Mike Spencer - Columbus State Community College 50th Anniversary

As a high-school senior, Laura Watson received a scholarship to any four-year university she wanted to attend. But she knew she was ready to get the schooling she needed and start working, and she had heard that the Computer Tech curriculum at Columbus State—then Columbus Technical Institute—was superior to what the four-year universities offered. So she enrolled on her own dime.

As soon as she graduated with her associate degree in Computer Information Systems, Watson was snatched up by a small IT company. Within months, she had joined the cadre of CTI-trained IT staff at Nationwide, and subsequently spent 27 years rising through the ranks. She credits her instructors, who were computer programmers by day and teachers by night.

"I used to hire programmers and I found that unless you were coming out of Columbus State, you didn't know how to program what we needed."

"Their experience was phenomenal to me," Watson says. "They knew about real world computer issues and problems, and the teaching style was great. I was more prepared on the technical side of programming than my coworkers from the universities were. We really were two steps ahead."

When she retired from Nationwide, she moved to JPMorgan Chase. In her position as an executive director of technology, she works on processing, data management and conversions. She still gives plenty of kudos to Columbus State.

"I think going to Columbus State is the smartest choice for people who really know what they want. It's the most affordable school for anybody, whether they're interested in taking a single course for interest, to pursue a degree, or to take general education classes to transfer."

Columbus State is also important to Watson's two sisters. Jean graduated with an associate degree from CTI in 1985. Tracie graduated from Emergency Medical Services Paramedic program in 2009, and is now active in the Nursing program.

"Would I hire someone from Columbus State?" Watson says. "Yes! I used to hire programmers and I found that unless you were coming out of Columbus State, you didn't know how to program what we needed."

Images: A Year in the Life of Columbus State