Pandemic pulls curtain on ballerina’s dreamMar 15, 2023
RCC student Kylee Rieger now plans a future of literary research, teaching
The first 17 years of Kylee Rieger’s life were dedicated to dance.
She was born in Florida, moved to North Carolina at age 14, and moved by herself to New York a year later.
“I danced there in the pre-professional ballet trainee program at Joffrey Ballet School in Manhattan for two years,” she said. “Then COVID happened, and I got sent home.”
She spent a year dancing on Zoom and returned to some old hobbies like reading.
“When I was really little, I think maybe in second grade, I started reading little abridged classics for school. There was a competition and I (felt like I needed to) read all the classics as fast as I could,” Rieger said. “That really instilled a love of reading at a young age, and I just continued. When I moved to New York, I always made time on weekends to sit in Washington Square Park and read for a little bit and decompress.”
Rieger found that she could apply many things she learned in dance to reading.
“I could immerse myself into a character’s life, and kind of break the boundaries of my space, which I wasn’t able to do during COVID. That was a lot of fun,” she said.
Then at her mom’s urging, she tested the waters of going to college.
“I was looking at another community college, but my mom said RCC looked like a place I would enjoy – and she was right.”
Rieger was hesitant at first about attending a community college because of the stigma.
“I was going through a time of extreme uncertainty and insecurity after my dream of a career in professional classical ballet had faded during the pandemic,” she said.
She also didn’t have a great high school experience.
“When I first moved to North Carolina, I was in a pre-professional training program in Durham. I started my freshman year of high school online. I really didn’t thrive because I didn’t have that connection and teacher influence,” she said.
“And I didn’t really believe in myself; I always thought I’d be a better dancer. I was better with the physical things. I never imagined myself even trying to pursue a career in academia at all,” she continued. “And now, having that relationship with professors helped me gain confidence in my own intelligence and show me that I could have leadership roles inside the classroom and outside the classroom as well.”
Rieger is studying English Language and Literature, and says the energy at RCC is unmatched, especially the enthusiasm, support and guidance of instructors.
“I can’t pick just one favorite professor. I think Ivy Rutledge and Stacey Tatum have really helped me get through a lot of my classes. Ms. Rutledge really gave me the confidence I needed to have in my writing. Ms. Tatum is just a blast in [Spanish] class all the time, it’s so much fun. She brings exuberance, and you can tell she really loves her job. My favorite classes are literature, looking at it through different lenses, and writing my thinking pieces in Mr. Tim Parrish’s class.”
When she finishes RCC this May, she hopes to double major English literature and Spanish literature.
“I think it would be fun to compare the two, and I think when you understand a different language, or are able to at least map out the sentences, it helps you understand your first language better. Since I started my Spanish classes, it has definitely helped my writing,” she said.
“I have a work ethic from dance and pulled that over to school because I needed to put my focus on everything at once. That’s my personality,” she said. “When I study, I’m a kinesthetic learner. I need to have something to hold, or I need to write down my notes. When I was studying for my psychology class, I would take my note cards and write them down over and over until it was burned into my memory. When I study for my literature classes, I’m reading and highlighting and writing in the margins.”
The sophomore has been amazed at what has come her way at RCC.
During her first semester at RCC, although she was busy with her classes, Rieger wanted to do something more social, to share her interests with others. The director of Student Life encouraged her to start a book club.
“The environment was so encouraging, it opened up a whole world of things for me. Once I was founding the book club and becoming its president, I was pulled into becoming secretary of the Student Government Association – and now I’m vice president,” she said.
“I’ve been offered internships, I have a position as a writing tutor, and I’m an intern with the Tech Support Services department. It’s a place full of opportunity, you just have to reach out and be open to being involved,” Rieger said.
“Just being a part of campus and knowing everything that’s going on is fun. It also led me to take on becoming the president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society,” she said. “I think it might be the most rewarding thing I’ve done here because last semester we did the Angel Tree project and supported 15 children completely. That was really amazing; it was a great thing that I could do for the community. I feel like this county and this school have done so much for me, it’s the least I could do to give back a little bit.”
Rieger is maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average – which has led to her winning “The Great Within the 58,” an academic excellence award through which the North Carolina Community College System recognizes one outstanding student from each of the state’s 58 community colleges.
She has also been named a New Century Transfer Pathway Scholar and will receive a $2,250 scholarship for use when she transfers to a four-year college or university. She was selected based on the score she earned in the All-USA Academic Team competition, for which more than 2,400 applications were received. Rieger was the top scoring student from North Carolina. The program is sponsored by the Coca-Cola Foundation and the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, with additional support provided by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and Phi Theta Kappa. Rieger will be recognized at the annual Phi Theta Kappa President’s Breakfast during the AACC Convention on April 3 in Denver, Colorado.
With plans to graduate in May 2023, her number one choice to continue her education is to transfer to Smith College, a women’s college in Massachusetts.
“I think it’s a similar vibe to RCC. They have the largest archive of the study of women and gender in the U.S., and the second largest in the world. I like to look at literature through the feminist theory, so I thought that would be interesting,” Rieger said. “And they have an open curriculum, so you can take courses outside of your major. That’s something I’m really interested in because I think it’s so important to get things, little topics, from different subject areas that I can apply to literature so I can never stop learning.”
In five or 10 years, Rieger hopes to have a PhD in English Literature, and to be a published researcher and professor of English Literature.
“When I first came (to Rockingham Community College), I wasn’t expecting to want to be a professor because I didn’t think I had the teaching personality. But after being around so many great professors, it has inspired me to go down that route,” she said.
“And I think becoming a writing tutor helped me with that as well. I had a eureka moment with a student, where I switched the format of her paper, I just moved a paragraph to a different position,” Rieger said. The student marveled at how much better the essay became, and Rieger was excited to have helped her. “Just sharing knowledge and being a leader speaks to me, and I think the research aspect really gets me as well,” she said.
“RCC has provided me with more opportunities and life lessons than I could have imagined. It has been the perfect place for my academic skills, leadership skills, and creativity to flourish and to accomplish things that I once thought were impossible,” Rieger said.