The Washington State Association of College Trustees (ACT) presents its annual $500 Transforming Lives Award to five or six of the nominees put forward by each of Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges. At the October Board Meeting, the Tacoma Community College Board of Trustees voted to name Allied Health student Michele Hart TCC’s Transforming Lives Award Nominee for 2022.
Michele first encountered TCC at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), where she completed a Technical Design Certificate. After leaving WCCW, Michele enrolled at TCC’s Tacoma campus. She is currently completing an Associate Degree in Allied Health and plans to complete TCC’s Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) in Applied Management program. After that, Michele plans to put her education to work in a way that directly improves the lives of other people, such as coordinating volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, or advising and advocating for college students. In her ACT Transforming Lives essay she wrote, “I want to be the change and the difference.”
“I need the in-person, human-to-human contact,” said Michele. “That’s what school’s all about; you learn from one another. When I walk onto campus, I feel a sense of camaraderie, of connection. I’m not the only one going through what I’m going through.”
Michele has already started down her chosen career pathway. She quit a higher-paying full-time job that didn’t align with her values to work as a part-time Peer Advocate in TCC’s Advising department. While it’s been hard to lose the income, she’s found happiness through helping her fellow students. The new job also brought her into contact with the TCC staff members that have become her primary on-campus support network: Counselor Lexie Generous, Career Center Coordinator Natalie Wilkerson, and Administrative Assistant Janae Ryan.
“Natalie and Janae are definitely my tour guides and my confidants,” Michele said. “Without Lexie, Janae, and Natalie, I would be lost here.”
Michele also thanked student Louie Lopez-Hopkins for nominating her for the award: “Thank you for helping me see I deserve the world.”
With help from her “tour guides” and others, including Re-Entry Navigator Larry Quintana, Michele has located the programs, resources and services she needs to thrive at TCC. She learned that she was eligible for Workforce funding and chose a program, Allied Health, that will both meet the Workforce funding requirements and help her meet her career goals. She got to know the services offered by “The Center” (formerly CASA/MECA) and by the Max & Margi Harned Titan Food Pantry. Last year was especially challenging because Michele didn’t have Wi-Fi at home and had to do all of her studying on campus. But she felt supported by TCC faculty, as well as by the staff.
“I never one time felt judged because I had an ankle monitor on. It was, how can we help you succeed?”
Michele knows as well as anyone how hard it can be to be a parent, a student, and employee, all at the same time, which makes her and empathic and supportive Peer Advocate. But she wants her fellow students to understand that, whatever the challenge, there’s help available.
“There’s absolutely a resource for everything. You just have to have the courage to ask. People want to help, and if we can’t find it on campus, we can help you find it off campus.”
In her ACT Transforming Lives essay, Michele says that her goal is to spread the word on how college can change your life.
“Before I went to WCCW, I was lost. I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t think I deserved a future,” Michele said. “Inside that classroom I was able to reinvent myself. They say it takes a village to raise a child – it took a community college to raise me. I’ve been able to change the trajectory of my life, and my children’s life. Without the resources this college offers, I would be lost in this world. I just hope that my story falls on the ears of those who have walked my path.”