Swan Takes Non-Traditional Path to Career Aspirations

When Dr. Michael Swan, interim superintendent of Burke County Schools in North Carolina, graduated from Oak Glen High School, college was not even on his radar. In fact, the son of Joe and Lynn Swan of Second Avenue New Cumberland, told his parents the workforce was best place for him at the time.
“I enjoyed high school, but never really knew exactly what long-term career I wanted to pursue,” said Swan. Instead of college, he went to work for J & T Towing on the Ohio River.
“My main job was to meet northbound tug boats and deliver loaded barges to various companies along the Ohio River,” he remembers. “The crew and I would deliver coal barges, deliver loaded barges and other materials to local industries, After the barges were unloaded we would retrieve the empty barges, repair them and get them ready for a southbound tug to pick up the newly loaded barges.”
It was tough and sometimes dangerous work and after the first year Michael said he was making minimum wage and didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment.
“ I quickly realized that working on the river for the rest of my life was not something I aspired to do.” Swan found himself spending his weekends at West Virginia University where his older brother, Joe, attended. He attributes some of those visits as well as the goals he was setting for his future as reasons for the decision to pursue a college degree.
After his first year working on the river, Swan began taking classes at West Virginia Northern Community College’s Weirton Campus. The flexible class scheduling allowed him to work during the day and attend classes in the evening. In the Spring of 1994, he began taking classes full-time at WVNCC.
He entered West Virginia University in 1994 and after his first semester he selected Elementary Education as his major.
“I always felt like I wanted to have an impact on the lives of others, but didn’t exactly know how I was going to do that,” he said He talked to his advisors at WVU who guided him into the education program. In 1998, Swan received his bachelor of science degree in Elementary Education. But, he didn’t stop there, in 2003 he earned his master of art’s degree in School Administration from Gardner Webb University and in 2020 his doctorate of educational leadership from Western Carolina University.
In 1998 Swan became a 5th grade teacher in North Carolina where he and his wife, Sara, son, Walt, and daughter, Hadley, made their home. Since that time his career has taken him from assistant principal to principal to assistant superintendent to his most recent position.
While his educational path wasn’t a traditional one it’s one that has worked for him. He credits his parents, Joe and Lynn, for their wisdom in allowing him to find his own path and their support as he followed it.
“They were the biggest influences in my life. They pushed me to do my best but at the same time supported me when I wanted to try something new,” he said. “When I graduated high school and told them I didn’t want to go to college, they supported that. They didn’t push me into doing something at the time I didn’t want to do. They let me come to the conclusion on my own and it was the best thing they could have done. I would have never accomplished what I have if I would have been pressured to attend a four-year university right out of high school.”
What advice would Swan give to a high school graduate who is uncertain as to whether he/she wants to attend college?
“My advice would be to begin thinking what your passion is. After I realized my passion was education, it was an easy choice for me. I would like to encourage students to begin thinking about taking community college courses during their high school career and even after graduation if they’re undecided on what they want to do. The community college setting makes it easy for someone to work and still get a higher education. It also gives someone time to decide what career path they may want to take, I strongly encourage students to take dual credit courses (In North Carolina we call it College Career Promise, CCP.)”