As someone who’s going through the adoption process herself, Columbia College-St. Louis location director Erika Thomas has a soft spot for children who are in the foster care and adoption system.
As she talked to her staff about the location’s upcoming involvement with the Cinderella Project — an event held by the Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition of St. Louis — she realized she wasn’t alone.
“It kind of pulled on everybody’s heartstrings a little bit,” Thomas said. “I found out that a few of my staff were actually adopted, went through foster care. Or their mom was adopted. It just seemed like everybody had some kind of connection.”
Over a five-week period that ended February 14, Columbia College-St. Louis collected 77 prom dresses for the Cinderella Project, which provides new or slightly used dresses to high-school aged girls in the St. Louis area who can’t afford a formal gown.
Thomas said she first became involved with the group three or four years ago while working at the Art Institute of St. Louis. When she was named director at Columbia College-St. Louis last year, she already knew it was a great way for the location to get involved in the community.
“I really felt how things like this can change a young lady’s life. A lot of times, they just need a positive, somebody who takes the time to mold and care for them,” Thomas said. “There’s nothing like a school being associated with something in the community. We care about the people in the community, and this is what we do.”
After Columbia College-St. Louis and the other 20 donation locations around the area collected their dresses, they brought them all to the Refresh resale boutique store in Brentwood for a “Say Yes to the Prom Dress” event March 4.
Thomas and other Columbia College-St. Louis staffers volunteered their time as personal shoppers for the girls who came in looking for dresses, taking them around the store and helping them pick out the perfect look.
She said it’s important for the staff and students at Columbia College-St. Louis, which has a strong human services program, to see the sort of people their work can benefit, as well as letting college prospects in the community know about the academic programs the location has to offer.
“It’s that word of mouth. Most of the time what we hear from students is they find out about Columbia College from somebody they knew,” Thomas said. “It’s because somebody they knew at church, across the street, a best friend, whatever the case may be. We’re coming from a good, healthy place. We want to make sure they don’t feel like we’ve just cut them loose and sent them off into the woods. Just letting them know they still have support as they age out of the foster care system.”
And it’s not stopping with the Cinderella Project. Thomas said the location is already in the process of creating a partnership with the Fathers’ Support Center of St. Louis, which helps people become responsible parents, and wants to branch out into other community endeavors.
“I believe it brought us closer together and gave us something else to shoot for,” Thomas said. “It makes an impression on the students, because the students see that we care about the community, and we’re not just trying to sell you education.”
This feature was published in the latest edition of Affinity Magazine! Click here to check out the magazine in its entirety.
Earning a college degree is an accomplishment that changes lives. It takes courage, dedication and encouragement. If we’re fortunate, we have people, places and moments in time that have helped us to achieve heights we never thought possible. The following five alumni come from different backgrounds, but they all had the dream to finish their college degree. These are their stories of how they were inspired to reach their goals.
Charting a New Course
Jennifer Shala joined the Army when she was 25 – several years older than the 18-year-olds around her. During her seven years of service, she was stationed in Kansas, Korea and Georgia. She then went to Iraq, where she dealt with the horrors of the war around her.
After Iraq, she came back to the U.S. and was medically discharged from the Army as she suffered from PTSD along with bad knee problems and asthma. It was then that she knew it was time to figure out another career path. “I couldn’t keep doing physical work forever,” Shala says. “I had to have a job where I can use my brain.”
Shala began taking classes through Columbia College’s Online Education program in 2005. She took a few classes here and there, but it wasn’t until 2008 when she was working as a civilian in Iraq that she began taking classes non-stop. After moving back to the states, she was determined to finish.
“When I was younger, I didn’t feel college was that important,” Shala says. “Now, it’s absolutely necessary to get a decent job.”
That determination kept her on track with her coursework, even when she was dealing with life changes. When she was pregnant with her daughter, Shala took a midterm exam right before driving herself to the hospital for a C-section. One of her Columbia College instructors gave her an extension on a second exam and, two days later, she drove home and completed the test.
“I am so thankful for Columbia College and my instructors,” Shala says. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise.”
Shala finished her associate degree in 2012, her bachelor’s degree in General Studies in 2014, and then this past July, finished her bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration.
Her degrees hang on the wall at her office where she works as an administrative programs officer for the Grand River Dam Authority in Chouteau, Oklahoma. “I walk by them several times a day, and I can’t believe I did it,” Shala says. “I stand a little taller and a little prouder.”
Making Today Count
Dr. Nathan Miller (left) and Aileen Zei
Aileen Zei had intended to go to college but had put it on the back burner for years as she raised her family. When she had to recover from a cancer diagnosis, she decided it was time to fulfill her dream. Luckily, the cancer was at Stage 0 and treatable with surgery and radiation. But the experience changed her way of thinking.
