Single mom needs 9-to-5 career that Business Office Administration program can provide
After years of jobs that required her to stand on her feet all day, work some evenings and weekends and did not provide medical insurance for herself and ten-year old daughter, Victoria, Danielle Strunk was ready to make the big change from having a job to enjoying a career.
Danielle imagined a business career in which she could work a single parent-friendly 8:00-to-5:00 that would allow her to spend more time with Victoria and better meet their life needs. But, for a high school graduate with few computer skills, there were serious roadblocks.
“It always came down to that haunting last line in every single job posting: ‘Must be knowledgeable in Excel, word processing, and be able to type 35 words per minute’,” says Danielle. “Nope, don’t have it. It was like a dagger in my heart. I was always looking for things that come with a career, like medical benefits – not just a job.” It was clear that those positions would require additional training.
Atascadero is a small, near-the-coast town that allowed Danielle to enjoy close family support but gave her few career or extended education opportunities. She had passed San Joaquin Valley College’s sign many times and wondered if she could balance career training with her full-time job. She got online and requested information.
“I got the most wonderful message on my phone from Alyssa (Perry, SJVC Campus President) that made you feel like you want to talk with her some more,” says Danielle. “Alyssa was passionate about the Business Office Administration program and invited me to come by the campus.” It would be a while before Danielle would take her up on that invitation that Alyssa renewed over the months.
A change in Danielle’s employment status and a car accident triggered a life-shift and reconsideration of her career goals. If she were ever going to make the jump from job to career, it would begin now.
Danielle was a little nervous about her first appointment with the college. “It’s when you walk in there like I did with just high school (education) and 13-years of customer service and lacking any kind of technical or computer skills; but they don’t make you feel judged.” She brought Victoria along with her and the staff made her feel equally welcomed.
“There was an area set up with color books, toys,” says Danielle. “And the vibe I got was that it was a close-knit kind of community.” The campus size felt good to her. “I got lost in the bigness of high school and almost failed,” Danielle remembers. “I hated crowded colleges with too many people who didn’t want to be there.”
SJVC made a good first impression. “I saw all walks of life, students straight out of high school, people my age and people my mom’s age. Classrooms looked so fun. There were positive affirmations posted everywhere. Students were all dressed in uniforms or what they’d be wearing when they went to work. They were so focused.”
Danielle could see herself in one of those business uniforms. She made her decision to enroll in the Business Office Administration (BOA) program. “They train you; you do an externship; this is something I can get behind. This is something I would go in debt for. Because what I could make after completing the program, I could pay off my loan. It would all be worth it in the end.”
The enrollment process was smooth. “The financial advisor (Jillian) really helps you. She told me she would walk me through every step. She helps you with different scholarships that are offered. They work with you as much when you get in there as they do to the very last day and beyond.”
The first thing Danielle noticed about student life on campus was the support SJVC staff and faculty gave each student. “Every single teacher knew your name and took the time to know you as a person. It didn’t matter if you were in Medical Assisting, Medical Billing or Business Office Administration – students who weren’t even in their class – it was like being in a sorority and they were your den leaders. Because of them paying attention, it made you want to be there.”
She felt like she knew what to expect – no surprises. Maybe one. “I go to school and I find out that it was the Campus President who recruited you and I think, ‘Wow, she really cares’.” Alyssa Perry had been covering another position in addition to her Campus President responsibilities during that time and went out of her way to make certain that the college made everyone feel welcomed and important. “Alyssa (is the kind of person who) calms you, soothes you and inspires you to be a better person,” says Danielle. “It’s just something she has.”
Danielle had a lot of heart for her Business Office Administration program but struggled with some of the practical aspects of class. “I remember staying after school to use the computer lab because I didn’t have access to a computer at home at the time,” she says. I didn’t have computer skills, so you can imagine how long I would take. Instructors would tell me, ‘Hey, everything is going to be OK. You can bring your daughter if need be’.”
She found help at every turn. “My instructor, Daniel Munch, was very patient, very understanding,” says Danielle. “It was frustrating because I had no computer skills, and a couple of times I actually cried in class. He took me out of class and told me ‘You’re fine; just breathe’. “It allowed me what I needed to regroup.”
It is not unusual for students to experience times of doubt and feelings of inadequacies. “I was missing common knowledge pieces, but no matter what your skill set was, he was there to help. He wanted to make sure everybody got it; he wasn’t leaving anybody behind.”
She liked the practical experiences instructors who had worked in the business field brought to the classroom. “Mr. Munch would throw a lot of life examples of what kinds of jobs these skills would go toward and when you would use them,” says Danielle. “If you like bookkeeping or data entry, you might look for a job in HR (Human Resources). He would say, ‘But always find something that interests you.’”
“After my first weeks there I was given a Perfect Attendance award,” says Danielle. “To be acknowledged for something so simple, that meant a lot. Getting my daughter ready, put her off on my mom and driving to Atascadero; it was nice to know that my efforts were paying off and being noticed.”
Even as things began to smooth out at school, financial struggles made things more difficult at home. “A couple of months I had, like, no money,” Danielle remembers. “SJVC offered to find carpools for me and offered bus passes to get to school to help me in that situation. Jillian told me about programs that could help me with food and childcare and gave me their number. Fellow classmates were always there to help with whatever they could.”
By the 7th months of her BOA program, Danielle hit her stride. She had continued her perfect attendance record. “I never came in late or left early and got a perfect 4.0 (GPA) for the module. My mom got me a computer to practice all my new skills and to reward me for all my effort.” Life was good.
She was so appreciative of the support she had found throughout her quest for higher learning and career preparation that she began to look around for what she might do to pass some of that goodwill along.
“ASB (Associate Student Body) was something I really liked,” says Danielle. “My second module there I was the Vice President. We collected money through bake sales and bought recycling cans from each classroom. For two weeks in a row we baked cookies and made zucchini bread for sales. We also did a charity event for an Angel Tree and put kids’ names, ages and what they like on a star on the tree. My mom was a single mom and that’s how we got our Christmas gifts.”
New student orientations provide some of Danielle’s favorite volunteer moments. “I want to be a good representative of our class. It’s my favorite time to get people really excited. ‘Hey, you need a ride, I’ll pick you up!’ “Four students ended up carpooling for a month and a half. It’s a way to make sure they were fitting in, as well.”
Danielle is helping others to understand something she learned at an early age. “The harder you work, the more you can have. I’ve worked since I was 15/1/2. The second I could work, I did.” She watched her own mom and dad work hard to provide for her and her brother and never lost that example. It is one she hopes to provide for her own daughter for her life goals.
As Danielle got closer to graduation, she began to work with Barbara Holt, the college’s Career Service Advisor (now Campus President) for her job search and interview skills development. “SJVC had sample interview questions and you could record your answers,” says Danielle. “That was really great preparation for me to use.”
Danielle stuck her career landing perfectly. She is now the Office Coordinator for a company where she works with the public recruiting new tenants and providing customer service. Her relationship with SJVC has not ended, however. “Their Career Counselors and all teachers – not just mine – are always there for you,” she says. “It’s almost like having your parents – the most encouraging people – right at your fingertips.”
Danielle feels she got much more than career education and training; she also found acceptance. Any deficiencies she may have felt were reformatted into something that would support her highest career and personal expectations.
You don’t have to change who you are to fit in here. SJVC really nurtures who you are and gives you opportunities to shine. We’re all different puzzle pieces, but we fit together.”
And she will tell that to anyone she feels has the need to hear it.
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