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Lake Superior College grad eyes teaching career — 2 years ahead of schedule

Piper Barcus is set to earn an associate degree Monday, about two weeks before she crosses the stage at her high school graduation.

Piper Barcus
Piper Barcus poses in Lake Superior College’s Hawks Landing lounge, a favorite studying spot of hers, on Wednesday. The 18-year-old is receiving her associate degree Monday and her high school diploma in June.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Piper Barcus didn’t have a plan, per se, when she enrolled at Lake Superior College in Duluth in fall 2020.

The South Ridge School senior knew then that taking post-secondary credits wouldn’t cost her anything, and she liked the freedom to set her own schedule. A professor at the college and her mom nudged her toward English generally and teaching specifically. Ultimately, she’s set to get an associate degree from LSC on Monday, her high school diploma from South Ridge next month, and then head to North Dakota State University in Fargo to get a bachelor’s degree in English education.

“I always had the thought in the back of my head that I was going to be a teacher, but then I never explored the option until I took a couple of elective English classes here,” Barcus, 18, said in the Hawks Landing study lounge at the college. “And I realized that I really like English and I want to pursue it.”

Barcus hopes to teach high school English and help her students not be afraid to write creatively. Every person, she said, can write something good if they put in the effort.

“Realizing that I could be the person to inspire someone in that way,” Barcus told the News Tribune, “that seems really cool.”

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Piper Barcus
High school and college student Piper Barcus talks with a visitor in Lake Superior College’s Hawks Landing lounge.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Her work at the community college in Duluth means Barcus will only need about two years to get her degree from NDSU. She readily agreed it might be weird to only be a few years older than the students she hopes to teach, but paraphrased some advice she’d received from LSC faculty: “You’re the teacher,” Barcus said. "You’re in charge.”

Barcus, who’s from Alborn, is set to graduate with at least 815 other people at the college. Her graduating class at South Ridge is set to be about 40, she estimated. It’s been tricky, Barcus said, to stay in touch with her high school classmates and plan events there while studying at the college, but her friends have been supportive while she’s worked toward her LSC degree.

“They all knew that that was exactly what I wanted to do,” Barcus said.

She’s the fourth person in her family to take a similar academic tack. Barcus’ cousin earned an associate degree from Lake Superior while they were still in high school, and her two older sisters did the same at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College. They’ve worked in physical therapy, day care and marketing, respectively, and now all work in health care.

Despite her family members’ professional landing spots, Barcus herself said she doesn’t want to work in healthcare. She was also adamant that she wants to return to the Duluth area with her future North Dakota bachelor’s degree.

“All my family’s here,” Barcus said.

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Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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