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Continuing Education Stories

The Friday Center serves students of all types who have all sorts of educational goals and who have experienced a variety of positive outcomes. The following stories highlight some of the typical reasons that students participate in our educational programs. We hope that you identify with these stories and encourage you to share your own personal continuing education story with us. To submit a story, contact bferris@email.unc.edu.

 

Swantina Little

Time to heal

In 1998, Swantina Little was a victim in a serious automobile accident. She suffered several cracks in her neck and spine. Though in excruciating pain, her pleas for help often went unheeded by an indifferent hospital staff. Swantina was so moved by this experience that she decided to refocus on her education and pursue a career in nursing. Swantina also discovered that her personal journey had made her more empathetic. “I work as a certified nursing assistant; patients say I have a gentle touch,” Swantina says. Working in hospice care, her compassion and emotional support has brought comfort to hundreds of terminally ill patients.

For the past several years, Swantina has been working on earning the credits she needs to enter nursing school. By taking classes through Carolina Courses Online, a UNC-Chapel Hill distance education program offered through the Friday Center, Swantina has been able to attend school part-time while juggling full-time responsibilities at her job and as a mother.

At times, the demands of parenting, working, and studying threatened to become too much. Paying tuition meant working extra shifts, which made maintaining her household by herself even harder. But thanks to the William Friday Adult Learner Scholarship fund, Swantina received a little financial relief this past semester.

“Mr. Friday’s vision was to make a University education available to every citizen in North Carolina,” says Virginia Ross Taylor, former assistant to UNC System President William Friday, for whom the scholarship is named. “Swantina is exactly the sort of driven, hard-working individual Mr. Friday wanted to reach.”

With only a handful of classes remaining before she earns her undergraduate degree, Swantina hopes to enter nursing school soon and complete the journey that began with that unfortunate accident all those years ago. Though it came at great personal cost, Swantina’s work is a credit to her character and determination, and a benefit to all patients under her care.

 

Tyler Forrest

Making his city safer, one course at a time

Most kids dream of becoming firefighters. Tyler Forrest is a firefighter who used to dream about becoming a Tar Heel.

Tyler grew up going to Carolina basketball and football games, hoping to enroll as a student one day. However, a family illness and his mother’s divorce compelled Tyler to step up as head of the household, foregoing college and entering the workforce immediately.

Tyler’s sacrifice benefitted not only his family, but also his community; Tyler has served in the Salisbury, North Carolina Fire Department for more than a decade. And in the last few years, Tyler has achieved some important personal goals: He has attained the rank of fire captain, and he’s now a student at Carolina. By taking self-paced courses through the Friday Center, Tyler is working toward a degree in exercise and sports science—knowledge that will come in handy in a physically demanding profession.

“With our scheduling, it’s almost impossible for me to attend courses in person,” Tyler says. “Without the self-paced program that lets me take the course over a longer period of time, I’m not sure I’d be able to complete it.”

Tyler’s coursework includes statistics, psychology, and public-health research—knowledge he is already putting to use. He has used testing and research to revamp his department’s physical agility test, resulting in fewer on-the-job injuries. He’s currently partnering with local health professionals to study how sleep patterns affect firefighters’ health. The results will help Tyler keep his crew rested and ready for any emergency.

“Thanks to the Friday Center and their absolutely amazing advisors, this dream became a reality for me and others who also share a passion for the school and its unsurpassed academics.”

Tyler plans to complete his degree in the next few years and continue to make his job—and his city—a safer place. Suffice it to say that Tyler is a Tar Heel through and through, and a hero besides.

 

Jamie Berger

Strong roots

As a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, Jamie Berger juggles two majors and a busy student life. She wanted to stay close to home for college, but her schedule makes it hard to spend time with her family, even though they’re just a short drive away.

In the spring of 2011, Jamie and her father took a Friday Center Community Classroom course on organic gardening, with the goal of planting a garden together the following summer.  “It was nice to see my dad every week when we went to class together,” Jamie says. “We both work a lot, so it gives us a nice break. As a student, it’s hard to find time to get together sometimes. The instructor was really great, really helpful and knowledgeable. She answered any questions we had. We also got to talk to a master gardener, who gave great advice on growing flowers, and dealing with pests and bugs.”

Jamie and her father now use the knowledge they gained in class to maintain summer and winter gardens, growing eggplants, okra, strawberries, and cucumbers. Occasional obstacles—a failed zucchini,  and hungry local deer, for example—don’t deter them as they work together planting, mulching, composting, and watering the garden using a home-made rain barrel to collect water. Their Community Classroom experience has helped them cultivate not just a garden, but their relationship as well.

