Student turns her natural customer service talents into a career choice
Carolyn Villa was tired of being treated like an annoying interruption by doctor’s office receptionists when she called to schedule appointments for her mom or one of her kids. It became a pet peeve that happened far too often for her to brush it off.
“They don’t sound like they want to be working and don’t have any charisma with their job,” says Carolyn. “I can do better than this,” she thought. “If you answer the phone with a good vibe; they can hear it in your tone and the better customer service you give.” With that natural talent, an important seed was planted.
Since she was 15-years old Carolyn worked the grape fields of the Central San Joaquin Valley. But she always knew she would make her move one day, into a medical environment where she would lift the level of patient interaction to a standard that met her own idea of proper communication and service.
At 21-years old Carolyn was ready to combine her sense of professionalism with higher education to reach that career goal. As a single mom with two small children at home, she was feeling the pressure to act on her convictions. “I wanted a career so I could have something better for my kids.”
When San Joaquin Valley College built a campus close to where Carolyn lived in Delano, she was ready for her idea to become her reality. “I knew what I wanted and knew that they offered it,” she says, referring to the Medical Office Administration program. She scheduled an appointment with an Admissions Advisor to talk about the program and tour the campus. If all went well, she would take an entrance exam to measure her readiness for college.
What the college didn’t realize was that Carolyn had a test for them, as well. Would she be treated with courtesy, respect and enthusiasm? Her feeling was that if they could do it, they could teach it.
“Right away they gave you a warm welcome and the environment was great, right off the bat,” she remembers. “From the Admission Advisor to Financial Aid, to even the receptionist up front and the security guard….I loved it.” This was the reassurance she needed.
Carolyn excitedly took the paperwork home to complete her enrollment. In the days before she returned to the campus ready to commit to her new life as a student, another important event was materializing. She was pregnant.
“It actually gave me even more determination to go and do it,” she says. “Honestly, when you work in the field, you don’t know if you’re going to be able to finish the day because it might rain. But in the medical field it doesn’t matter if it rains, it’s going to be more stable.”
Would it be enough that Carolyn is young, strong and determined? “I knew it was going to be a difficult thing to try to accomplish, but with support from my family and the faculty (SJVC), I knew I was going to be able to do it.”
Everyone stepped up to give Carolyn what she needed to have her best chance for success. “Every time I walked in (campus) someone would say ‘Be careful’, ‘We will be here for you’, ‘How are you feeling’, ‘Do you need help?’,” she says.
Carolyn felt genuine care from so many who reached out without even being asked. “As a single mother it’s very hard for me to be able to buy things. They threw me a baby shower and even got me a baby stroller and a car seat. It was the greatest thing ever, that they (staff, faculty, students) did for me.”
Two classmates became especially good friends and supporters. Carolyn met Marisela during Orientation. “Right off the bat we connected,” says Carolyn. “She was my ride to school every day. She would ask me, ‘Dude, what are you going to eat?’, and go and buy me something.”
Brenda rounded out the trio. “She has a lot of happiness in her, even when she has a bad day,” says Carolyn. “She made my days in class so much more lively. They were there when I needed someone to talk to.”
These were true friends who didn’t really look at who gives how much or the most. “I don’t really have much to give other than my friendship and my care, says Carolyn. “I feel like they give more to me than I’ve given to them, but I’m very grateful.”
She will look for opportunities to pay it forward when she is on more stable ground. “I know how it feels when you are about to give up and find someone there to support you. To go that extra mile when you feel like you can’t. I hope to give that to others someday.”
Even with lots of support, it was hard to be an expectant mom, student, friend, daughter and the person responsible for integrating those roles.
Carolyn’s classes were in the evening, so she was able to care for Ezequiel (3) and Anastasia (1) during the day before her mom, Flavia, fed the kids dinner and put them to bed. Carolyn would go to school an hour or two early to do her homework or study in the quiet of the student center.
It helps a lot that Carolyn enjoys her studies. “I absolutely love computers and being able to work with computers as a job is great to me,” she says. “I thought it was mostly going to be typing, but doing Microsoft, Excel, PowerPoint to be able to do fliers, videos…I liked it very much.”
Carolyn’s customer service skills are now polished beyond her previous instincts. “How your whole appointment goes depends on the customer service your first contact gives you,” she says. “If that first person is bored and doesn’t care, your appointment will show that.” She is ready for the front lines of any medical or business office.
She felt a strong connection with many of the Business faculty. “Every instructor I’ve had, they’re all great and I’ve had a ball with all of them,” Carolyn enthuses. Her affection for them made it even more difficult when she didn’t do well in class. “If I ever failed an assignment or a quiz, I felt like I wasn’t doing my part, and it made me try harder” she says. “There was never any hesitation from them to give me help when I asked for it.”
Carolyn may fail a quiz or assignment in class, but she will never fail in her determination to complete her program and lift her children into the life she has envisioned for them. “I saw my mom struggle as a single mother of five, and I don’t want for us to struggle the same way she did.”
Carolyn’s momentum was interrupted a few weeks ago when her son, Angel, made his appearance. She barely hit pause. Carolyn didn’t miss a beat and had her baby, returning to class within two weeks and not taking a leave of absence.
It is all for her children. “Just seeing their faces every day and seeing myself with them, living in a better position than we are now; and I see myself more accomplished,” says Carolyn. Failure is not an option for her.
“What I’ve learned is, if you fall, you’re not going to fall past the floor. You can always get back up and try again. As long as you keep going; that’s what really counts.”
Mamas don’t lie.
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