Alexander Allen

Trident Technical College

"In order to succeed, you have to give every ounce of yourself. If you do, the career opportunities are endless."

I was born in South Carolina and moved to Pittsburgh when I was about three years old. Honestly, I hated the idea of school. I hated being told what to do and I hated having to do the work. I was very lazy. All I wanted to do was hang out with friends and party. I got wrapped up in that whole culture relatively early. I started experimenting around eighth grade and really became submerged in the lifestyle by 10th grade. I gave up on almost everything. I was on the golf team and was actually a pretty good golfer. My stepfather was a head professional at a country club, so he had raised me to play. If I had kept up with it rather than let the party lifestyle get in the way, I might have had some type of collegiate opportunities, but I wanted to do what I wanted to do and I just wanted to have fun. By the time I graduated high school, I was starting to get involved with the darker aspects of that life and became physically dependent on opiates in the years that followed. From age 21 through 25, I went to jail a couple of times. I was charged with a felony.

Everybody in my life was fed up from the hurt they experienced watching me live like that. On my final trip to jail, they were all done with me. My girlfriend, my friends, my family — nobody would bail me out. I even had the money to pay my bail stashed away outside, but I had burned so many bridges and destroyed so many relationships that nobody would even sign my bail form.

For the first time in my life, I asked for help. I got in touch with a facility in Charleston where I could get the help I needed. After a year sober, it started to look like I had a chance at a real life — building family and a career. I made the decision to come to Trident because I wanted to get my core classes out of the way and have a smooth transition back into academia.

I didn’t know anything about Trident other than it was a technical college. It turned out to be one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. There are stigmas about technical colleges, but let me say: you’ve got to put in the work. You have to study. You have to keep up the same way you would at Chapel Hill or Clemson.

I’ve chosen to go to another university to finish my bachelor’s degree, but I’ll never forget the time that I had here. It changed my life. When I got here, I was really afraid to come to school because I was so used to failing. I was so used to starting something and not finishing and being intimidated by the outcome. Somebody once told me that the key to life is becoming separated from the outcome. That spoke to me and it is the philosophy I applied in my decision to go to Trident. I’m forever grateful for the education I received and the experience that I had here.

What has your time at Trident meant for you in terms of your own progress and how would you push back on some of the misperceptions people have about technical colleges?

One of the greatest things I got from technical college was a level of intimacy inside of the classroom. They weren’t large classrooms. It wasn’t these big auditoriums or massive classrooms where you have 60 to 150 people. It was a very intimate setting where a class size normally did not exceed 35 students. The teachers really got an opportunity to form a relationship with the students, which was very nice. It made it very enjoyable to show up to class. It made it easy because I knew that they cared about what I was learning. I wasn’t just somebody that they needed for a letter grade so they looked good. They genuinely wanted me to succeed. That was very important to me.

The whole idea that it’s not difficult, I cannot stress that enough. I had the same stigma when I came in. That’s just so not true. Here in my last semester when I was taking my classes, my girlfriend, she goes to the college of Charleston and she used to just — her mind would be blown all the time at the workload that I had and the work that I had to do. She told me all the time that it was far more difficult than the stuff that she was doing. Not any kind of comparison there, so to speak, but just trying to show that it isn’t just an easy walk in the park kind of environment. It’s still a collegiate institution where you have to put in a lot of work.

Now, having been tested like that, having been pushed like that, I’m also at the college of Charleston now and it makes it light years easier — light years easier! Not that the course work is any easier, but all the work that I had to put in being at Trident has really translated well into a four-year university where the transition was seamless and effortless. I don’t struggle with it at all. I feel very well prepared to handle whatever coursework is thrown at me.

What sacrifices did you make along the way?

I’ve had to sacrifice a lot financially. I take a large course load because I’m antsy to get the whole process done. I’ve had to sacrifice proximity to my family, who all live in Pittsburgh. I have great relationships with every single one of them now, but I can’t have that close proximity because I’ve chosen to stay here. This place has what I need.

How has seeing you pursue your education impacted your loved ones?

They’re just to the moon. Every time I talk to them, they compliment me. I still have a hard time accepting those compliments, but they couldn’t be more proud.

What has motivated you to keep pushing?

For me, it’s truth. I really want to make a difference in the world. I want to take my education and build a life where I’m in a financial position to help others.

What advice do you have for others on their journey?

Make sure that you’re ready. In order to succeed, you have to give every ounce of yourself. If you do, the career opportunities are endless.