Neal CurtisAfter leaving Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) because of a medical condition in 2004, Neal Curtis took himself out of the academic realm and spent five years recovering and working. In 2009, he decided to resume his academic journey by taking a literature course at County College of Morris (CCM), little realizing he would discover a passion for learning and his life.

Now he is working towards his doctorate degree in English literature at the University of Virginia, one of the most prestigious English Ph.D. programs in the country.

Curtis never dreamed that taking a few courses at CCM would turn into a hunger for education that would lead him to some of the nation’s top schools. After graduating from CCM in 2011 with his associate degree in liberal arts, he transferred to Columbia University where he earned his B.A. in English with summa cum laude honors.

“I had no intention of even applying to a four-year school before I came to CCM,” he says. “I had to do a lot to reshape my academic image after leaving FDU and CCM helped me.”

English department Chair Janet Eber was an “administrative champion,” he says, and helped him realize his potential by motivating and advising him. “She was very helpful, very supportive and pointed me in the right direction. Dr. (Philip) Chase and Dr. (Maryanne) Garbowsky were also instrumental in my success at CCM and beyond.”

He notes that his favorite part of being a student at CCM was interacting with the professors from the English department. “They always gave me extra time, challenged me and encouraged me if I was selling myself short.” His admiration for them is what inspired him to set the goal of becoming a professor.

His experience at CCM also prepared him well for the hard work he needed to undertake to succeed at Columbia. “My literature classes at CCM definitely prepared me for the kind of thinking and the level of work that was required at the Ivy League level,” he says. “If I hadn’t had the opportunity to go to school in such an inviting and receptive environment, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I was able to experiment and feel out where my interests were at CCM.”

Not only does CCM provide a high-quality education, it also is a perfect place to get a fresh start after a major setback, Curtis adds.

“There are great people working at CCM, not only brilliant and helpful, but so willing to give their time to students who are uncertain and struggling.”