUNY Broome class.
“I am so excited to have another chance to work with Dylan as he furthers his education. Dylan’s success is an inspiration to our other LaunchPad students,” Dr. Musa said. “He had a nontraditional path to college, but displays an admirable work ethic and a real enthusiasm for learning.”
So far, Dylan Cooke has enjoyed his college experience, and has been keeping the integral balance between his studies, his employment and his free time. He is looking forward to seeing where SUNY Broome takes him, and eventually hopes to transfer to Binghamton University to study psychology.
“So far, it’s been a great experience. Having an academic schedule and deadlines help me function as a person,” he said. “I’ve had struggled, but I feel all my professors are really ground and pushing me to new bounds.”