“I pursue learning as a career, and I will follow that path wherever it leads me.”

From slightly cynical and closed off to inspired and involved, student Patrick Voelker broke out of his shell and experienced significant self-discovery at Harford. After graduating from Bel Air High School and spending a few years overseas, Patrick’s return to education began at HCC. His journey here culminated this month as he received an Associate of Arts in Philosophy with High Honors and will continue this fall as he transfers to the University of Toronto to resume his studies.

Patrick had numerous positive experiences in his time at the College that significantly changed his outlook on life. When he first began taking classes at Harford, he was not particularly interested in getting involved on campus as his underlying social anxiety made him wary of the many possibilities. Fortunately, Patrick’s decision to join the Office of Student Life’s (OSL) Emerging Leaders Program – initially to help improve his transfer applications – opened a whole new world of opportunities. Encouragement from Student Life staff gradually helped him to break out of his shell into a brighter world that he had not previously known to be there.

One of Patrick’s first exposures to the many valuable activities available through the OSL was his participation in the Maryland Community College Activity Directors' Association Conference where he learned much about himself through attending various workshops and listening to keynote speakers. Another experience he took advantage of through the OSL was their annual Etiquette Dinner, where he not only learned proper etiquette in a formal dining setting but also gained valuable experience in networking.

Patrick is a member of the College’s Honors program and has served as both president and secretary of the Honors Student Council. At the Honors Conference in 2019, Patrick came to a realization after observing other undergraduate students presenting their research: “Seeing the work that other students were doing encouraged me to continue studying, which came right at a time when I had reached a low point and was questioning whether to continue.” He also attended the 2020 Honors Conference hosted by HCC this past February.

In addition to being a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and attaining Dean’s List and President’s List status each semester, Patrick participated in the 2019 Alternative Spring Break service learning trip in New Orleans to volunteer with community organizations working to address issues surrounding urban poverty. In January 2020, Patrick served as a Student Trip Leader for the Alternative Winter Break trip to Key West, Florida. There he helped lead and motivate a team of students conducting marine debris removal work with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Patrick is grateful for the faculty and staff who helped him along the way. Student Leadership Specialist Caitlin White and Student Wellness Specialist Laura Burke, along with others from the Office of Student Life, pushed him to try things he would never have considered previously. The Emerging Leaders Program and Alternative Break service projects provided him with experiences that helped him to develop new skills and grow as a person. Says Caitlin White, “Patrick was the first student ever to complete both the Emerging Leaders and Leaders in Action programs at the College in one academic year.”

Several faculty members of the College played a mentorship role for Patrick. He was truly humbled by Professor Chris Jones' outstanding dedication to providing honors students with opportunities for academic excellence. Gary Backhaus, Amy Cedrone, and others in the Philosophy Department also provided Patrick with much-needed mentorship. Says Patrick, “Without their encouragement, advice, and intellectually stimulating conversation, I might never have completed my degree.”

In his final semester, Patrick worked on an independent study on Plato’s Republic as a capstone to his experience at Harford. Assistant Professor Cedrone provided him with instruction and mentorship on philosophical writing and seminar-based discussion, which was done remotely, necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This project perfectly aligned with Patrick’s passion and interests and will help prepare him for his transfer in the fall to the University of Toronto.

To cap off a successful two years at Harford, Patrick was selected for the Outstanding Student Leader Award. The award is given to a student who has spent a significant amount of personal time, effort, and dedication in activities that contribute to the College and local community.

About his experience at Harford, Patrick says, “I would recommend Harford to anyone who feels like they could be doing more with their life, but does not yet know what. They will find opportunities at Harford to explore various fields of study and other experiences that will provide them with direction in life and ultimately help to set them on the right path in pursuit of their interests.”