PDCCC’s Walker earns doctorate
Published 6:28 pm Saturday, August 29, 2015
By Wendy Harrison
Special to the News-Herald
Sandra Artis Walker will tell you she came from “humble beginnings.”
“I will never forget what my mother, Mary Artis, always told me and my siblings: ‘It doesn’t matter where you start; it’s where you finish,’” Walker said. “She has been a major influence in my life.”
Her mother’s poignant words helped spur her desire to learn.
After six years in the doctoral program at Walden University in Minneapolis, Minn.,
Walker recently successfully defended her dissertation, “The Role of Local History in the Curriculum at a Rural Southeastern Community College,” and earned a Doctor of Education in Higher Education and Adult Learning. She completed the program with a 4.0 GPA.
“This is quite an accomplishment for anyone, but especially for someone like Sandra, who did this while working a full-time job,” said Dr. Alan Harris, counselor on the Hobbs Suffolk Campus. “We are extremely proud of her.”
Harris was a staunch supporter of the first-generation student throughout this leg of her educational journey, encouraging her and helping her “see around the corner,” according to Walker.
Born in Southampton County to a farming family, Walker’s father was African-American and her mother was Native American. Walker moved to Newport News, along with her two siblings and mother, at a very young age. “My mother always encouraged us to express pride in the heritage of her parents, who were both Native American.”
“My mother always pushed education,” the PDCCC College Success Coach said. “She didn’t have a high school diploma, but she would always find ways to be involved in our education. She walked to our schools for our PTA meetings and served as PTA president at one of our schools. I was so proud when she earned her GED.”
An 11-year veteran of the Army, Walker concluded her military service working in the National Security Agency and later, the Pentagon, assigned to the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense. She returned to Sedley to be closer to her family.
“It was the first time I had to ask for help,” she said. “I was recently divorced, I had no job and I had an asthmatic child,” she said. “I had GI Bill benefits, but it didn’t cover food or healthcare for my daughter, who was in elementary school at the time.”
Walker applied for benefits at Southampton County Social Services and was further encouraged by the social worker, Marnita Hucks, to get as much education as possible. Walker enrolled at PDCCC, but really wanted to complete a degree from Western Illinois University. Long before any articulation agreements were in place, PDCCC’s Veterans benefits specialist Barbara Edwards collaborated with WIU’s Veterans representative to ensure Walker took the appropriate classes that would transfer.
She graduated with a bachelor’s from the general studies program at WIU with a minor in Family and Consumer Sciences in 2007 while working up to two part-time jobs.
“I met Dr. Patsy Joyner while I was enrolled at PDCCC,” said Walker about the now retired vice president for Institutional Advancement. “She is the reason why I continued on to finish the master’s and doctoral programs. She refused to let me be mediocre.”
Walker completed, with distinguished honors, a Master of Science in Postsecondary Education (Foundations) in one year by following an accelerated schedule from Troy University in Montgomery, Ala.
Prior to her current position of college success coach, Walker has served at PDCCC as library technician, tutor and On Ramp program career coach. She partners with the college’s Upward Bound and Student Support Services programs to provide information about college survival skills and scholarship resources, and established the Spanish Basics Learning Community at the college.
She has worked in numerous other positions, including as Education Director, Tutor Coordinator and Program Leader of the Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Virginia in Franklin. She has received a multitude of awards and conducted numerous presentations.
Her daughter, Olivia, graduated from the PDCCC nursing program in May and is already working in her field of study.