From SVCC to UVA: You Can Get There From Here
Whether playing a game of basketball or the game of life, Jeff Pillow knows how to rebound.
While a student at Southside Virginia Community College in Keysville, he set the Virginia Community College System Basketball Conference record with 27 rebounds in a single game. An even more impressive rebounding record is evident when looking at his academic career. Entering the workforce right out of high school, he later returned to classes at the local community college and recently declared his major at the prestigious University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
“Southside Virginia Community College was a great place to test the waters to see if I could still achieve academically after being away from a classroom for a number of years,” Pillow said. “The convenience of the location and also the low tuition was important in my choosing Southside.”
Pillow, a resident of Phenix and 1999 graduate of Randolph-Henry High School, remembers that he was not an exceptional high school student “mainly because my mind wandered a lot back then,” he said. Pillow noted that college was something that did not cross his mind at that time in his life.
“My friends were all filling out applications to schools throughout the state and up and down the Coast but I didn’t yet have that yearning to go off to school or continue with my education,” he said. “So, with complete adolescent confusion, I decided to enter the workforce knowing that I did, indeed, want to have money in my pocket.”
Working first in the landscape business, he ended up with a three-year career in construction at Progressive Siding in Charlotte County. He notes that he really liked the people, including boss Austin Algeier and was somewhat reluctant to leave.
Pillow’s rebound to college began on a part-time basis when he registered for Biology 231 Human Anatomy and Physiology, an evening course taught by Lisa Dunn-Back, Assistant Professor of Biology on the Daniel Campus.
“I was terrified my first day of class because the material was foreign to me and at that moment, I thought maybe I had gotten in over my head,” he said.
He carpooled to work with a coworker, Jay Taylor, and was able to study during the commute so he could be prepared for class in the evening.
“I wound up with a grade of A that semester so I went ahead and took the second class in the Spring and earned an A once again,” he said.
The next year, he left construction to pursue education on a full-time basis.
SVCC offers a strong University Parallel program making it possible for students to complete the first two years of a four-year degree close to home. Many students transfer their credits to four-year schools in Virginia such as Longwood University, Virginia Tech, Old Dominion University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Hampton University, Virginia State University and schools in other states such as North Carolina State, University of Maryland and others. Pillow was encouraged to send an application to UVA by his Biology professor.
He remembers thinking that he never considered himself “UVA material” and felt this professor had “lost her mind” but she persisted.
Finally one day in exasperation she said, “Jeff, if you don’t apply to UVA, you are just crazy.”
So, he applied and now his residence is in Charlottesville, Virginia as a student at Mr. Jefferson’s University.
Pillow had a lot of support from the entire faculty at the John H. Daniel Campus who signed a letter of recommendation for his acceptance at UVA.
“I do not know the contents of the letter they wrote but it made me understand even more how much the faculty at SVCC truly cares about and believes in their students to succeed after they have left the nest,” Pillow said.
“I think the atmosphere at Southside caters particularly to students. I was sort of lost and finding my way in education when I started back part-time. The close-interaction that is available from teacher to student helps strengthen the student academically,” he said.
He noted that Southside gave him the confidence to further his education and the belief that he could be successful.
“The teachers were teachers but they were also sort of like friends and personal mentors,” he said.
Dr. John J. Cavan, SVCC President, said, “Jeff is an example of how community colleges can open doors to higher education and get people excited about learning. Our faculty is committed to making sure students are successful and can realize their full potential. The college has a great faculty and support staff dedicated to the students.”
Pillow had a tradition of education in his family from the start but he just needed an extra boost. His sister received a Bachelor’s degree from Radford University and later studied at University of Tennessee, his mother went to nursing school and his dad entered the military and received his Associate’s degree from Central Virginia Community College while working.
While at SVCC, Pillow played basketball for Coach Dennis Smith on the Force team. He said he misses the camaraderie with his fellow teammates, his coach and other faculty and staff at the college.
He started at UVA on July 5 in a special program for a select number of students. He notes that his fall semester workload is a heavy one but he received good grades during the summer so he is feeing good about his academic success.
While at SVCC, Pillow was nominated to the All State Virginia Academic Team, was a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and was named to the National Dean’s List. He was also voted Most Valuable Player for two years on the SVCC Basketball Team and served as Captain and was named to the VCCS All-State and All-Tournament Teams.
Now majoring in English at UVA, Pillow can still boast rebounding as a forte. He proves that with courage, determination and a little help from your friends, everyone can be a winner in the game of life.