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Meet Candace Pressley whose inspiring story shows you it’s never too late to go back to college. Before enrolling in the ACE program, Candace tried college right after high school, but was intimidated by the pressure to choose a major and stopped out sophomore year. She moved from part to full time hours at work and, at age 19, was satisfied with her level of earnings. It was enough, for then

College remained on her mind during a twenty year tenure at Woods Services where she  learned of the Partnership Site associate degree program available right on Woods’ campus from Site Coordinator and colleague Valerie Durden. Even though she had been to college before, she was apprehensive. “It had been a long time.” But Val offered persistent encouragement, visiting the building where she worked to explain how Candace could work while attending school, and took her through the application process. “I had tried to go back a few times, but I didn’t understand the financial aid application (FAFSA) and no one was there to help me with the paperwork. This was different. Val took care of everything.” 

That difference continued past enrollment as Val made sure Candace and other students had whatever support they needed for success. Val showed them how to sign on to online classes, ensured they received the maximum number of transfer credits from prior college courses, and connected them with needed technology. Once in the classroom, Candace found helpful and encouraging professors who respected the life experiences of their adult students. “It wasn’t I’m the teacher and you’re the student. We were treated as adults and invited to apply our life experience to discussions and assignments.” In the process, she realized she knew more than she thought when she recognized terms reviewed in class from daily work life. “Now I know what’s behind those terms. They’re a name for something you’re already doing.” Instead of big lecture halls, she became part of a small classroom environment with 15 students where instructors “noticed me as a person, and asked how we were doing to start each class. You need that when you’ve been out of school for a while.” And the convenience factor was hard to beat. “It was right there, at my workplace!” 

A long term employee of Woods, Candace had good friends on staff who helped out with work duties if she needed extra time for an assignment or had to get to class. Other colleagues became classmates who supported each other week after week. “We were in this together.” And together, they kept their eye on the prize – graduation.

Although the Covid pandemic effectively cancelled a collective graduation and Candace was even working that day, Site Coordinator Val made sure to celebrate her achievement, bringing in her cap and gown, decorating her workspace, and hosting a party on campus for graduates. “She saw me through it, to the finish line.” 

Even though Candace acknowledges that she was nervous before each semester, she kept going. And her persistence paid off. Candace was offered a position as acting Program Supervisor and then quickly promoted to Personal Home Care Administrator. She now supervises the same residential facility where she previously served as a direct care worker. “Without a degree, I wouldn’t be in line for this job, and now I want to learn more to lead my staff better.” Candace will pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology in January and is interested in teaching in the Partnership Site program herself! 

Reflecting on her college journey, she notes “I probably wouldn’t have gone back without the partnership site. I was apprehensive, but I jumped in. It’s ok to not know the future, but you can commit to learning.”