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Career Spotlights

The Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) is a wonderful place to start or complete an academic career where you can get involved on or off-campus, gain valuable skills, and make lifelong friends. We are excited to promote our student and alumni Career spotlights on this page to inspire other prospective and current students and share their wonderful experience that they had with us at CCAC!

Justin Starr started at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in 2002 as a high school dual enrollment student. He took the bus from his home in Sewickley to Allegheny Campus, and earned his Associate of Science in General Studies. Later, Justin went on to get his Bachelor of Science in Engineering Science from the University of Virginia, and his Master of Science and Ph.D. in Materials Science & Engineering from the University of Florida. Justin worked for QinetiQ North America's Technology Solutions Group on attachments for bomb-disposal robots and DARPA programs on Anti-Submarine Warfare. He was also CTO of RedZone Robotics, Inc. - a Pittsburgh manufacturer of sewer inspection robots, until they sold the business in 2018. Now Justin is an Assistant Professor of Mechatronics at the West Hills Center!

How did you choose your major? What motivated you to choose that field/profession? 
I had no idea! General Studies was as specific as I could be way back then. Later I got my A.S. in Business Management because an understanding of business can help you in any profession.

What did you enjoy about attending CCAC? Any memorable moment to share? 
I was such a nerd - I loved taking books from the library discards! I also remember thinking that Mr. Samuels made sociology so much more interesting than many of my high school classes. Now, I love teaching intro classes for the same reason - to try to get people excited about something I have a passion for.

How involved were you at CCAC? Did you study abroad? Did you have internships or Co-Ops? Clinicals and/or practicums? Were you a part of any clubs, sports, or extracurriculars? (please list as much detail as possible). 
Phi Theta Kappa, but that's about it.

Did any of these experiences lead you into realizing your passions for work and career? If so, how? 
I knew I wanted to teach! It is so exciting to return to my alma mater in a new capacity. It is a little weird to see some of the same professors (people love working here!), but it is fantastic.

What (transferable) skills did you gain that you could take into a workplace? 
Taking CCAC classes while I was still in high school was the best thing I could have done to get ready for a four-year institution. They made me ready for the rigor and workload of college, and showed me that I had so much to learn - tough for a know-it-all kid to understand. I also learned to work with a variety of students - different ages and backgrounds - that I never would have encountered otherwise. I am a much better team player as a result of my CCAC experience.

What are you hoping to do next? What would you like to do professionally? 
Right now, I love teaching! But, I am always thinking about startups and new businesses. I love the idea of applying science to management, and have a few ideas for new technologies. It would be great to work on some of them with a few students!

How do you manage stress (most especially during these uncertain times)? 
I am a retrotechnology nerd. When I have spare time, I enjoy playing video games from the 80s and 90s, and restoring ancient computers and electronic devices.

What do you want prospective college students to know—what advice do you have for them? 
Your professors are one of the most valuable resources that you have! Take advantage of them - talk to them, ask them questions, get to know them! They know a lot about class material, but a lot about life, too!

Who inspires you and why? Do you have any mentors or people of influence in your life? 
I am always motivated by my parents who did so much to give me opportunities, and by my wife who puts up with my frustrations each and every day. I try to always bring generosity and patience to every day.

Anything else you’d like for us to know? 
You guys are so great at career services! Please continue helping all of our students get jobs!

Justin Starr

Justin Starr 2

Mike Dudjak was a CCAC student from 1997-1999 (attended CCAC-Allegheny & CCAC-South) then transferred to West Liberty University and graduated with a Bachelor's of Science Degree. Currently he’s a Paraprofessional at Springdale Jr/Sr High School and Head Women's Basketball Coach at CCAC.

How did you choose your major? What motivated you to choose that field/profession?
I graduated West Liberty University with a Criminal Justice degree. I realized I liked working with youth & young people with special needs. So I went into the educational and coaching field.

What did you enjoy about attending CCAC? Any memorable moment to share? 
The people were very nice & helpful. Looking back, CCAC I believe, helped transition me into adulthood.

How involved were you at CCAC? Did you study abroad? Did you have internships or Co-Ops? Clinicals and/or practicums? Were you a part of any clubs, sports, or extracurriculars? (please list as much detail as possible). 
Intramural Basketball

Did any of these experiences lead you into realizing your passions for work and career? If so, how? 
I knew all along I wanted to get into coaching at some point, but was unsure about career paths in it. It wasn't until after I graduated I knew what I wanted to do & that was working with special education students.

