College is a time of transformation. And a lot of change can occur in four years. Just ask Isaac Waters.

Waters, who will graduate this year as a business administration major with a concentration in entrepreneurship, applied to the College of Charleston nine times before he was finally admitted. He says his dream was always to attend CofC, yet when he arrived on campus in 2016, he remembers being anxious and fearful about what might be in store for him.

Isaac Waters

Isaac Waters

“I wanted to be a part of a community,” he recalls. “I knew that I needed that. I was in recovery – three and a half years free from drugs and alcohol – and I was scared. I didn’t know that I would necessarily find friends. I didn’t know if I was going to find support.”

So, Waters took it upon himself to ensure that those things would happen. Along with fellow student John Nix ’16 – and two members of the Charleston recovery community – he made plans to establish the Collegiate Recovery Program at the College even before he enrolled as a student at CofC.

An initiative dating back to the late 1970s, collegiate recovery programs are available nationwide today. They provide various aspects of support for college students in recovery and those who’d like to be sober and free from substance abuse. Waters knew people who’d been part of these programs at other universities, so he started doing some research.

“I learned that there were strong programs at places like Georgia Southern University and Augsburg University in Minneapolis,” he says. “These programs genuinely support a thriving community of students in recovery. Augsburg, for instance, has over 200 sober dorm rooms, a staff of nine people and 12 faculty members involved. All of that information really inspired and accelerated our efforts at the College.”

RELATED: Find out how Waters worked to establish the Collegiate Recovery Program.

In fewer than six months, Waters and his cohort had raised sufficient funds to start a program at CofC. The College’s Collegiate Recovery Program officially launched in the fall of 2016. The College of Charleston was the first university in South Carolina to start such a program.

“We got great support and guidance from people at the College, particularly in the Division of Institutional Advancement,” he says. “They taught us how to go out and talk to the community members we wanted to target. The first person we approached – alumna Patty Scarafile ’66 – donated a significant amount on the spot, and then pledged to contribute substantial funds for the following three years. Her involvement has been pivotal, and it really was special to work with her and to watch the impact that she has on her own community here.”

Through grants and private contributions – as well as annual funding from the College – the Collegiate Recovery Program has flourished.

“We’re making a big impact,” Waters says. “We started with just two students four years ago and we’ve now cycled over 50 students through the program. We’ve got a full-time director (Wood Marchant ’89) and a part-time employee (Nate Lyles ’12) and we even offer a scholarship. To see the program grow like this has been the highlight of my college experience.”

And Marchant concurs regarding that “big impact.” As an example, he cites the fact that when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the College to move to online education, the Collegiate Recovery Program made a quick transition as well.

RELATED: Read more about Wood Marchant’s work as director of the Collegiate Recovery Program.

“We continued to meet with students five times a week via Zoom at our regularly scheduled meeting times,” Marchant says. “It became important for me to check in more frequently with each student to learn about their specific situations and how they were doing. And the greater recovery community in Charleston mobilized quickly to make 12-Step meetings available online. Going forward, I think we’ll see a positive impact from this pandemic regarding the availability of more online recovery options and tools.”

Wood Marchant

Wood Marchant ’89

As the spring semester wound to a close, Waters – and the Collegiate Recovery Program – received some good news. The Center for Entrepreneurship recognized Waters as Student Entrepreneur of the Year for his initiative in co-founding the program – and for helping to raise enough funds to support it for years to come.

“When that award was announced,” Waters says, “all I could think about was how much of a privilege it has been to study entrepreneurship at the College. It’s amazing how the mentors and the faculty here really support their students. I’ve taken almost every entrepreneurship course offered at the College and the opportunities you find are unparalleled.

“I took Entrepreneurship 445 three times actually. It’s taught by a local business executive – Glenn Starkmann – who brings a different entrepreneur to every class session and you get to ask that person unfiltered questions about their business. For me, that was life-changing,” he says. “And I took professor Kelly Shaver’s Biomedical Commercialization course, which pairs CofC business students with post-doctoral students from the Medical University of South Carolina. You conduct feasibility studies on the research – the drugs and therapies – that these guys are actually developing. It’s truly a real-world experience.”

In a more recent entrepreneurship course, Waters says that he and several other students had the opportunity to conduct systems-mapping on a local nonprofit called Wake Up Carolina.

“We ran an analysis of one of the organization’s signature programs for three months and then got to make recommendations to the directors,” he says. “Being able to do that as part of a class – to get more real-world experience like that – was really beneficial.”

This summer, Waters began working full-time for FAVOR Lowcountry, a nonprofit that provides support and resources for people in recovery. As the director of fundraising, he finds himself in a familiar position.

“When we started the Collegiate Recovery Program,” he explains, “it was a chicken or egg situation. Do we raise money to provide services, or do we provide the services and assume that the money will come? FAVOR Lowcountry is in a similar situation. The organization’s been around for 15 years, but now its directors want to diversify and increase their impact. So, what I got to do with the Collegiate Recovery Program, I now get to do for the Lowcountry community as a whole. I’m excited about this role. I want to get in there and really show my worth. I know that getting involved and applying myself to a goal like this will be something I’ll never regret.”