“You realize that life is really short,” Zei says. “If there are things you want to do, you should do them.”
She also wanted to show her sons the importance of getting a college degree. At the time, her older son was in high school and her younger son in middle school.
“How can I tell them that college is important if I don’t finish it? I knew it would be hard, but if there was ever a time to do it, I knew I needed to do it now,” she says.
Zei decided to pursue a degree in human services at Columbia College–Crystal Lake. She says that two of her instructors, Jean Beard and Kathleen McNamara, inspired her in her area of interest, gerontology.
“Because they worked in the field, they could give students a real-world account for what things are like when you’re working with senior populations,” says Zei.
Zei graduated in 2014. She now works as assistant director of senior and disability services in Wheeling Township, Illinois, helping elderly patients to find services in the community.
“My degree allowed me to get the job that I have now,” she says. “It’s rewarding to know that we’re able to help the elderly and adults with disabilities find services in the community.”
Finding the Inspiration to Finish
Irma Ortiz had always dreamed of going to college. However, with a husband in the military, she and her family were often on the move.
After years of raising her family and moving from place to place, she still kept her dream alive to get her degree. In 2009, her husband retired from the military, and the family moved to Fort Worth, Texas. There, Ortiz visited a recruiter who happened to be a student at Columbia College.
“He said, ‘you’ll love the school,’” she says. And he was right. “I felt like I belonged there.”
Ortiz started in the General Studies and Business Administration program in 2012. She was scheduled to start in January, but that month, her mother-in-law passed away in Puerto Rico.
“I called the school and told them to drop me,” Ortiz says. “They said not to worry, and that I could start the next semester. No matter what, they are always supportive and understanding.”
Ortiz feels grateful to her teachers for their inspiration and their flexibility when dealing with family issues. In particular, she credits Walter Belcher, Kenneth Newell and John Hardy.
“They’re not going to cut you slack, but they ask how you’re doing and how they can help,” she says. “They really take the time to get to know you.”
In 2014, Ortiz received her associate degree in General Studies and Business Administration, and this year, she is on track to complete a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.
“I believe I’ve been successful because of the understanding teachers at Columbia College,” Ortiz says. “And I’ve proved to myself that I can succeed and attain the goals I set for myself in life.”
Getting a Degree at Sea
Nolan Nichols served in the Navy on four different ships and was deployed six times. Even with all of these transfers, he knew he wanted to pursue an education.
“My goal was to get a degree to open up opportunities in my career in the Navy,” Nichols says.
He had his associate degree in Marine Engineering, but his goal was to get his bachelor’s degree as well. After a few years of taking classes, Nichols enrolled at Columbia College in 2005 because of its strong presence on Navy bases.
“I chose Columbia because of the reputation that they had as a solid school when I was growing up in Northeast Missouri,” Nichols says.
He started in the history program, but when those degree requirements changed, Nichols began to question whether he should continue to take classes. That’s when he got an email from Rachel Smith, a Student Success advisor at the main campus in Columbia, Missouri. She recommended that he switch to General Studies, which would automatically qualify him for a bachelor’s degree.
“I had been taking college classes off and on for over 10 years,” Nichols says. “I was ready to stop altogether when the program changed. She was the one that had the positive attitude and took her time to help me get what I needed.”
Nichols officially graduated from Columbia College-Lake County this past May. A lieutenant junior grade in the Navy, he is currently deployed conducting operations in the oceans off the coast of Asia. He says that working on his degrees has helped him to advance in his military career.
“It means a lot,” Nichols says. “I just want to thank Columbia and Rachel once again for the help they gave me and the flexibility they provide for military members getting their degrees.”
You’re Never ‘Too Old’
Dori Cantrell was working as an administrative assistant for Columbia College–Kansas City when she overheard the academic advisor tell a student, “You are never too old to learn.”
The phrase stuck with Cantrell. She had been the first in her family to go to college, and years ago, she had graduated with an associate degree in her home state of California. After hearing the advisor’s encouragement, she decided to further her education. She discussed it with her family and signed up for her first class in 30 years at Columbia College-Kansas City in 2004.
“At first I thought that I would feel out of place being an older student,” says Cantrell. “What is so wonderful about Columbia College is that everyone, no matter your age, is equal.”
Cantrell enjoyed her classes so much that when she received her bachelor’s degree in 2006, she continued with classes until she earned her MBA at Columbia College-Kansas City.
“All of the instructors were so inspiring,” she says. “Some of them went back to school later to get their master’s degrees. I thought if they can do it, then I can do it.”
Today, Cantrell works at the Kansas City location as an academic advisor. She says she’s happy to be able to give students the same advice she got from an advisor years ago.
