For Twila Fisher, RACC was just the right environment to developing the kind of tenacity she would acquire throughout her years in college. “My time at RACC prepared me for my career by reinforcing the drive to work harder than I had before, to think outside of the box, and to embrace people from all walks of life.”
After graduating from Lancaster Mennonite High School, Twila moved to Mexico City and then to Miami before moving back to Pennsylvania and settling in Berks County. At that time, Twila put her education and career on hold to begin a family. When her four daughters were all in school, Twila enrolled in school herself at RACC. “I pursued RACC for myself for the same reason I recommend it to people of all ages: location and affordability.”
While enrolled at RACC, Twila received the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Transfer Scholarship which allowed her to pursue her undergraduate degree at Columbia University. “Nothing seemed insurmountable after pushing through the commute to Manhattan’s upper west side twice a week for two and half years and the academic rigor of Columbia.” During this time, Twila received a second scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation allowing to continue her studies. She finished her graduate courses in eighteen months at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government.
During her time at RACC, Twila took advantage of the excellent student life organizations to help her gain more out of education. She served as the president for the Student Government Association and was involved in the Student Leadership Program. She also had many influential teachers that were encouraging forces in her education. She says their guidance and teachings have stuck with her to this day. “Dr. Donna Singleton inspired me to explore my potential in academic excellence, Stephanie Anderson taught me to write with purpose, and Dr. John Morgan challenged me to explore my belief systems and to dream big.”
Twila is currently the director of community and economic development at The Hill School. She serves on six different boards and committees including the Tri-County Area Chamber of Commerce, Barrio Alegria in the City of Reading, and an advisory board for the Olivet Boys and Girls Club in Pottstown. Twila says that sometimes people say to her, “you must be so smart since you went to Columbia and Penn.” She replies, “I’m not smarter than anybody else, I just work hard. Like anything in life, you get out of it what you put into it and RACC taught me that at a critical transition in my life.”
Pam Gockley had a difficult start to her education. After being expelled from high school, Pam sought guidance and support, luckily she found RACC. “My education at RACC was far beyond the books, tests and reports. The spirit I found in the students, faculty and staff was far more inspirational than the diploma.”
While in high school, Pam struggled with learning and was placed in special education classes. Later in life, Pam discovered she was undiagnosed dyslexic and the special education classes were the worst place for her as a kid. “It was in these classes, that I was bullied, and the school lacked the ability to deal with what I was going through. This is what ultimately led to me getting expelled.”
When Pam first enrolled at RACC she quickly learned that she had a lot of catching up to get her education to the college level, but she admits this is one of the best things that could have ever happened to her. “The faculty and staff at RACC took the time make sure I was prepared to go onto the college courses. That was huge for me because it was the first time someone in education made the effort to understand where I was academically and actually helped me through the process.”
After graduating from RACC and Kutztown University with a degree in Business Management, Pam started her own business and has continued to be an entrepreneur for 22 years. During that time Pam has had 13 for-profit startups and more recently, one non-profit. “After 22 years of entrepreneurship I feel that it’s finally time that I give back and help kids that are in the same position as me and even much more violent situations, including gun violence.”
Pam’s recent start-up is called The Camel Project and is based on Pam’s book, “Not All Camels Are in The Desert.” Pam wrote the book to share her high school experience with students, and how she overcame the problems. “My mission is to help kids understand that first, it’s not their fault; second, they are not alone; and third, it happens to more people than most realize.”
The first initiative of The Camel Project is a stop bullying program that helps kids learn about self-awareness, self-confidence, and how to create a great support system; all of which Pam was lacking in high school. For Pam, RACC was the launching point to understanding how an educational institution can help a student become a better version of themselves. “At RACC, there was a sense of family, security and encouragement I never knew before. I totally credit RACC for helping me throughout my education, for showing me what should have been done and giving me the inspiration to go out and help others.”
For Joshua Riojas, RACC was just the beginning of his successful journey. “My professional work experience and education all started at RACC, and the school deserves a tremendous amount of credit in how I have progressed through life professionally.”
Joshua graduated from Conrad Weiser with no immediate plans for a career. He knew a four-year college didn’t suit him, so he chose RACC for his education. “I wanted to keep costs down and since I didn’t take my SATs seriously, I considered community college as my best option.”
While at RACC, Joshua received a Foundation Scholarship which encouraged him to earn more than one degree. Joshua graduated from RACC with two Associate Degrees in Web Site Development and Computer Technology.
One of Joshua’s instructors, Marty Kelly, who is also RACC’s webmaster, gave him an opportunity to work as a work-study in the web department. “Over the years of employment at RACC, Marty was a wonderful supervisor who made every effort to see me thrive academically and professionally. People like Marty are the reason why a student should go to RACC.” Marty not only encouraged and supported Joshua while he was at RACC, but they stayed in touch after graduation and continue to be close friends.
