Among the students in the Gaston College 2018 graduating class is David J. Girsch, a veteran who has fought battles both in combat and in his personal life. Girsch was a dual major and will earn an Associate of Applied Science and Associate in General Education degrees.
A native of New York State, Girsch dropped out of high school in 1987 when he was three-quarters of the way through his senior year. A few factors went into that decision. Since childhood, he had dealt with dyslexia and problems with multi-part mathematical computations, and the special accommodations that were to be provided to assist him with those issues never materialized. He was never identified officially as a learning disabled student, and he grew frustrated at not getting the extra help he needed. Compounding those circumstances, his family fell upon financial hardship, and Girsch opted to leave high school and get a job to help support them.
Girsch entered the military in 1991 after the first Gulf War started. While in the military, he had the opportunity to pursue his GED, and he achieved that goal in 1997. Girsch served on active duty in the U.S. Army for 11 years, and then he transferred to the North Carolina Air National Guard and served another 11 years. During the first Gulf War, he participated in Operation Provide Comfort and in Operation Enduring Freedom, and he directly supported Operation Iraqi Freedom from a base outside of Iraq. In total, he deployed in combat operations 11 times during his service career, having sought out and volunteered for 10 of those assignments. “I knew in my heart that I was destined to be a soldier,” he said. “I just wanted to protect the people and things I loved most in the world from harm’s way.”
Girsch enrolled in Gaston College in 2015, after his stint with the N.C. Air National Guard ended. Since that time he has worked diligently at his studies and has succeeded despite his learning difficulties. He also tutors other students in the Gaston College Learning Center, helping them with World History I, Microbiology, and Biology 111 and 112. “I got involved with tutoring to help others who may be in peril of falling through the cracks like I did all those years ago,” he said. “My struggles with dyslexia give me a unique insight into how to help people who need it. I am so proud of each and every one of my students, especially when they tell me they passed with flying colors the course we were working on.”
Girsch will be attending Belmont Abbey College in the fall, and he plans to be a dual major there as well. He will major in History with a minor in medieval studies, and in Catholic Education with a minor in theology. His goal is to teach history. “While a good deal of emphasis is being placed on STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] studies, I think it is important that we recognize the contributions of history and that we learn from its lessons,” he said. “Furthermore, I want to teach young people to be critical thinkers and not immediately buy into something without examining it from all sides.”
When asked about the support and encouragement he received at Gaston College, Girsch was eager to recognize many individuals. “Bill Burgin [Program Coordinator and Instructor of Mathematics], Chris Standridge [Math Lab], Cherry Deal [Chair of Developmental Education and Instructor of Developmental Math], and Jami McSwain [Instructor of Developmental Math] collectively managed to get me through my math coursework with me kicking and screaming along the way,” he said. “Another great influence was Cliff Grimsley, my microbiology professor, who really opened my eyes to the world unseen. His professional commitment to excellence, while carefully tinged with humor, are a shining example of the type of teacher I would like to be.”
Girsch was especially effusive in his praise of Susan Whittemore, Instructor of Biology. “Hands down, my biggest cheerleader, mentor and friend has been Susan Whittemore,” he said. “She is also an excellent example of professionalism and attention to detail. She really cares for all of her students on a level that most people cannot fathom. Since we first met, she has been a mentor to me, my sounding board, and the person who keeps me on track in both my academics and career goals.”
Whittemore is equally enthusiastic in her praise of Girsch. “David is one of the hardest working students I have ever known,” she said. “He worked on a major research project for BIO 111, putting in over 30 additional hours above and beyond what was necessary for the course. Although I have several students that do this, he has been by far the most dedicated. He also worked on setting up a small aquaculture research project over one summer and fall. It was a scientific endeavor that he wanted to pursue and his hard work on this project will now allow me to add additional research opportunities for future Biology students. He has been completely dedicated to reaching his goal of obtaining an associate’s degree and I have no doubt that he will be a successful transfer student and obtain a bachelor’s degree in the future.”
Gaston College has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for Girsch. “I think that Gaston College is truly something special,” he said. “I chose Gaston for a few reasons—first was its location. I needed a school that was close to my home and Gaston College fit the bill perfectly. Several friends are alumni and spoke glowingly of the faculty. I have encountered so many wonderful professors and instructors during my time here that it makes me sad to leave. I will always have fond memories of my time at Gaston.”
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