by Sandy Wall - Craven Community College

You never know where you’re going to find your next career.

For Craven Community College student Cameron Bates, his discovery came when he began volunteering at a child-care center where his daughter was enrolled.

It was there that the 35-year-old married father of three discovered a love for working with children and mentoring them.

Now, with the help of Craven, Bates knows where he hopes to make a difference for his family and for his community.

“Everybody wants the best for their children,” he said recently. “In the college’s Early Childhood Education program, we prepare children to be elementary school students. We take that energy and try to focus that on the children as individuals.”

The road to the preschool classroom has been a winding one for Bates. He grew up in Norfolk, Va., and joined the U.S. Marine Corps straight out of high school.

Bates was stationed in Jacksonville at the time of his discharge and went to work at Hatteras Yachts in New Bern. He excelled there, rising from a low-wage laborer to a well-paid troubleshooter in a short time.

But when the economy slowed, Hatteras was forced to lay off hundreds of workers.

Bates, like many of his co-workers, found himself at a crossroads. He initially came to Craven with the idea of taking a welding course, but was steered in the direction of Early Childhood Education because of his interest in mentoring young children.

Bates said he understands that many people are suspicious of men who are interested in working with young children. However, he has become a familiar — and trusted — face at area child-care programs, and the prospect of a career working with young people appeals to him.

“I wanted my new career to be something that was fulfilling and made me happy,” Bates said. “I can never say enough about the staff here. They steered me in the right direction.”

He said Craven faculty members and staffers have provided great support to him and other non-traditional students who have work and family obligations to meet.

“I was really impressed with my instructors,” he said. “Most of them have had experience in the outside world. They understand the challenges that students face. They wish the best for you. There’s an energy on this campus. The longer you’re here, the more energy you have for this school.”

Bates has thrived at Craven, both in the classroom and in extracurricular activities. Bates is an officer in the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and enjoys helping others.

After he completes his degree at Craven, Bates hopes to enroll at East Carolina University to work on his bachelor’s degree. Bates said he would like to teach other teachers someday or maybe be a leader at a school.

The future is bright, he said.

“I want to be able to reach children when they are most receptive,” Bates said. “I’ll make the best out of whatever situation arises.”