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What's Up Magazine

Extra Credit

Jan 23, 2014 01:05PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By JAMES HOUCK // Photography by TONY LEWIS, JR.

Considering a career change can have an extra measure of security and promise if it’s backed by going back to school. It’s a path that hundreds of Anne Arundel County residents have taken by discovering degree programs offered at our local community college and other prominent education facilities. Via grade-A certification and degree programs, a lawyer became a teacher (true story), a mechanical engineer became a chef (true again), and a former housekeeper-by-day/ bartender-by-night transformed into a cyber security defense technician (yep, all true). Their stories offer inspiration to anyone contemplating doing the same.

REALITY CHECK

Enter Corrine Goldt. As an attorney for the Administration for Children’s Services in New York City in the early 2000s, Goldt’s heart was in the right place. “I’ve always had an instinctive desire to help people. I went to law school with that intent,” she says. However, the rigors of the system and harsh realities made for “rewarding but equally heartbreaking work.” When she and her family (husband Wayne and two sons, Christopher and Robert) relocated to Riva, the move presented an opportunity to regain her legal footing in nearby Washington, D.C., in a context better suited to her. Or so she thought.

“I tried other areas of law. Ultimately, I found that no matter what facet of the legal world I worked in, I couldn’t do my best work and devote enough quality time to my family. My life was devoted to the client,” Goldt says. Wishing to tilt the scales toward familial obligations, Goldt thought hard about a profession that would allow her to do so.

And that’s when, in 2010, she took stock of her skill-set—not just law degrees—and rediscovered her calling. “My mother was an international teacher and I grew up with school being a second home,” she explains. “We traveled the world and, as a result, I learned several languages. That summer [of 2010], I went back to my roots. Before I knew it, I was interviewing at schools across the county.

It seemed that my language skills were in demand.” Goldt was offered a position with Meade Senior High School to teach French and Spanish within its International Baccalaureate World School and accepted. Midway through the school year, however, she learned that despite her accumulation of two B.A.s, a J.D., two law licenses, and a series of other certifications and state licenses, she would have to complete state certification to become a teacher, which included seven classes, an internship, standardized tests, and a series of other requirements.

Enter Anne Arundel Community College (AACC). After review of her credentials, it was determined that Goldt was a strong candidate for earning her initial professional certificate via the Resident Teacher program, a Maryland Approved Alternative Preparation Program (MAAPP) in conjunction with AACC. She applied and was accepted. And boy was that first year a whirlwind for Goldt.

“I taught four different subjects in two languages during the day, I was taking classes online with AACC, and in June of that year, I had my second child. I will never forget studying for my AACC classes in between newborn feedings. That was a challenging year. My only B was from the class that coincided with my son’s birth,” Goldt recalls.

Overall, Goldt says the process was seamless though challenging, her professors wonderful, and the experience forever rewarding. “Sometimes I miss the intellectual aspect of practicing law but then I remember that I get to pick my sons up from school. I get to be more present in my family life than when I was commuting to D.C. and always on call.”

WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?

Image titleThe reality is that returning to school as an adult is a challenge. The challenge is what attracts many back into the classroom and what scares others from doing so.

“Some people are afraid of school. Perhaps they had bad experiences along the way and don’t want to waste their money or time,” suggests Goldt. “But education is never a waste because it opens doors and gives you options. I have never regretted any part of my education. Nothing is lost by learning something new and it is yours forever.”

These adult learners have a sense of purpose and a maturity that often exceeds that of recent high school grads. And with so many degree and certification options available to consider, it’s the adult learner who is able to effectively channel that drive, pick a path that’s best for them, and see it through to completion.

Bottom line, there’s an astounding number of professions and growing industries to learn about and just as many opportunities to integrate within them or, even, start your own business, which is exactly what Crofton resident Jamaal Fuller accomplished.

