Ellie Heape, second from left, with her parents and sister Emily

Ellie Heape

Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College

"Because of Early College, I've cut two years off an expensive education, and I'm that much closer to my future."

Sometimes when we’re not sure what to do next, it helps if someone we love shows us the way. For high school student Ellie Heape, that person is her sister Emily.

Emily showed you what it was like to be a high school student and a college student at the same time. Why did you decide to follow in her footsteps?

Emily was the guinea pig! She was the first person to get an associate degree while also being a student at Branchville High School, and that’s how I first learned about Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College’s Early College program. It worked out well for her, and I saw how beneficial it was, so I decided to do it myself.

When I was in 8th grade, I started taking Early College courses at OCtech – mostly online gen ed classes that I could go ahead and get out of the way. Now, two-and-a-half years later, I have taken 14 classes, earned 68 credits, and obtained my associate degree.

You make it sound so easy!

Not always. I can be an anxious person sometimes, and having Emily go ahead of me eased my anxiety and proved that it was possible.

When I was in 8th grade, I initially applied for the advanced program through my school district. (It’s similar to Early College but is not through OCtech.) I was not accepted into that program. But Emily was going through Early College at the time, and everything was working out for her, so I shifted gears and applied for Early College. I was accepted and haven’t looked back.

You and Emily also share a love for the medical field.

Yes. I’ve always wanted an occupation where I could help people, and for me, medicine seems like the best way to do that.

Many of my Early College classes have been online, but last semester, I took some Advanced Biology courses on the OCtech campus with Ms. Angela Bunch. At first, I felt some stress about learning in person, but I was able to connect with my teacher really well, and I made a ton of new friends.

My Early College classes have also exposed me to so many possibilities in the medical field. Growing up, I first wanted to be a pharmacist. Then I wanted to be a general surgeon. A few years back, I was leaning towards orthodontics. Now I’m starting to think maybe gerontology.

My interests have changed over time, but after taking those Advanced Biology classes last semester and learning all about the heart, I’ve been able to confirm that going into the medical field is my dream. That’s what I want to do with my life.

Emily just so happens to be a few steps ahead of me. She’s majoring in Biology at Charleston Southern University, and she plans to go to med school the summer after next.

Do you also plan to attend Charleston Southern?

I’m keeping my eyes open to places all around. But there are a lot of things I like about Charleston Southern. I love how the environment is small, like OCtech. And I like that it’s Christian-based. It’s also in Charleston, which is near the medical school that I want to attend. So there are a lot of components there that are really attractive to me.

I also think that I have a big advantage because of my Early College experience. A lot of people go straight from high school to college, and that can be a huge adjustment – adapting to the workload, making new relationships, living somewhere new. But I think I’ll have it easier – or at least it’ll be easier for me to adjust to all those changes. That’s why I’m so thankful that I’ve taken these classes.

You have already accomplished more than many people who are years older than you. Where does that kind of drive come from?

I think it comes from multiple things. For one, just the desire to save time and money. I mean, who wouldn’t want that?! Because of Early College, I’ve cut two years off an expensive education, and I’m that much closer to my future.

I also believe that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. When I trust in God, He just pulls me through. Other things may fail me, but he never does.

Sounds like you have a pretty mature faith for one so young. Does that help you find balance when your coursework feels overwhelming?

Oh yes! I love going to Branchville Christian Church, where I’m involved in the youth group and the youth band. I sing and play guitar alongside Emily and two other members of our youth group.

I also like to marvel at God’s creation when I travel. My family and I traveled to Hawaii not too long ago, and the islands look as beautiful in real life as they do in the photos!