 

Mike Robb

Taking flight

Sometimes it takes a while to set your flight plan. Mike Robb grew up in Chapel Hill and went to college right out of high school. After going to school off and on since 1991, Mike moved back to North Carolina in 1998 with a plan to finish his degree. He worked a few restaurant jobs while tackling his studies a class or two at a time as a part-time student through the Friday Center.

“The Friday Center really understands the experience of someone who’s not a twenty-one-year-old student. They still make you feel like you’re a part of the University student body. At some places, as a part-time student, you feel very separate from the traditional students. The advising was excellent, better than I got when I went to college as a traditional student out of high school.”

After twenty years, Mike earned his history degree in 2011 in the Peace, War, and Defense curriculum. Today, Mike is the educational development assistant at the College Park Aviation Museum in College Park, Maryland—the oldest operational airport in the world. He currently designs exhibits and serves as founding editor of the museum blog, writing about notable early flights, and how Wilbur Wright trained the first military pilots there.

Mike is now working towards his Master of Science in Historic Preservation at the University of Maryland, along with a museum-studies certificate at the same time. He hopes to one day help small museums reach out and interact with their communities, an endeavor he finds very rewarding. Mike credits the Friday Center for helping his career take off.

 

Hal Mekeel

A lesson in perseverance

In 1978, just before his final semester in college, Hal Mekeel took a job at Harvard Medical School as an electron microscope technician. He planned to finish his last semester’s worth of classes part-time. Little did he know that semester would last three decades.

Hal enjoyed his work and always intended to complete his degree, but various emergencies and life events meant that classes would have to wait. His son had special needs, necessitating a move to Chapel Hill in 1987 to be closer to a specialist. His new job as an electron microscopist at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine demanded his full attention. Then Hal himself developed Guillain-Barré syndrome, afflicting him with bouts of paralysis and exhaustion. Through it all, Hal stayed positive, taking occasional classes when he could.

In 2006, Hal’s wife and son politely suggested that he focus on finishing a degree. “They said, ‘Look, you need to get this done!’” Hal says with a chuckle. His family pointed him to the Friday Center for Continuing Education. “Without the Friday Center, a bachelor’s degree would have been out of the question,” Hal says. “They figured out what I needed to do to get my degree and put together this patchwork education that I had.”

In May 2011, Hal finally graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a Bachelor’s degree in history and a 3.7 GPA. So what was it like to walk in the graduation ceremony after thirty-six years? “It was emotional,” Hal says. “Hearing the Clef Hangers sing ‘Carolina on my Mind,’ seeing all the students in blue, ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’ it was very moving.”

Now that he has his degree, Hal plans to go into teaching. After so long in the classroom and the workforce, Hal has a lot to teach the next generation.

 

Beth Jones

Crossing the finish line

While still in college, Beth Jones got an offer she couldn’t refuse.

She’d taken an internship at Muhleman Marketing working on the Hendrick Motorsports account, helping promote some of the biggest stars in the NASCAR circuit. She did so well, Hendrick offered her a full-time job. There was one catch—she hadn’t yet earned her degree, and her boss wasn’t able to hold the job for her. Faced with a choice between finishing her studies and starting her career at an exciting company, Beth accepted the offer.

Even though her career was on the fast track, part of her felt stuck in pit row. She soon began to feel self-conscious about being the only one in the marketing department without a college degree. Her mother, also a professional marketer, cautioned Beth that she’d need that degree to take the next step career-wise. But with NASCAR’s demanding schedule, two young children to raise, and a tricky course requirement (Spanish!) ahead of her, college seemed like one race she couldn’t win.

That’s when her mother steered Beth toward the Friday Center’s Self-paced Courses to finish her requirements for graduation. Being able to work at her own pace, Beth could put in the extra time she needed to master the material. Friday Center advisors helped keep her on the right track. “The teachers are both responsive and accommodating,” Beth says. “I couldn’t have done it without the Friday Center.”

In December of 2009, Beth Jones earned her Bachelor of Arts with a major in communications and a minor in business. She’s still at Hendrick Motorsports as the hospitality and event manager, planning 125 events and more than 500 tours of the Hendrick complex every year.  She even gets to work with drivers like Dale Jr. and Jimmie Johnson. In December 2011, Beth won the Papa Joe Hendrick Award of Excellence at Hendrick Motorsports, voted on by her peers. Now with a college degree and miles of unique work experience under the hood, Beth’s career is moving ahead at full throttle.