“I feel I was placed here for a reason,” Cantrell says. “I wanted to help other students in the same way by advising them and letting them know they’re never too old to learn.”
Columbia College Region 3 and Hunter Army Airfield location director Dana Davis recently announced the promotion of Ellen Parham to location director for Columbia College-Fort Stewart.
“Ellen has been part of the Columbia College team at the Fort Stewart location for more than 14 years and has played a vital role in the location’s operations,” Davis said. “She is a natural fit for the director position and her dedication and commitment to helping students has shone throughout her time at the college.”
As location director, Parham is responsible for managing the day-to-day activities of the location, including class scheduling and student and faculty recruitment. Parham began her career at Columbia College-Fort Stewart in 2002 as an administrative assistant after a 20-year career in the United States Air Force as a personnel management specialist. In 2004, she was promoted to academic advisor and in 2006 to assistant director. Parham then served as the associate director at the Fort Stewart location from 2010 before being promoted to the director position in November. She also served as the trainer for the Southeast Region for a number of years.
Parham received an associate degree in Information Management from the Community College of the Air Force. She then earned a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems from St. Leo University and holds master’s degrees in Computer Information Systems and Human Resource Management from Webster University.
Columbia College Region 4 and Whidbey Island location director MarJean Knokey recently announced the hiring of Dr. Lois Adrian-Hollier as the new location director for Columbia College-NS Everett/Marysville located in Marysville, Washington. As location director, Adrian-Hollier is responsible for managing the day-to-day activities of the location, including student and faculty recruitment and class scheduling.
Dr. Adrian-Hollier joins Columbia College after more than a decade in several positions at ITT Technical Institute, including her latest role as Chair of the School of Information Technology. She has also served as the Interim Director, Dean of Academics and as faculty for the Institute. Prior to her time with at ITT, Adrian-Hollier worked as a Quality Assurance Analyst and System Support lead for AMS Services from 2000 to 2006.
“Lois possesses a wealth of experience, both as an administrator at a higher education institution and in the field of technology,” Knokey said. “She brings great energy and leadership to the position and we are fortunate to have her as part of our Columbia College team.”
Dr. Adrian-Hollier, who retired from the Air Force after a 20-year career in communications and computer system operations, earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from City University of Seattle in Computer Systems and System Test Management. In 2015, she earned an Ed. D. in Educational Leadership and Management from Capella University, finishing the program as a Distinguished Graduate.
In 2014, Adrian-Hollier was recognized by Continental Who’s Who among Pinnacle Professionals in the field of education. She was named the National Association of Professional Women “Woman of the Year” in 2012-2013 and is also an honorary faculty member for the Alpha Beta Kappa National Honor Society. Adrian-Hollier is a member of the Disabled American Veterans and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Affiliated Computer Society.
Columbia College Region 3 and Hunter Army Airfield location director Dana Davis recently announced the hiring of Aaron Williams as the new location director for Columbia College-Orlando. As location director, Williams is responsible for managing the day-to-day activities of the location, including class scheduling and student and faculty recruitment.
“We are very pleased to welcome Aaron and have him oversee our Orlando location,” Davis said. “He brings a wealth of experience in higher education to the position and will be a valuable asset for our team moving forward.”
Williams joins Columbia College after more than 13 years in a variety of different roles at Webster University, including two years as regional campus director in St. Louis, Missouri, overseeing eight campuses and two years as campus director of the university’s Merritt Island and Patrick Air Force Base campuses in Florida. He also served as an adjunct faculty member for Webster for 10 years in the School of Business and Technology and in the Political Science department. Between 1987 and 2010, Williams was an assistant professor for the United States Army, teaching members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines the science of providing large-scale multifunctional logistics during combat. He retired from the Army after 22 years of service as lieutenant colonel in 2010.
Williams holds bachelor’s degrees from the University of Central Florida in both Public Administration and Liberal Studies. He earned his master’s degree in Business Administration from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in 1992 and is a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri.
Uber and Columbia College of Missouri today announced a unique partnership that will give thousands of Uber driver-partners in Missouri and around the U.S. a 15 percent discount on tuition. The discount will also be available to any current Columbia College of Missouri student who signs up to drive with Uber.
“Uber has a great global brand, and we’re pleased to partner with them,” said Dr. Scott Dalrymple, president of Columbia College of Missouri. “This initiative has the potential to change many lives.”
Tuition costs at Columbia College of Missouri are less than half the national average. The college offers associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees on its main campus in Columbia, Missouri, through a robust online program, and via a network of 34 additional locations across the country. Eight-week classes begin six times a year.