What (transferable) skills did you gain that you could take into a workplace? 
How to deal with different personalities and different people. Not one person is the same. Also, treat people the same way you would like to be treated.

What are you hoping to do next? What would you like to do professionally? 
To continue to work with young people, make a difference and impact in their lives and continue to coach which I am beyond grateful to be doing at CCAC.

How do you manage stress (most especially during these uncertain times)? 
Spend time with my family and friends, exercise (not as much as I should), and try to laugh

What do you want prospective college students to know—what advice do you have for them? 
I want them to know that time management is very important and if you are unsure of anything, do not be afraid to ask. Also, Community College is a real college with real professors. Anyone that tells you otherwise is sadly mistaken. You get a top notch education from top notch professors.

Who inspires you and why? Do you have any mentors or people of influence in your life? 
Many people do. Obviously, my wife and my parents first; teachers I have had, coaches I played for, and some coaches I coached under.

If you're on Twitter, what's your Twitter name to tag you? 
@coachdudjak

Anything else you’d like for us to know? 
I love my two Cats Louie and Oliver

Mike Dudjak

My name is Tartela Tabassum and I am an international student from Bangladesh. After high school, I had to sacrifice my education and get married so that I could remove some financial burden from my family. After marriage, I moved to the USA and started over. After a year, I was able to begin my college education, but I had to battle stereotypes, for many people thought that a community college is not a good school to get into and it is not possible to be a success by going to the community college. There was a lot of stigma surrounding my decision to attend Community College as an international student. However, this was the only option I had to begin my education. Nevertheless, I broke all the stereotypes and graduated from (CCAC-Allegheny) with the major of Computer Information Systems in May 2020.

How did you choose your major? What motivated you to choose that field/profession? 
After coming to the U.S, I noticed that students got lots of opportunities through the use of digital tools and technology. The students, however, are often not motivated, and they lose track of their goals. With this in mind, I desire to create digital tools such as software- programmed robot and “Goals watch,” which I believe will help students become more goal-oriented. With this motivation, I chose my major in the Computer field so that I could use digital technology and productivity software-mediated collaboration tools. The goal is to use technology to control it rather than being distracted by it. While nowadays technology is controlling us.

What did you enjoy about attending CCAC? Any memorable moments to share? 
Attending CCAC was the best decision of my life, the staff, the professors, and the tutors from learning commons were so helpful. I was an engaged student in my college which helped to do lots of service work and volunteering in CCAC. This is how I became a mentor and I enjoyed it when students came to me and asked me to guide them. I also got lots of opportunities for applying to the scholarship and did the scholarship workshop to help students. I remember I got even nice feedback from the college President Dr. Evon Walters about my scholarship essay. Also being part of the Honors program allowed me to be an active student body and helped international students like me through services.

How involved were you at CCAC? Did you study abroad? Did you have internships or Co-Ops? Clinicals and/or practicums? Were you a part of any clubs, sports, or extracurriculars? (please list as much detail as possible). 
During my journey at CCAC, I was an active member of PTK (PHI THETA KAPPA) then I was elected as an Officer of Communication 2018-2019 at PTK (Alpha Mu Theta Chapter). After that, I become a Student Ambassador. I was also the President of Science Club through which I got the 2018/2019 MVP award, and an Honors Ambassador. Later, I became the Student Government Vice President. In 2018, I did a summer camp internship at Carnegie Science Center as a Teaching Assistant. I attended at 2018 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair as an interpreter and computer operator. I also worked last summer 2019 as an intern (data entry service) secretary at Steppingstone Psychiatric Care. I have worked at many volunteer programs through Phi Theta Kappa, CCAC, and my community, through which I received experience. So far, my accomplishments are getting my name on the Dean’s List, getting CCAC Educational award scholarship, including PTK Pearson scholarship, earning A's, being The Regional Officer (PA State President 2019-2020), Student and Honors Ambassador, Student Government Vice President, Science Club President, and a mentor.

Did any of these experiences lead you into realizing your passions for work and career? If so, how? 
These experiences shaped me as a leader and helped me improve my people skills. It showed me that I have love and talent for working with people and passion for my field of studies. It showed me that serving people and tending to their needs with compassion are some of the things I do best. The skills and experience that I got from my extracurricular activities also helped me achieved a prestigious scholarship at CCAC The Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship Program (DDETFP-2019 Award). My current volunteering involvement has taught me that I can think big, work hard, achieve my goals, and become positive in a challenging situation. It has taught me how to manage responsibility while welcoming diversity as a leader. This volunteering opportunity is fuel to my leadership skills and for my career.

