Douglas overcomes numerous obstacles to earn degree

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 20, 2005

Staff Report

Tenacity and hard work have paid off for Paul D. Camp Community College alumni, Donna L. Douglas, who recently earned a Bachelor of Science degree in computer information systems from Strayer University.

For more than 20 years, Douglas, has worked diligently to overcome many obstacles, never giving up on her dream to earn a college degree and be a good parent.

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&uot;I didn’t want my child to come to me one day with a homework problem and I’d have to say, `I don’t know how to do it.’ I wanted to be a parent that my child could look up to,&uot; she said.

But the quest for an education was not easy for Douglas. In high school, math was not her best subject. For some reason, she could not understand how to do fractions. She failed several math tests because she couldn’t grasp the concept. Douglas dropped out of high school in the 10th grade and became a single teenage mom. After her daughter was born, she made several attempts to resume her education. Each time she signed up for the General Educational Development (GED) program, her daughter, who had asthma, would get sick and Douglas would have to quit the class, temporarily putting her dream aside. But, she kept the GED books and continued studying at home.

The birth of her second daughter, who was also sickly, delayed her education another two years. Determined to get her GED, Douglas enrolled in a daytime program at the old Suffolk High School.

She talked her mother and some cousins into going with her, and took along her daughter, who slept on a crib mattress beside her in the classroom. Her daughter became ill once again, forcing Douglas to drop out of the class.

Two years later, Douglas gained confidence after testing out of the Adult Basic Education (ABE) program.

&uot;I passed every fraction problem on that test, and if I could teach myself how to do fractions, I could teach myself anything, if I put my mind to it,&uot; said Douglas. She took the GED and missed passing by two points.

The next summer, still determined to obtain her goal, Douglas took the test again. This time she earned a (GED). Inspired to continue, she started taking a home study courses in accounting, which landed her a job at H&R Block for two tax seasons. &uot;But, I longed for a college education,&uot; she said.

The longing ended, after overcoming illness in the family and lack of transportation, when she enrolled at Paul D. Camp in 1996. While attending classes, she held various jobs, including one at Wal-Mart, where she started out as cashier in training and advanced to customer service manager. It was not the career path she really wanted, so she quit and took a part-time position at PDCCC as computer lab assistant on the Franklin campus.

Perhaps the highlight of her educational journey was when she went to the mailbox one day and opened up a letter from the college containing her grades. &uot;Dean’s List&uot; was boldly printed on the page. She had promised a neighbor, Ella M. Picott, known as &uot;Ma Mae&uot; to Douglas, who had since passed away, that she would make the dean’s list. That day, standing at the mailbox, said Douglas, &uot;I looked up to heaven, with tears in my eyes, and said, ‘Ma Mae, I did it, just like I promised you I would.’&uot;

Two years later, thinking of &uot;Ma Mae&uot; all along the way, Douglas graduated with honors from Paul D. Camp, earning an associate degree in general studies and a career studies certificate in bookkeeping. The night of graduation, with her family there for support, she pinned a picture of her 17-year-old brother, who died earlier that year, to her gold honors stole. &uot;In a sense he graduated with me,&uot; she said.

Soon, the tenacity began to pay off. Having a two-year degree helped her gain the position of admissions assistant at the Hobbs Suffolk Campus in 2003. Since then, she has worked diligently with PeopleSoft, a new state-wide computer software, which tracks student records, expatiates registration, and allows students to access their own records.

In spite of her struggles, Douglas is blessed. Not only did she reach her goal of getting her college degrees, but she also qualified for a Habitat for Humanity house in 2003.

With the help of Monette Williams, coordinator of student support at the College, who recommended that Douglas apply for the program, her application was accepted. Thanks to the support of the PDCCC family and friends, she moved into the home, located on Walnut Street in Franklin, this past August.

But, the story of her dream doesn’t end here. &uot;I want to show my children how important it is to have an education&uot; she said.

Douglas is enrolled in the master’s of science information systems program at Strayer this fall. Her ultimate goal is to earn a doctorate and eventually teach computer science classes at PDCCC.