“Uber is a natural fit for students looking to earn money while pursuing a degree. With no set hours or shifts, students can choose when they want to drive in a way that works around their lives and class schedule, not the other way around,” said Andy Hung, Uber Missouri General Manager. “We are thrilled to team up with Columbia College of Missouri to offer this program to drivers seeking an affordable way to further their education.”
To be eligible for the tuition discount, Uber driver-partners must complete at least one trip per month. For more information about how current students interested in driving with Uber and current driver-partners interested in applying to Columbia College of Missouri can take advantage of this offer, visit uber.ccis.edu.
About Uber Missouri
Uber’s mission is to make transportation as reliable as running water – everywhere, for everyone. We started in 2010 to solve a simple problem: how do you get a ride at the touch of a button? Six years and over a billion trips later, we’ve started tackling an even greater challenge: reducing congestion and pollution in our cities by getting more people into fewer cars. Follow us on Twitter @Uber and find us on Facebook: Uber.
By Maria Haynie
New changes could make securing financial aid easier for all American college students. Each year, college students nationwide are required to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be considered for federal grants, loans, work-study programs and other financial aid. Although that annual filing is still necessary, the Department of Education has made two big changes that could simplify that process. Here’s what you need to know:
This year, you’ll be able to submit your FAFSA earlier than ever. Now, students are able to file their FAFSA paperwork as early as October 1, 2016 instead of January 1, 2017. This gives students much more time to get the paperwork completed and go through any additional verification processes that may be required.
This also puts students in a great position to submit early. Some awards disperse on a first-come, first-served basis. The final FAFSA deadline is June 30, 2017.
No matter when you file your FAFSA between October 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017, you’ll be able to use your 2015 tax information. Previously, students filed based on tax information they might not have had in hand yet, causing confusion, guesswork and, for some, tedious readjustment after tax day.
How can I get help filing my FAFSA?
Columbia College is hosting a FAFSA Frenzy, sponsored by the Missouri Department of Education, on October 27 from 6-7:30 p.m. in the Atkins-Holman Student Commons. You can also schedule an appointment with the Financial Aid office to get assistance in person, over the phone or via Skype.
Columbia College Region IV Director MarJean Knokey recently announced the promotion of Dr. Nefeli Schneider to the position of location director at Columbia College-Denver. Schneider is responsible for managing the day-to-day activities of the location, including class scheduling and student and faculty recruitment.
“Nefeli has played an integral role at our Denver location for several years both as an adjunct faculty member and administrator,” Knokey said. “She brings great energy and passion to the director position with a true focus on helping our students succeed.”
Schneider has been associated with the college since 1998, serving as an adjunct faculty member the past 18 years. In 2013, Schneider was also named the Denver location’s assistant director and international student advisor.
Prior to joining the Columbia College team full time, Schneider worked as director of program quality, training, planning and special projects at the Developmental Pathways Community Centered Board from 2003-2012, serving people with developmental disabilities in Arapahoe and Douglas counties and the city of Aurora, Colorado.
Schneider holds a doctorate in Educational Psychology from the University of Colorado-Boulder, master’s degrees in Cultural and Physical Anthropology and Child Psychology from the University of Colorado-Denver and bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Anthropology from the University of Colorado-Denver as well.
Columbia College Region 2 Director Debra Hartman recently announced the hiring of Renee Grosso ’04 as location director at Columbia College-Hancock Field. Grosso is responsible for managing the day-to-day activities of the location, including class scheduling and student and faculty recruitment.
“We are very pleased to have Renee oversee our Hancock Field location,” Hartman said. “She brings great energy and leadership to the position, and we are fortunate to have her as part of our Columbia College team.”
Grosso has worked as a member of the Columbia College-Hancock Field staff for 24 years, starting as an office manager and Veterans Administration Certifying Official. In 2004 she was promoted to the position of associate director of the campus before recently taking over the director position. Grosso holds a bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration and Computer Information Systems and a master’s degree in Business Administration, all from Columbia College. In 2015, Grosso was awarded the Columbia College Professional Excellence Award for her outstanding commitment to the college’s mission.
Columbia College Region 3 Director Alan Hilliard recently announced the hiring of David Opdycke as location director at Columbia College-NAS Jacksonville. Opdycke is responsible for managing the day-to-day activities of the location, including class scheduling and student and faculty recruitment.
Opdycke has worked as a member of the Columbia College staff since 2011, starting as the campus admissions manager at Columbia College-Jacksonville. He was then promoted to the position of assistant director at the Columbia College-NAS Jacksonville location in 2014. Prior to working at Columbia College, he was associate director of Admissions at Flagler College from 2001-2009. Opdycke served in the U.S. Marine Corps for seven years and holds a bachelor’s degree in international studies from Jacksonville University and a master’s degree in history from the University of North Florida.