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NRCC Landscape

For Immediate Release

NRCC 2013 Graduation Stories


In a sea of matching black caps and gowns, New River Community graduates can look a lot alike. But if you were to stop and ask a graduate to tell you how they made it to that special day, you’d find out very quickly that each has his or her own very unique story to tell. For these six NRCC graduates, their paths to graduation were filled with hard work, long days and other obstacles. But each one crossed the stage on May 15 and added a happy ending to their story.

Kimberlie Honaker – setting an example

Three different jobs lost to the bad economy. Four children at home to think about. By 2011, Kimberlie Honaker’s self-esteem had hit a serious low point. “I knew I had to do something,” Honaker says. “I wanted to set a better example for my kids.”

Honaker completed NRCC’s nurse aid certificate program in 2007 and went on to become a Certified Nursing Assistant. “I loved that line of work,” she said. So much so, that she considered returning to study practical nursing with the eventual goal of becoming a Registered Nurse. But, a back injury changed her plans. “After I hurt my back, it was very hard to stay on my feet for long periods of time,” she says. “So I just couldn’t spend as much time with the patients as I wanted to.”

That’s when Honaker decided it was time to do something that she’d put off since graduating from Pulaski County High School – get a college degree.

Despite her injury, Honaker wanted to find a way to remain in the healthcare field. In 2011, she entered NRCC’s administrative support technology program through the Healthcare Information Technology Education (HITE) initiative. This month, she graduated with her associate degree in administrative support technology with a specialization in medical administrative support.

During the course of her studies, Honaker also participated in NRCC’s Advanced Learners Program (ALP), taking an information technology course in computer applications. “It was very challenging,” she says. “But I got a great feeling of satisfaction out of holding myself to that higher standard.”

Honaker distinguished herself both in and out of the classroom during her time at NRCC. She was recognized at the President’s Awards ceremony as the 2013 Outstanding Student in medical administrative support specialization and was named to Who’s Who Among Students in American Junior Colleges. She is also a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and received the Kollmorgen Scholarship from the NRCC Educational Foundation. Additionally, she was a member of a delegation of NRCC students who visited state legislators in Richmond earlier this year as part of Virginia’s “Every Day is Community College Day” program.

Throughout her efforts to achieve her goal of receiving a college degree, Honaker says that the people at NRCC are what really stood out. “Everyone was so helpful,” she says. “The instructors go above and beyond to help you.”
Her goal of setting a better example for her children (ages six, seven, 10 and 13) has been reflected in an improvement in her two of her children’s grades. “It turned into a little friendly competition,” she says with a laugh. “We compared ‘report cards!’”

Honaker is quick to point out that none of her achievements would be possible without her husband, Jacob Price, and her mother and father-in-law Marty and Tootie Price. “They were all so supportive,” she says. “I’m the luckiest girl in the world!”

Asked about her future, she says she’d like to work in a pediatrician’s office or another area that lets her work with children. She’s also considering pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

As she reflects on her graduation, she notes that her excitement is mixed with some sadness. “I’m excited to start a new career,” she says. “But I’m really going to miss NRCC – it changed my life.”

Deborah Hamilton and Amanda Lovern – overcoming obstacles together

Graduation is a family affair. But in Deborah Hamilton’s case, her family wasn’t just in the audience to watch her graduate from New River Community College. Her daughter, Amanda Lovern, also graduated during the May 15 ceremony. Her nephew, Cody Hamilton, crossed the stage as well.

Hamilton and Lovern are bound not only by being mother and daughter, but also by the seemingly insurmountable obstacles they had to overcome to reach this point.

Hamilton began school at NRCC in 2006 by taking a business law class that was required for her job. She enjoyed the course so much, she decided to continue her studies in the business management program, taking one course at a time while she worked. She was a little apprehensive at first about being an adult student, but quickly found that her worries were unfounded. “When you’re a little bit older you have this misconception that everybody’s a young teenager and you feel funny about going to school,” she says. “But, as it turned out, there were a couple other people in class that were my age and we started taking classes together and developed our own little study and support group.”

But, in 2009 as Hamilton was making her way through classes and a 40-plus hour work week, her daughter was struck by a serious case of H1N1 influenza, also known as “swine flu.”

“For the first two weeks, they told me she would never make it,” says Hamilton, describing the start of what became her daughter’s four-month stay in intensive care at Roanoke Memorial Hospital. There, Lovern had surgery to remove infected tissue from her lungs and drain fluid from around her heart. She went into kidney failure, received nine chest tubes and a tracheotomy and was placed on an ECMO machine, which helped do the work of her heart and lungs.

