First-generation student moves to Suffolk after 9/11, makes career path at Paul D. Camp Community College
Wanda Olden was working in the “Big Apple” when she decided to move to Suffolk in 2003. The chaos that ensued after 9/11 is what eventually sent her to her family’s hometown.
Olden was working at the New York City Department of Probation in lower Manhattan, five blocks away from the towers when the terrorist attack occurred. “I was on the 14th floor of the building in which I worked, watching the first tower burn,” she recalled. “It looked like a normal fire.”
But after she and co-workers saw the second plane intentionally slam into the second tower, they realized the scope of the situation. Along with the devastation, loss of lives and heightened security, it became difficult to travel to and from work in that area. “People were afraid to take the subway, which resulted in two-hour bus rides,” she said.
Olden’s parents, grandparents and great-grandparents also were from the Virginia Peanut City and after vacationing there one year, she began thinking about owning her own home there as well. “I always loved Suffolk,” she said.
She settled here and worked different jobs before being hired for a non-profit organization. Olden worked there for five years before the economy took a downturn, which affected the amount of donations coming into the organization. Olden’s job was one of the first that was cut.
“It was like someone pulled the rug from under me,” she said. She worked some temporary jobs for a while and then met Vernetta Mason at the Virginia Employment Commission. “She asked me if I had considered going to college and said that I would be a perfect candidate for the On-Ramp Program for dislocated workers,” said Olden.
“I owe everything to her. If it weren’t for her guidance, I wouldn’t be earning my degree.”
The On-Ramp Program at PDCCC provides funding for tuition, books, supplies and fees to those eligible. Without it, Olden wouldn’t be able to afford tuition. Thanks to the funding, along with support from Lisha Wolfe of the Career Development Center, Counselor Dr. Hyler Scott, Assistant Professor of English Ronette Jacobs, and former PDCCC President Dr. Paul Wm. Conco, Olden, 50, is now working for the Suffolk Literacy Council and is on schedule to complete her associate’s degree in Business Management in 2016. And when she does, she’ll be the first in three generations of her family to graduate from college. She has also recently accepted an internship with the Suffolk Education Foundation.
“Extra-curricular activities don’t mean as much to me anymore,” she said. “The majority of the time, I am in my office at home, at work or school. But, I feel complete. “Once my mind was made up to attend college, I gave 150 percent to make a better future for myself.”
Olden, however, is very involved with activities at the college. She is a Presidential Student Ambassador and was selected to attend the Student Leadership Conference. She serves as president of the PDCCC Literary Club and has served as an English tutor for Student Support Services. She is also a member of the Students Transitioning through Education Programs Successfully or STEPS Program and has completed Microsoft certification through RFK Solutions.
The non-traditional student has earned the following scholarships while attending PDCCC:
- Franklin Woman’s Club Scholarship
- PDCCC Classified Staff Council Scholarship
- The highly prestigious Valley Proteins Fellowship through the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education.
“PDCCC is a great start to find information that can enrich your life, whether your goal is certification classes or a degree,” she said. “I found that out the day I set my foot on this campus— and I never left. I wish I had attended college 30 years ago.”
Olden plans to further her education at a four-year college or university, majoring in business administration while solidifying her career goals.