Joshua directly credits RACC for providing him with a pathway not only for transferring to a four-year college but also for gaining employment opportunities. “My education at RACC enabled me to acquire part-time work at the college. Plus, it was instrumental in obtaining an IT Internship at Morgan Corporation, which continued a trickle effect as I transferred to PSU.” Joshua was able to leverage his work experience at RACC to get a web internship in the Marketing and Communications Research Department at Penn State. Joshua ultimately graduated from Penn State with Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Computer Science.
Joshua currently works at Cerner Corporation as a System Engineer and as an adjunct lecturer at Penn State, Harrisburg campus. Joshua’s immediate plans moving forward are to continue to explore fields within Computer Science, further his education with various IT/System Administrator certificates and focus on improving his lectures for his college classes.
Joshua feels that RACC was a turning point for him and continues to highly recommend RACC as a starting point for anyone looking to further their education. “RACC provides many dual admission opportunities that facilitate easy transfer of credits; and the classes, instructors and work-study programs help you calculate a trajectory for your career.”
Growing up in the foster care system, Missy Hassler faced some challenges, but she continually pushed forward. “It definitely taught me not to give up and not to wait for things to be handed to me - go out and get them yourself.” And now that’s exactly what she intends to do at RACC.
Missy graduated from Brandywine Heights in 2002 and dreamed of becoming a lawyer. “After high school, I received a certificate to become a legal secretary to get my foot in the door,” Missy stated, “but discovered I could make more money tending bar.”
It was not until Missy’s son was born that she realized it was time to find a different job. As she searched the classified ads, she realized that starting a career would be more difficult then she thought. She landed a job as a Member’s Specialist at the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, but also decided to start pursuing her dreams. “I’m at a point in my life where I can handle school, and work toward not only my future, but my son’s as well.”
Many friends referred Missy to RACC to continue her education. “RACC is full of community-minded individuals, right from the start in admissions to the faculty and students. My teachers are very supportive and my fellow students are friendly and kind. The overall atmosphere on the campus is pleasant.” Missy admits that she was nervous about enrolling and concerned about finances, but RACC’s streamlined application process and the knowledgeable financial aid department made it easy to follow.
RACC is already making a difference in her current position at the Chamber. The quality education she is receiving has made her more comfortable and well-versed in a business setting. “Confidence can only come with knowledge and that’s what RACC is providing me.”
Missy is majoring in Criminal Justice with the hopes of becoming a private detective. “I feel this is an excellent career choice and, not only do I think I’ll excel at it, but I think it will be helpful for my community as well.” For Missy, RACC is exactly what she needed to make her dreams come true. “I believe it’s never too late! If you have a dream, follow it and don’t stop until you see it come to fruition.”
Five years ago, Esteffani Alcantra was living in the Bronx and was a patient outreach manager for a hospital system.
Five years ago, Esteffani Alcantra was living in the Bronx and was a patient outreach manager for a hospital system. She oversaw a team of 12, but the single mother knew that without a degree, chances of advancement were slim.
To give herself more time for school, five years ago Alcantra and her daughter, Amber, moved to Reading to live with Alcantra’s stepfather. She initially took a less demanding secretarial job and began working on a liberal arts associate degree from Reading Area Community College.
“I started working at the hospital at 19 and received three promotions, but when I asked for either another promotion or more money, I was told you hit a dead end because I didn’t have a degree,’’ said Alcantra, 30, who earned her associate degree in 2015 and her Bachelor of Applied Science in Technical Leadership (BASTL) from Bloomsburg University in May 2017.
Alcantra, who now works as a customer service representative for a plastics manufacturer, said she was attracted to the BASTL program for its flexibility – classes were online or at her community college – and the wide range of topics covered. At her current job, she’s used the practical skills such as web design and virtual tools to communicate with coworkers and clients in distant locations, as well as leadership training to help her resolve conflicts and better communicate with those at various levels in the company.
“The degree makes you a well-rounded leader because you get into accounting and management and other technical skills as well as intrapersonal skills and cultural diversity that you experience everywhere,’’ Alcantra said. “As a single mother of one and a full-time employee, the ability to take online courses and satisfy the Bloomsburg curriculum at RACC was definitely a determining factor.’’
In the future, Alcantra said she wants to pursue a masters in instructional technology and eventually move into a position where she is involved in training and development. In addition to being important to accomplish her career goals, she said advancing her education was something she needed to do for her daughter.
“I want my daughter to take after me and I have to lead the way,’’ she said. “As a parent and as a leader, you can’t just tell others what they need to do, you have to model the behavior you want others to show.’’
After consulting with employers who are looking for skilled managers, Bloomsburg University created its Bachelor of Applied Science in Technical Leadership program especially for individuals with associate degrees who are working and need flexibility. Up to 60 associate degree credits are accepted and half the BASTL classes are online and the rest taught at Bloomsburg’s partner institutions: Bucks County Community College, Community College of Philadelphia, Harrisburg Area Community College, Lehigh Carbon Community College, Northampton Community College and Reading Area Community College, and the State System campus in Center City Philadelphia. Learn more.