For STC lnstructor, Technical Education Is a Family Affair
March 11, 2013 - Every weekday afternoon of her childhood, Lori Lawson Sweat would take the school bus to Church Street and what was then Swainsboro High School, if she wasn’t already there. She would walk the hill behind SHS down to what is now Southeastern Technical College’s Swainsboro campus and do her homework in her father’s classroom, which is now her classroom.
Sweat, STC’s accounting instructor, graduated from Georgia Southern University with a degree in accounting. After graduating, she was hired on in a public accounting firm and traveled with the firm’s audit staff. Soon, however, a latent urge began to grow.
“I started toying with the idea of teaching,” said Sweat. “Nine months into my work, I saw that it really wasn’t my thing, but I felt like, ‘I’ve taken it this far, I’ve gone to school, I’ve gotten a degree, I need to go and pass this CPA exam.’ I needed to follow through.”
Sweat became certified, but the urge remained. After a few months of talking herself out of it, she left to fill an adjunct position at what was then Heart of Georgia Technical College, now Oconee Fall Line Technical College (OFTC).
The classes she taught weren’t strictly accounting-related, but it was a chance to get her foot in the door. In her third quarter, an accounting instructor needed an adjunct, and Sweat jumped at the chance.
In 1995, the process repeated itself at Southeastern Tech. As before, she got her foot in the door with a non-accounting teaching position, and as before, it wasn’t long before she leveraged that into something greater—in 1996, the accounting instructor left the college and Sweat stepped in.
At around the same time, her brother was hired at OFTC, and her father was still working at Swainsboro Tech, so all three were in the technical college system. Trading stories with her family and learning the ropes all at once, Sweat found the truth in her father’s philosophy.
“He always put the student first,” said Sweat. “[Teachers] know what we’ve got to cover, what the state standards say we have to do, but somehow we’ve got to balance what we’ve got to do, with what the students really need. We have to have empathy.”
Sweat’s dedication to her students and her job has never wavered. In order to help with school accreditation, she began pursuing her master’s degree. This meant commuting from her home in Wrightsville to her infant daughter’s babysitter in Swainsboro to her work in Vidalia and then back to each one again. She made this three-hour commute every work day.
She dealt with this distance for years, but in 2007, an opportunity to work closer to home presented itself in an opening at Swainsboro Tech.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Sweat. “These people were like my family. I grieved when I left.”
It was a bittersweet return to the classroom she had known since childhood. As it turned out, 2009 saw her reconnect with old friends when Swainsboro Tech and STC merged, and 2012 brought her back to Vidalia.
In August, Sweat’s Vidalia counterpart left the college. Budget strain kept the school from hiring a new instructor, so Sweat shuffled her schedule to allow her to teach in Vidalia on Mondays and Wednesdays in addition to her Swainsboro classes.
Sweat’s attitude today is the same as it was when she started at STC, when she left private accounting for a technical college, and when she was doing homework in her father’s classroom. She is appreciative of the opportunities technical education has given her and understands the value of giving those same opportunities to others.
“About the time I started here, a lot of the plants were closing,” said Sweat. “We had an influx of students. I remember a lady telling me one time, ‘I’ve never done anything but sew collars on shirts. I didn’t think I could do anything else.’ I get emotional about that. It’s just awesome.”
For more information on the accounting program at STC, visit www.southeasterntech.edu or call 912-538-3100 or 478-289-2200.