Despite these efforts, her heart stopped beating three different times. During the third instance, Hamilton says she was approached and asked how long she wanted to continue efforts to resuscitate her daughter. “I said – don’t ask me that, I’m not going to give up.” And neither did Lovern – a nurse found a heartbeat and her long road to recovery began.

After the hospital stay, Lovern spent a month in a rehabilitation facility. When she was finally able to go home, she still had a long way to go. She was in a wheelchair, using oxygen and taking dozens of medications.

Throughout Lovern’s harrowing hospital stay and subsequent return home, Hamilton was tasked with trying to figure out what to do about her schooling. She went to her professor at the time and asked if she could take an incomplete grade and pick the course up again later. But her professor surprised her, saying he didn’t want her to quit and that he would work with her to help her finish the class. So Hamilton did her homework, attended the class meetings when she could, did her final project and made it through the course.

With her own education back on track, Hamilton began encouraging her still-recovering daughter to take a class. Lovern started with an online class in religions of the world. And, much like her mother before her, one class kick-started her college education.

Lovern tried a few different courses before deciding on NRCC’s human services program. “I like to help people,” she said. “That’s why I chose human services.” It took a few online courses before Lovern was well enough to come to campus for in-classroom study, but she worked her way up to it. “All the human service instructors were really helpful,” says Lovern. “They got to know you and they were there for you both for school and for personal things.”
During her final semester, one found Lovern dashing back and forth between classes and an internship and caring for her two daughters, ages seven and ten. But, she says, they made it work. “When they did their homework, I did mine,” she says. Hamilton often joined in as well, telling her granddaughters that sometimes, she didn’t feel like doing her homework either, but “that’s the way life is.”

Both Hamilton and her daughter are excited about their graduations and optimistic about their futures. Hamilton says that she intends to keep working at her current job after graduating with her associate degree in business management, but will do something new this summer. “I’m taking the summer off from classes for the first time in six years!”

Lovern graduated with her associate degree in human services having been named to Who’s Who Among Students in American Junior Colleges and being inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. This summer, she’ll finish her coursework for a second degree in general studies and in the fall, she’ll begin taking distance education classes through Old Dominion University in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in human services. She’s even given thought to pursuing a master’s degree.

Reflecting on their mutual struggle, Hamilton offers sage words. “We proved that through all of the trials, tribulations, heartaches and all the things that life throws at you, you can still do it.”

Keaton Hanks – working hard and helping others

Mention New River Community College graduate Keaton Hanks’ name in front of just about any of the college’s faculty, staff or administrators and big smiles quickly appear.

The December 2012 graduate has made a name for himself at the college through his friendliness and stellar work ethic.

Hanks began his studies in administrative support technology at NRCC in 2010 -- holding up his end of a deal with his mom, Pam Hanks, that he would get a college degree. But, for him, there was more to that deal than just making the grades to get a degree. Hanks has Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder that can make things like social situations and big transitions difficult.

To ease the shift from high school to college, Hanks began visiting NRCC during his senior year in high school. Pam Hanks, an instructional designer at NRCC, says that college faculty and staff were very welcoming. “From day one, he was made to feel like family here,” she says. “Everyone at NRCC is very student-oriented.”

Hanks is quick to agree, noting that one of his favorite parts of studying at NRCC has been interaction with his teachers and college staff. He acknowledges support from many people and offices on campus, specifically mentioning members of the disability services staff and director of volunteer services Dr. Don Stowers, who helped him set up tutoring sessions and other assistance. He also had compliments for NRCC’s president, Dr. Jack Lewis. “I want to thank Dr. Lewis for checking up on me and always being really nice.”

Pam Hanks’ fellow staff members at the college note that Hanks, too is genuinely interested in others. When he stops by his mom’s office, he makes his way around to each person and asks about how they and their families are doing.

Hanks’ English composition professor and family friend, Dr. Paige Cash, has high praise for the graduate. “Keaton Hanks is the student every teacher dreams of having. He is dedicated to his work as a student, and as a role model, he has no equal. His success serves as an inspiration to us all.”

NRCC faculty recently recognized Hanks’ academic prowess and work ethic by naming him the 2013 Outstanding Student in administrative support technology.