 

Tania Osborn

Career change during a tragedy

Tania Osborn worked as a legal assistant at her husband’s law practice for many years. When her husband unexpectedly passed away in 2007, she found herself without her spouse, and without a job to support her and her two teenage daughters. Tania had a background in engineering, but in the midst of her family tragedy she wanted to reinvent herself. As a part of that transformation, she decided to enroll in the Paralegal Certificate Program at the Friday Center.

Tania had worked primarily on criminal law as part of her husband’s firm, but she found that the Paralegal Program gave her the freedom to explore other niches in the legal profession. To her surprise, she soon cultivated an interest in contract law. “My confidence grew during the course,” she says. “I discovered more of my strengths and became excited about moving forward in my career.”

With her paralegal expertise, Tania was promoted to her new job at the UNC Office of Sponsored Research, reviewing grants and contracts. “The Paralegal Program offers a ‘bag of goodies’ you can offer an employer. The Friday Center allows you to stick your toe in the water on a career path without making a huge time investment—that’s an ideal setup for adult learners.”

Tania takes a great deal of pride in finding the courage to try something new while in the middle of her life. “I came to Friday Center for education but I found inspiration,” she says. Tania provides a fair amount of inspiration, too.

 

Cindy Broderius

One student's evolution

Here’s how a self-proclaimed computer dinosaur evolved into a twenty-first century online learner.

Cindy Broderius wanted to change careers to academic advising, but she found those jobs hard to come by without a master’s degree. She needed a psychology course to qualify for the program, but scheduling conflicts made going to class a difficult proposition. Cindy found her course—and the flexibility she needed—in the Friday Center’s Carolina Courses Online program. She had never taken an online course before, and was a little wary. “It was a weird adjustment at first. I missed seeing other students, and it was an adjustment simply being in class after so many years. But the online format gave me more time for reflection, and the instructors provided extensive resources and feedback. It eased me back into being a student again.”

Cindy has since earned her graduate certificate in counselor education, and will earn her master’s in May 2012. After graduation, Cindy looks forward to working as a college career counselor, giving students the kind of help she herself received. “Taking an online course through the Friday Center showed me that I could go back to school, and gave me the confidence I needed to take a new career path.” Though Cindy was once intimidated by online courses, these days they’re a natural selection.

 

Anita Woodley

“It all started with this one little course,
and I haven’t stopped since then!”

Anita Woodley is a great writer; she will tell you that about herself. But she wasn’t always so confident. Her experiences growing up in the rich cultural environment of Oakland, California, gave her a unique voice—but she worried that her writing skills were not strong enough to express it.  “In college, I worked closely with my English professors to learn what I was not properly taught in the Oakland Public school system. Even as a public radio producer, I swelled with fear when asked to write a promo or revise my notes from a pre-interview.” Anita recalls.

To gain confidence in her writing, she decided to take a Community Classroom Series course called “Write Your Life.” For Anita, this was the beginning of a life-changing transformation. “It taught me to appreciate who I am and to put it into my work. I just soared!” she recalls. She learned so much from the instructor that she decided to take another one of his courses, this time in the Carolina Courses Online program for academic credit.  Anita plans to take more writing courses through the Friday Center, but for the time being she is enjoying great success in her career as a radio producer, having recently won two national journalism awards, and she is now charging top dollar for freelance writing assignments. “I’m really a writer!” she says, with all the confidence in the world.

 

Joan Black

“Our conference is being held up as
the gold standard in providing accessibility.”

Conference planner Joan Black presented the Friday Center with the ultimate technical challenge: provide program access during a three-day conference for an audience of hearing impaired, deaf, or deaf and blind attendees.  “This was an extremely challenging event, as we promised accessibility each day, every session,” she remembers.

With the highest level of technical expertise and a legendary commitment to customer service, the Friday Center’s audiovisual and conference planning staff took on the challenge with remarkable results. Accommodations were made through a variety of methods including closed-captioning, sign language, and close-up projection of presenters for lip-readers.  All of these accommodations were made seamlessly— presentation content was delivered to the entire audience, regardless of impairment.

“Accessibility is not readily available or understood throughout society—even though it is 2008—so our conference is currently being held up as the gold standard for all conferences in providing accessibility to and for everyone.” says Joan.  “We achieved our lofty goal with the cooperation and support of the Friday Center.”  The Friday Center has long been considered the premiere continuing education facility in the Triangle area of North Carolina and consistently receives high praise for the extra-mile efforts of its conference services staff.

