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Lifelong learners: Whitney Sanders and Glenda Ponder

He entered Wofford at 14, she went to SCC at 65

WhitneySanders
 

 Whitney Sanders graduated Wofford College with a degree in computer science at age 18. Photo credit: JOHN BYRUM/john.byrum@shj.com

 

By Felicia Kitzmiller
The Spartanburg Herald-Journal 
Published: April 5, 2013
 

On March 1, 18-year-old Whitney Sanders launched his first business.

Sanders might seem young to manage the responsibilities of enterprise, but the young entrepreneur is used to being ahead of the curve.

Sanders graduated from Wofford College with a degree in computer science in May 2012 as most of his cohorts were preparing to receive high school diplomas. As students his age were moving into dorms and getting into the college life, Sanders was also leaving home for the first time, but it was to attend Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg as a graduate student.

When Sanders first stepped on Wofford's campus as a full-time student, there was no rush of trepidation. He began taking classes at Wofford as a dual enrollment student at 12 years old. His familiarity with the campus and many of the faculty gave him the opportunity to settle into a fundamentally “normal” college experience.

“It was phenomenal. I met a lot of really fascinating people,” he said.

Sanders took four classes each semester at Wofford for four years. Despite not getting his driver's license until his junior year, Sanders said through the efforts of his parents and dedicated friends, he had a relatively “normal” college experience. He travelled to the NCAA basketball tournament with his Wofford classmates and interned for campus professors who were developing a curriculum for high-performance computing.

On Friday afternoons, he played a pick-up basketball game with fellow students and a couple professors. Sanders said he felt like he benefited greatly from Wofford's community atmosphere and small classes with lots of discussion. In his graduating class, there were only 10 computer science majors.

“At Wofford they were preparing us to be people. … I think the biggest advantage was I got to grow up and become a man surrounded by the influence of people I wanted to emulate,” Sanders said.

At Carnegie Mellon, Sanders experienced apartment life for the first time. Living in a big city was quite an adjustment.

“If you miss your turn, they have all these one way streets and before you can get turned around you're an hour away,” he said.

Sanders was inspired to study language technology at Carnegie Mellon after a failed attempt to create a talking instant messaging application. Language technology fuels such popular applications as iPhone's Siri and Google Translate.

After one semester of study, Sanders is taking a leave of absence and has returned to Spartanburg to start a web-based business. On March 1, Sanders launched the website www.helpfulspider.com, which offers website creators assistance finding the proper web host for their page. The success of his business will determine when and if Sanders returns to Carnegie Mellon.

“I know this is going to be useful, the challenge is getting the attention and interest of website creators,” he said.

Glenda Ponder

For Glenda Ponder, one class turned into two more and before she knew it, she had an associate's degree from Spartanburg Community College.

In 2008, with aspirations to open her own daycare center in downtown, Ponder enrolled in an early childhood education class at SCC. The next semester, the long-time foster parent found herself without a child in her care, and her daughter was on military assignment in Germany with her grandchildren.

The retired FedEx employee wasn't used to having time on her hands, so she signed up for two more classes.

“It was just something to do to keep me busy. I enjoyed it. After two years, I was like ‘I might as well get a degree, I've been here two years,'” she said.

She graduated with her associate's degree in advanced childcare management in May 2012.

At the school, Ponder said she was embraced by her younger classmates.

“Those kids really enjoyed me,” she said.

In her second year, Ponder was going into a math class when a student she didn't know called her name. The boy was the son of one of Ponder's high school friends who remembered her from his childhood. They studied together through the rest of the semester.

“I would call him or he would call me at night when we finished the problems. There were times I would have them right, sometimes he would have them right,” she said.

She said she struggled in her math classes and the class she enjoyed the most was management.

She wrote most of her papers and did research in the computer lab at the library, which she dubbed her “office.”

When she graduated, Ponder said she thought she had an arrangement with the owner of a downtown building to launch her daycare and after school program. The building was perfect, and located only a few blocks from SCC's upcoming campus at the Evan's Building.

“I wanted to help the young mothers who wanted to go back to school,” Ponder said.

She was working on her business plan when she drove by the building and saw a sold sign in the window.

“It was like a balloon flying and you punch a hole in it. I just fell flat,” she said.

Then she investigated creating a service hub where people in need could come for a hot meal, clothing, or whatever else they needed. She was set to visit a similar facility in Columbia, when she learned that venture went out of business.

For right now, Ponder said she spends her time helping a 107-year-old woman in her community and studying her bible. She said she is praying and waiting for God to show her how to pursue her passion for helping people.

“The only thing that makes me feel like I'm doing something – that makes my day complete – is to help someone,” she said.


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