USC Sumter Alumna Spotlight - Vicky Edwards
Sumter, SC (10/07/2019) — Vicky Edwards always knew she wanted to teach.
"It was difficult in the early 70s to have a family and a career," Edwards said. "I had this passion for teaching and wanted to jump right in."
Edwards decided to try out the education field by working as a teacher's aide at Millwood Elementary School in Sumter. While she loved working directly with children, she had already set her sights on goals of teaching and, eventually, administration.
With encouragement from professors at the University of South Carolina Sumter and self-motivation, Edwards was able to bring her dream to fruition and impact the lives of hundreds of students and fellow teachers along the way.
"At the time, the only way for me to earn a degree was to take night classes," Edwards said. "Being young and married with small children made the idea of commuting for college almost impossible."
After researching some options, Edwards and a small group of others found their way to USC Sumter. Because the campus was small, they formed relationships with professors like Ellen Arl and Lee Craig that would prove valuable for many years.
"Ms. Craig was so encouraging and would make classes happen for us in Sumter if we found enough students to attend," Edwards said. Each semester they would gather 15-20 students who needed education courses and the faculty and staff would find ways to accommodate them.
Edwards and her fellow students went to class at night and throughout the summer to finish their degrees. In only three years, she earned her Elementary Education degree at USC Sumter.
"I was so excited to start teaching and wanted to experience everything involved with students and the classroom," Edwards said. Not only did she begin her teaching career, she made it her mission to teach every grade level, including the hearing-impaired class.
Edwards wanted to continue to grow in the field, so after several years in the classroom, she decided to pursue a career in counseling. That's when she found herself back at USC Sumter.
"I wanted a master's degree but, again, could not work commuting into my schedule," she said. "The faculty and staff at USC Sumter helped me complete my graduate degree in counseling right here at home while I worked and took care of my family."
Edwards said taking baby steps and celebrating each course was the best way to make the goal of a master's degree achievable.
"USC Sumter was my home away from home, the faculty were so encouraging and helped us see the light at the end of the tunnel. They knew we were working professionals, so they tried to make it as streamlined as possible," Edwards added.
After some time as a counselor at Willow Drive Elementary, Edwards decided to make a career change to an area she set her sights on earlier in her career - administration. She was hired as principal of Bishopville Primary School (BPS).
"What an eye-opening experience that was for me," she said. "The needs there were great, but the town was small." Edwards spent many hours combing the streets and meeting business owners to find donations for materials, books and desperately needed supplies. In return, the hallways at the school were painted with murals of their businesses.
"So many of the business owners had attended BPS as children and were willing to give back," Edward said. "They even brought 'The World Changers' in on the weekends to paint and spruce up the old school. Smith's Concrete donated fountains and Mr. Drayton donated trees and shrubbery from his nursery to name just a few."
She was determined to make Bishopville Primary a National Blue Ribbon School, and she did.
Serving as a leader at a small rural school can be a challenge to say the least. Edwards was charged with recruiting teachers to the area and stumbled upon an organization called FACES (Foreign Academic Cultural Exchange Service) that placed teachers from foreign countries in needy schools. She worked closely with the group to bring in teachers from Romania and other countries to help supplement open positions.
After investing 28 years in the teaching field, Edwards was recruited by FACES the day after her retirement to continue finding teachers for Sumter and the surrounding areas. She has successfully worked with the group for the past 14 years.
Today, Edwards continues to honor those who paved the path for her. She and her husband, Frank, are actively involved in campus activities and remain loyal fans of the university. She is motivated daily by the love and support of her family and knows there is "much to be thankful for."
"I can never repay those who helped me while I was trying to earn my degrees, but I can give back now and provide the same help for others," Edwards said. "I encourage everyone in our community to not only recognize what this campus has done and will continue to do for students, but to give. If money is an issue, give time and support."