 

Susan Waddell

“It can be done. I am proof!”

In 1977, Susan Waddell had an exciting career ahead of her. She had just graduated from nursing school and had begun working as a full-time nurse. She also had a new husband and dreams of building a family. Eventually, Susan set aside her career while she raised three children and, before she knew it, twenty-six years had gone by. It was then that she decided the time had come to restart her career. “I felt led to pursue the Nursing Refresher Course at age forty-nine. I completed the program at age fifty.”  

Susan is now happily employed as a clinical nurse in Same Day Surgery at Duke Raleigh Hospital. “If I can do this after being out of the profession for so long, no one should feel fearful or intimidated about starting on the journey.”

 

Horace Sewell El

“…that little old lady still haunts me. I wish I could thank her for the spell she put on me, because here I am at UNC still trying to fulfill the promise I made to her.” 

During the turbulent years of the early ’70s, Horace Sewell El faced a grueling two-hour commute by bus and train to attend community college in Brooklyn, NY.  “I had no job, no money, and I wanted to marry my high school sweetheart.  I had a hot prospect for a job driving a city bus.  It paid $10 an hour to start, with benefits, pension plan, and health insurance.” he recalls.

Horace reluctantly decided to withdraw from college.  “When I arrived at the office to withdraw from my classes, I was waited on by a woman small in stature but imposing in her presence.  In the few minutes it took for me to begin the process of withdrawal, she changed my life forever.” The woman in the registrar’s office held eye contact with Horace as she handed him his papers, and made him promise that he would someday return to school.  “If for no other reason but the fact that she took the time and the interest to care about me—this poor kid from Queens—I promised her.”

Today, Horace Sewell El drives the Chatham County Express route for Chapel Hill Transit.  When he’s not working, he is studying to become an anthropologist.  He has earned 48 credit hours towards his undergraduate degree so far through the Friday Center’s Credit Programs for Part-time Students and he expects to graduate by summer of 2009.

 

David Buckler

“My whole life I wanted to be a Tar Heel!”

 As a high school senior, David Buckler applied early to his number one college choice, UNC-Chapel Hill.  Although his grades were excellent and he had high SAT scores, his out-of-state status put him in a highly competitive pool of applicants. David’s application was not accepted, so with much disappointment he moved on to attend Gettysburg College where he earned a degree in mathematics, and then George Washington University for a graduate degree in operations research. Soon he was happily married and enjoying a successful career as a defense contractor for the federal government. But he was still nagged by this one regret—he never got to be a student at UNC.

So David decided to go back to school. He took a class through Carolina Courses Online, simply for the satisfaction of being able to say he had been a Carolina student. “I received an A+ and eventually had all of my reports and assignments bound into a nice leather book, complete with my official UNC transcript!” he says with pride.

Since he was doing this purely for enjoyment, David chose a course in media criticism. “I thoroughly enjoyed it because it was different than mathematics and I learned a great deal about film art and the business of film and television.” he recalls.  In fact, he was so inspired by the course that he got involved with the Washington, DC, film industry and has now been in over thirty films and television programs!

 

Alice Osborn

“The courses I took through the Friday Center were exactly the start I needed.”

 With a new baby and a demanding retail job pushing her to the limit, Alice Osborn opened the paper one day and saw an ad for Self-paced Courses. “Looking ahead, I realized I was going to be 30 years old, so I decided it was time for a career change.” she recalls. “I had been writing my whole life and I had a real passion for writing and reading. I was active with the Raleigh Jaycee book club, and got involved in the NC Writers’ Network. My first step after that was to take a class.”

Over the next two years, Alice took two self-paced writing courses. “The self-paced course was great for someone like me who didn’t have childcare.” Alice also notes the importance of being able to ease back into a regular routine of completing assignments and daily course work. Now, with her confidence bolstered, she felt ready to pursue a master’s degree in English. “Taking these courses gave me the confidence to do everything else I went on to accomplish.” says Alice. Since completing her master’s degree in English, Alice has gone on to teach high school English, conduct numerous creative writing courses, and even publish a book of poetry.

 

stephanie henryStephanie Henry

“I actually completed my first distance education course while on active duty.”

Stephanie Henry loves a challenge! In the late 90’s she joined the Army Reserve, partly to experience the challenge of boot camp. After completing Basic Training and Military Police training, Stephanie decided she was ready for college. She graduated with honors from Cape Fear Community College, and then applied for admission to UNC-Chapel Hill. “I was so excited when I received my acceptance letter.  I couldn't believe I would soon be attending one of the finest universities in the nation,” she recalls.

