Daniel Pensel has always considered himself a leader, whether playing baseball or building forts with friends during his childhood in Orangeburg.
Back then, it wasn’t unusual for Pensel to make decisions when he and his playmates encountered a challenge.
These days, Pensel’s job as a superintendent for water and wastewater for Calhoun County enables him to continually display his leadership skills thanks to the completion of his bachelor’s degree in Claflin University’s organizational management program.
When he applied for his current job four months ago, one of the requirements was a four-year degree.
On May 11, Pensel will be among the first graduates who enrolled in Claflin through South Carolina’s Technical College System Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2016.
Pensel, 32, said he has mixed feelings about completing the program.
“I’m excited that I have completed the program, but it’s a little bittersweet,” he said. “I am also a little sad because I enjoy the classes and meeting with the other students.”
Among the courses he enjoyed most were business research and business ethics.
“Ethics plays on your core values as a person,” Pensel said. “So many ethical decisions are based on a person’s background or values.
“We learned how it applies to people from all walks of life. No one grew up the same way.”
Group discussions based on case studies were pivotal to learning, and Pensel appreciated being in classes where free expression was encouraged among mostly adult learners.
“Our professors did not do all the talking,” he said with a laugh.
Pensel came to Claflin with 130 credit hours from Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.
He said the MOU provided a financial incentive that was important to him as a husband and father of two. He estimates that he paid approximately $15,000 in total for his combined degrees.
The MOU agreement allows students who have earned associate degrees to enroll in Claflin as juniors with the possibility of graduating with a bachelor’s degree within 18 months.
“This agreement is the result of the commitment and effort of several people at both institutions,” Claflin President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale said when the agreement was signed. “Our partnership represents a historic outreach. Claflin has always established productive relationships with individual technical colleges throughout the state. However, we can now provide academic opportunities and access to deserving students from all of the 16 technical colleges in the SCTC System.”
Pensel is grateful that the MOU allowed him and his wife to earn a four-year degree.
His wife, Brittany, completed coursework for her degree in elementary education in 2018. She teaches at Edisto Primary School in Cordova.
“I made sure that my wife finished her degree and I decided to go back to further my education,” Pensel said.
Looking back, Pensel said his life is far different from his senior year in high school when he had “no desire” to attend college. After spending three years in the Army, he worked in construction before landing a job in Orangeburg’s Department of Public Utilities.
Pensel plans to continue his education after graduation. He may pursue a master’s degree in business administration and he is also considering law school. Pensel enjoys debating and believes the skill will come in handy if he pursues a career as an environmental attorney.
“I’ve seen a lot of people’s lives destroyed by some of the unlawful dumping in our rivers,” he said. “If we don’t take care of the environment who will?
“I want my kids to enjoy the natural beauty of the world so I want to do as much as possible to protect wildlife and our natural resources.”