Read contest winner Joseph Riley's story of how one class changed his life:

"When the fall 2012 semester approached, I was feeling lost. I ... was looking for an experience that would change my life. I really enjoyed being in school, but I still wasn’t making progress. I wanted to gain some confidence and improve my life, so I registered for Psychology for Success. I could not have imagined how much the class would help me grow.

The best part of the class was that my instructor was Stacey Henderson, who would quickly become the best teacher I ever had. She always greets her students with a smile and she’s always enthusiastic. The assignments were always fun and writing the journals was always a therapeutic experience for me. As the semester went on, I found myself opening up to my peers more.

The best thing about Mrs. Henderson was that she would always use examples from her own life and related them to what she was teaching us. That became very important for me because I had a lot of negative emotions I had been carrying around for so long.

I went through a very tough year in 2011. I had the third of three back surgeries and missed an entire semester, my parents divorced, and I lost a family member two weeks before my birthday. By sharing her experiences with the class, she inspired me to share mine. Sharing my own experiences allowed me to move on and I became more confident in myself. She also helped me realize that I needed to hold myself more accountable for my decisions if I wanted to succeed.

I’ve changed so much since I took Mrs. Henderson’s class. My newfound confidence has helped me succeed in school as well as my everyday life. I used to never ask my instructors for help. Now I feel more comfortable doing so. That helped me finally complete all of my math classes. She helped me gain the courage to get to know people and make new friends. That led to me getting my first job in the gym, joining a club on campus, and being more involved with the COM community. I gain more confidence when Mrs. Henderson tells me she’s proud of me whenever I tell her about my accomplishments.

I now feel a sense of belonging and happiness that I hadn’t felt since I was in high school. I’ve gotten to know some great people and I feel like my life actually means something. I feel like I can accomplish anything.

As for my future, I’ve finally decided on my career: I want to be a speech teacher. I’m now working towards finishing my associate’s degree next spring and then transferring to the University of Houston - Clear Lake.

I want to inspire students the same way Mrs. Henderson inspired me. She’s an awesome instructor and an amazing person. I’m so thankful I got to be one of her students."