Hanks also distinguishes himself outside of NRCC, by keeping up a busy schedule of volunteering in addition to a recently acquired data-entry position with EAC2 Consulting in Pulaski. When he’s not working at EAC2, one can find him volunteering at Pulaski Health and Rehabilitation Center, helping with Bingo and chatting with patients or putting his lightning-fast typing skills to use in the offices of Pulaski County High School or Critzer Elementary.

While it can hardly be said that Asperger’s syndrome defines Keaton Hanks, he makes sure to talk about it. After discussing his successes throughout his college career, he hopes his story will help parents whose children have Asperger’s realize that anything is attainable for their child.

Morgan Linkous – getting a head start

Going to college can be tough -- especially if you decide to do it while you’re still in high school. But for Morgan Linkous, tackling college during her senior year at Giles High School was a great way to jump start her future.

In many ways, Linkous is a typical high school senior. She’s finishing up classes like trigonometry, ecology and dual-enrolled English in preparation for graduation, while battling the usual case of “senioritis.” But, unlike most high school seniors, she crossed the stage at New River Community College this month before she received her high school diploma.

Through a meeting held by guidance counselors at her school, Linkous found out about NRCC’s Jumpstart Career and Technical Education Program, which lets high school seniors take college courses. Seeing the college’s Pharmacy Technician career studies certificate on the list of available programs, she decided to take on the challenge. “I knew I wanted to get into pharmacy and thought this would be a great way to get my foot in the door,” she says.

Linkous has long been interested in the medical field, but didn’t feel like nursing was the right path for her. “I still wanted to be able to help people,” she says. She’s most interested in working in a hospital pharmacy, where she’d be able to interact with patients.

So as she balanced her high school classes and activities (she’s involved in Students Against Drunk Driving, the Key/Keyette club, History club and National Honor Society just to name a few) she also made her way to both NRCC’s New River Valley Mall site and the campus in Dublin for her pharmacy tech classes. Was it difficult to keep it all together? “Sometimes,” she says. “One tough part was when I had exams at NRCC and exams coming up in high school, too.” She’s also studying for the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board exam.

Overall, she says the program was a good experience. “I’ve had people ask me ‘Should I do this?’ and I tell them ‘Definitely!’ ” says Linkous. “It really gives you a good idea of what college is like.”

She says she also appreciated the time away from her high school. “I’ve enjoyed meeting new people and just getting out of the high school atmosphere for a while.”

After Giles High Schools’ graduation in June, she’ll continue meeting new people when she heads off to Bridgewater College in the fall. There, she plans to double major in chemistry and biology – the precursor to her next step, pharmacy school.

After all that? “I’d like to come back to this area – my family is really close,” she says.

Linkous is one of three students who received career certificates from NRCC before they graduated high school. Floyd County High School seniors Shannon Monk and Hubert Reed received certificates in Pharmacy Technician and Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, respectively.

Adam Quesenberry – always moving forward

With a few basic electricity classes already under his belt, a keen sense of curiosity brought Pilot resident Adam Quesenberry to New River Community College to study instrumentation and control automation technology in the summer of 2012. “When I looked into the program, I discovered that it was the only one of its kind in Virginia and had a great reputation,” he says. “Then I learned that the job market for instrumentation was also strong, so it became a no-brainer for me.”

Quesenberry wasted no time getting to work on his instrumentation degree, finishing the typically four-semester program in just three. It wasn’t an easy task, requiring him to take 15 credits or more each semester to make it work. Add to that a work-study job in the instrumentation lab and Quesenberry was one very busy person.

He says his interest in instrumentation, apart from the strong job market, stems from his love of logical thinking and troubleshooting. “I enjoy fixing things,” he says. “I like to solve problems and that’s definitely part of the day-to-day activities in that field.”

Throughout his three busy semesters at NRCC, Quesenberry says that what stood out to him was the high quality of the college faculty. “The quality of the program is only as good as its faculty,” he says. “I was very impressed.”

NRCC’s faculty members were equally impressed with Quesenberry, naming him the 2013 Outstanding Student in instrumentation and control automation technology.

He’s relieved to have completed his final exams and was excited to walk across the stage at the college’s graduation ceremony on May 15. He’s also excited to enter the workforce. But first, he faces a tough (though enviable) decision – which one of his multiple job offers to accept. He has opportunities with salaries ranging from 48 to 60,000 dollars per year, so he’ll have lots to consider. “I’m not sure which way I want to go just yet,” he says.

Though he is heading out into the instrumentation field, Quesenberry’s not finished with his education. He plans to continue this fall and pursue an electrical engineering degree through Old Dominion University. “My curiosity keeps me going,” he says. “I like to keep moving forward.”
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