Stephanie made the most of her junior year at UNC. She took on a diverse course load and rowed on UNC’s crew team. In 2001, just as she was entering her senior year, the events of September 11 abruptly interrupted Stephanie’s university experience. “I knew at that time that I would not be graduating the following May.  Within two weeks of the attacks, my Army Reserve Unit was activated and I was forced to withdraw from college.”

But through the Friday Center’s distance education programs, Stephanie continued earning credits while on active duty. She finally was able to return to Chapel Hill this summer to complete the last three courses needed for her degree in Exercise and Sports Science. “Without the availability of UNC's Friday Center I wouldn't be where I am today. Thank you Friday Center!”

 

Chris Leitch

Goal!

Chris Leitch had a record-setting career as a UNC soccer player, leading the team to the 2001 NCAA Championship. But in 2002, when Chris was three-and-a-half years into his undergraduate degree, he was drafted by a major league team. His career as a major league player was underway; his career as a full-time student had come to an end. But Chris was still determined to earn his degree. “With the amount of travel I was doing, I thought there was no way for me to take courses.” he recalls. Then Chris learned about Carolina Courses Online and realized that he might just be able to have it all. “Without that avenue, I wouldn’t have been able to finish.” Chris completed his course work in December 2008, earning a degree in organizational communications. In January 2009, he married his college sweetheart, and was picked up by the San Jose Earthquakes. Many goals are ahead of him, but he will tell you that some of the most important ones are also behind him now.

 

Kimberly P. Johnson

One class at a time!

In 1985, Kimberly P. Johnson had to take time off from college to earn money to pay back some of her student loans. She went to work as a flight attendant and, before she knew it, twenty years had gone by. During that time, she became a successful children’s author and a passionate advocate for children’s literacy. Her company, Simply Creative Works, was off to a strong start. She published twelve children’s books, appeared on the Today Show in New York City, and even was invited to be a guest reader at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. But Kimberly still had one unfulfilled goal; she wanted to finish her degree. “I don’t know why finishing my degree became so important to me, but it did…and it was a tough road! It was really hard to go back and to figure it all out.” Kimberly remembers. But she found her way, thanks to the help of Carolina staff. “You think that Carolina is so big, people won’t have time for you and your questions. But that’s not true at all. They made me feel special and gave me all the time I needed.” Kimberly started taking the Friday Center’s Self-paced Courses and earned her degree in 2006. “It was such a monumental moment for me,” she recalls, “I had a successful career and had even been invited to the White House, but this one thing—finishing my degree—has been the highlight of my life.”

 

Joanna Catherine Scott

Firmly grounded in historical detail

Award-winning author Joanna Catherine Scott has received much praise for the historical accuracy of her novels. Courses in the Friday Center’s Community Classroom Series helped with her research for her recent Civil War novels. Joanna took the Community Classroom Series course “The Place of Race in Carolina” while researching for her novel The Road from Chapel Hill, which was inspired by the true story of a slave from Chapel Hill. Its new sequel, Child of the South, is set in the early Reconstruction period. For this, the Community Classroom Series course, “After the Civil War” aided her research. “Both classes I found very valuable,” she says. “Both added to my knowledge and understanding of the times in which the novels were set.”

 

Valerie Varnell

A winding path to a new life

A few years ago, this promising young student was stopped in her tracks by a serious illness. In the middle of her sophomore year in college, Valerie Varnell was forced to take a student medical leave. The same month, her family home in Texas was destroyed by a fire. In the midst of a medical crisis, with no home to return to, Valerie was forced to remain in North Carolina on her own. Rather than letting her feelings of loss and loneliness defeat her, she decided to turn it around and give something back to her community. She co-founded a nonprofit medical clinic, eventually serving as its executive director. Before long, Valerie was ready to go back to school, but by this time her commitment to the clinic prevented her from returning as a full-time student. Through Carolina Courses Online, though, Valerie was able to resume her studies and maintain her work at the clinic. “I was able to work full-time while taking classes as a part-time student.” she recalls. Valerie eventually returned to full-time studies at UNC, where she pursued a business major. After participating in an executive education program for six months in Beijing, China, Valerie is ready to make a difference on a global scale—her dream is to help open doors for entrepreneurs in developing countries. “This summer, thanks to Carolina Courses Online, I'll be able to finish my very last UNC course and finally graduate, even though I'll be working in Beijing.”

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