GASTONIA, N.C. (AP) — He's levied an insatiable thirst for education to achieve more than he could have ever imagined as a young boy growing up in a single-parent home in Gastonia.

Stephan Moore, 37, remembers many days hanging around the Highland neighborhood's Erwin Center as a child. It was around the corner from his grandmother's house.

There, he developed a penchant for volunteerism with the city's Parks and Recreation Department, helping out in all areas of the community center, including tutoring both older and younger peers. He donned his whistle and began coaching t-ball at the center beginning at age 12, moving up to head coach just three years later.

"My mom bought red T-shirts and I wrote 'Erwin Center Sluggers' and numbers on the backs," said Moore.

Around that time, he was hired as a camp assistant for the community center's play programs.

One of his most memorable moments came when he was among the first kids invited inside the Ferguson Branch Library when it opened at the Erwin Center in 1990. It was the first library he can remember in the neighborhood.

"For a black neighborhood to have access to books, that was very exciting," said Moore.

Today, Moore is a high-level administrator for Louisiana State University-Alexandria, where he is the university's first-ever vice chancellor for student engagement.

He currently holds a bachelor's degree in family studies from Campbell University and a master of arts in education with emphasis in educational leadership.

For the past three years, he has commuted one weekend a month to Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia, where he is taking classes to earn his doctorate degree in educational leadership and higher education. Those commutes began while employed about 1,000 miles away as dean of student affairs at the University of the Virgin Islands in St. Croix. He plans to graduate with his doctorate in December 2018.

He's also worked in leadership roles at Georgia Perimeter College, The Art Institute of Atlanta, N.C. Central University and Campbell University over the past 15 years.

"Working in higher education, it's been very impactful," said Moore. "I'm very excited to be able to help young adults see a way or have access to a college education and be a part of them walking across the stage with a bachelor's or master's degree."

While his career has taken him on travels across the country and world, Moore insists the foundations for his success were built right here in Gaston County.

He was raised with his three brothers primarily by his mother and grandmother, whom he called his greatest influences. Though his parents were divorced, Moore also kept in touch and had a positive relationship with his father.

"She made everything available to us because she wanted us to not want," Moore said, of his mother. "If there was something we wanted to try or experience, she made that opportunity possible. She also instilled in us that furthering education after high school would be the key to being successful in society."

Directors and other employees in the Parks and Recreation Department and school system also helped to inspire Moore to expand his boundaries beyond Gaston.

After graduating from Hunter Huss High in 1998, Moore became the only of his brothers to attend and graduate college. Though he wanted to be a lawyer or politician at the time, he eventually decided to enter the field of education.

He worked to progress in his education and career. He was always driven by one common denominator that threaded successful people together: They went to college. It's a message that he regularly works to instill in his students today.

"I tell my students the only thing that someone can't take away from you is your education," he said.

His goal is to become president of a college or university.

His drive has never slowed, and ties back to his time in Gaston, where he still visits regularly. He even caught up recently with his former Highland Jr. High Principal Lee Dedmon, now a member of the Gaston County Board of Education.

"Gastonia has left a very positive mark on my life," said Moore. "You never forget where you come from."

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Information from: The Gaston Gazette, http://www.gastongazette.com