Belinda Nanda was a 48-year-old stay-at-home mother of two when she decided it was time to go back to work. She had just signed up her daughters for ice skating lessons and debated signing up, too. But that got her thinking. ”If I had time to take an ice skating class,” Nanda recalled, “I could be going back to work.”
But the former information systems specialist with Andersen Consulting knew she needed to brush up on her skills after 10 years out of the workforce. She scoured Monster.com to figure out what employers were looking for. Then she set to work finding a place to teach her those skills. She debated re-doing her masters from DePaul University but felt that was over-kill. She looked into the University of Illinois where she could take spot refresher courses without signing up for a degree program, but the commute was long.
“It finally dawned on me that I could go to my local community college,” Nanda says. ”It’s got an excellent reputation. They offer a really good range of all those technical skills classes, and the application process couldn’t be easier. I decided to apply and just take one course and see how it went, and it was great. It really was.”
Nanda took two classes at nearby Oakton Community College– the first online and the second on campus. Initially, she worried about heading back to the classroom.
“I thought I would be this older mom sitting there with all these kids,” Nanda says, “but it turned out not to be that way at all. I saw a big range of ages there, and that was really reassuring. My professors were about the same age as me, and that was reassuring.”
She also found them to be supportive.
“The professors and the staff at these community colleges,” says Nanda, “I can’t stress enough, they really do want to help their students.”
She even garnered a fresh reference from her second professor — the dean of mathematics and technology.
Another surprise for Nanda — the career services. Oakton offered help with career counseling, job placement, and internships.
“I thought the internship was a fantastic way to get recent, relevant experience on my resume,” Nanda says, “and the short-term commitment took all the fear out of returning to work. I didn’t have to make such a strong commitment with an employer and then find out, oops, I had made a mistake and had to start the whole process over again.”
A counselor matched her with an internship at NorthShore University HealthSystem, and after weeks of waiting, she was offered, not the internship, but a permanent part-time position. She took it. She now works 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and is home in time to meet her girls. She loves the job, and they love her. Nanda says her employer often tells her they want more people like her.
“For anyone who wants to go back after a long time and is just even thinking ‘Are employers even going to want me?,’ well, they do.”
After just two semesters, Nanda succeeded in updating her skills, landing a job she really enjoys, and becoming the role model she hoped she could be to her daughters. And she had fun doing it.
“I can’t recommend it enough,” says Nanda. ”Community colleges allow you to pick up those individual skills that you might need as opposed to re-doing your entire degree. I had a great experience with it. I think it shows your seriousness and your desire to do something about the relaunch of your career.”
To hear the full interview with Belinda and my earlier discussion with Dr. Julie Leidig, provost of the Loudoun campus of Northern Virginia Community College, Norma Kent of the American Association of Community Colleges, and Mary Ghilani, Director of Career Services at Luzerne County Community College, click on the player below. Or read my previous post for more information on the benefits of attending a community college.