SELF RESTARTING

Jamaal Fuller has always had a zest for life, for his family, and for food. And it was during a trip to Miami in 2008 that he experienced a personal epiphany, realizing “that cooking is where I wanted to be,” he says. The cuisine, the culture, the familial spirit on that trip inspired him, yet he remained tied to his desk as a project manager in the mechanical engineering field for another four years before he turned inspiration into action. In October 2012, he “gave a month’s notice and left for the culinary world for good.”

After careful consideration of a variety of culinary programs offered at several local community colleges (including those in Prince George’s and Howard counties), Fuller enrolled in AACC’s Hotel, Culinary Arts and Tourism Institute and Entrepreneurial Studies Institute (ESI). Juggling a new full-time job (in catering), family (recently remarried and with five children), and part-time classes was difficult, but Fuller was up to the task. He saw the light at the end of the tunnel and had his goals set. “I wanted to increase my overall knowledge of food and to gain a better understanding of not only ingredients and the cooking process, but the ins and outs of running a hospitality business. Everything from ratios and margins to labor management,” he says. Today, the training he received has paid off in spades and Fuller is the proud chef/owner of his own catering company.

Image titleMarlena Clark took a different path. Working two jobs—maid by day, bartender by night—and with dreams unfulfilled, Clark recalls having her own epiphany one morning in 2008 as she awoke. “It’s like I sprang straight up in bed one morning with the thought of ‘What am I going to do with my life and future?’” Clark says. “I was living one paycheck from being, not homeless, but not able to keep up with my bills. There were things that I wanted to buy and to experience but couldn’t afford.”

Another motivator was the fact that her mother was soon retiring. “I was raised in single-parent home by an angelic, hardworking mother. She made it perfectly clear that she doesn’t want anything from her children, but I personally feel that it is my responsibility and pleasure to make sure that after working hard for so many years and taking care of us, she is also taken care of.”

Clark began researching which industries were poised for the most growth, job security, and income potential. She landed on information technology and health care. After speaking with several friends already working within the IT industry, her decision was cemented and she applied for the Information Systems Security degree program.

She continued working her two jobs, all the while attending IT classes. “This was extremely difficult and tiring,” Clark explains. “My social life had to become nonexistent. There was only time for work and school, because any extra time I had was used for home life, sleep, and studying. But I knew that if I could just hang in there and stick with the program for two years, everything would be even better than it was before.”

Two years later, Clark graduated (“I was so excited, emotional, elated, and relieved,” she says) and acquired an internship (via the college’s STEM Engaged Learning Department), which eventually led to a full-time, salaried position in the cyber defense fi eld. This, in turn, has opened the door to new experiences she can now afford, such as world travel and enjoying time with her mother.

BEYOND THE DEGREE

In addition to face-to-face assistance available through an institution’s career center and variety of placement/training programs, there are a myriad of national and regional networks worth tapping into, including (but not limited to): Maryland Workforce Exchange, America’s Career Information Net, America’s Job Bank, and the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Each provide utilities, information, and personalized tools—from resume builders to customized job searches—and often all for free.

What it all boils down to though…is preparation. “Evaluate where you are in life and prepare as much as you can,” Jamaal Fuller sums. “It comes down to weighing what you can personally and financially do and whether you have the support of others—because it’s really hard, not impossible, but hard to do it by yourself. Lastly, make sure it is what you really want to do, and realize up front that it will not likely be a quick process.”

Marlena Clark agrees. “Evaluate and list the reasons that you are considering the career change. It’s important that you know the reasons you want to enter into a new or first career because these will be used as your motivation.”

“Go for it!” advises D’Ann Krieger of Arnold, who made her career transformation after a forced layoff during the down economy. Krieger earned two new degrees (addiction counseling and human services) in the aftermath of serving as a flood insurance underwriter. “The work place is very fluid now,” she believes. “The days of 30 or 40 years at the same place are almost gone. Technological changes are expediting workplace changes also. We have to stay current to stay in the workplace.”