What (transferable) skills did you gain that you could take into a workplace? 
Internships and volunteering helped me to get people skills, and also technology skills, which I believe I could take later in the workplace.

What are you hoping to do next? What would you like to do professionally? 
I intend to be a Software Engineer in order to use digital technology and productivity software-mediated collaboration tools to improve the computer software field for the future. I like to employ my technology skills to identify problems, explore, prioritize solutions, and revise priorities as a means for purposeful action. In the future, I hope to provide significant societal benefits to the technology field and enhance the world as a whole with my profession.

How do you manage stress (most especially during these uncertain times)? 
I manage my stress by reading motivational books and cooking.

What do you want prospective college students to know—what advice do you have for them? 
Everyone's battle is different. You don’t know everyone’s story of how they got where they are now, so being able to show that we are all different but striving after one thing as a student is important. I hope you all continue to push through the barriers, strive after your dreams, and never give up.

Who inspires you and why? Do you have any mentors or people of influence in your life? 
Observing my parents throughout my life has taught me the importance of education. Because they had to start working, my parents were only able to finish high school and had to drop out of college. I saw how they struggled because of their limited income. I too had to end my education after high school, because my parents couldn't afford my tuition in addition to my siblings. They had to arrange my marriage so I could go to the U.S with my husband and start a new life. My parents sold half of their land to send me to the U.S. At the beginning of my studies here, my husband couldn't support me financially. I had to wait two and a half years to start college. Once in the U.S, I started my journey at Community College. Being the first-generation student in the STEM field is not an easy task, but my motivation is my parent’s unsuccessful life. I learned from their hardship, especially from my dad. His sacrifice inspired me to move forward. He always reminds me that God helps those who help themselves. I will never forget where I came from and what I need to do to reach my goals. This practice has enabled me to realize several achievements. My passion and strategy to attain positive changes have helped me to go further. My struggle with finances has given me the courage to withstand real-life challenges as well as obtain success.

Anything else you’d like for us to know? 
I’m transferring to Duquesne University as Computer Science Major.

 Ambassador Tartela

Tartela at Student Life Day

Tartela PTK

Sara Hnatiw majored in both Early Education Child Development and Children with Special Needs. She graduated from the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC)—South Campus with her Children with Special Needs certificate in Spring 2018 and Early Education Child Development Associate’s Degree in Spring 2020. She has intentions to transfer to Carlow University or LaRoche College in Fall 2021 to begin her Bachelor’s Degree. Once she earns her Bachelor’s Degree, she would like to become a disability services director or a student success coach.

How did you choose your major? What motivated you to choose that field/profession?
I initially came into CCAC wanting to be an activities director for the senior citizens because I worked as a server at a retirement facility and enjoyed interacting with them. In the middle of my first semester at CCAC, my mother suggested that I should go for special education because I would be a great fit for children that have disabilities. After I finished my Children with Special Needs Certificate and CCAC not having a Special Education Degree, I decided to go towards the Early Education Child Development Associate’s Degree. Not a lot of people know that I have a learning disability. I struggled badly when I was younger and attended speech therapy for about 5 years at a local university and got the help that I needed. At a couple of my speech therapy sessions, I was paired up with another client, who had severe autism and struggled with his speech. The speech-language director of the program thought that it would be good for me to practice conversation skills with him. Ever since I was in grade school and wanting to be a teacher being one of my future goals, I knew that I wanted to become a teacher either in special education or elementary school. I had these strong intentions for a really long time until CCAC decided to switch classes to all online due to the coronavirus. I question myself if I would be a good teacher. I even had flashbacks of talking to students at the bookstore at the beginning of the Spring 2020 semester encouraging them to go to the Learning Assistance Center to get help and tell them how wonderful and helpful the tutors are. That is when I decided that I want to be a student success coach since I give good advice to everybody.

What did you enjoy about attending CCAC? Any memorable moment to share?
I enjoyed everything during my time at CCAC. Whether it was participating in clubs and organizations or meeting new people, I enjoyed every aspect of it. The memorable moment that I would like to share was when I was doing my homework. I was in the Learning Commons working on the computer to write a paper in one of my classes. I overheard one of the professors called a local ice cream shop to see if they had vanilla soft serve ice cream and to reserve some for one of her co-workers.

How involved were you at CCAC? Did you study abroad? Did you have internships or Co-Ops? Clinicals and/or practicums? Were you a part of any clubs, sports, or extracurriculars? (please list as much detail as possible).
I was highly involved with clubs/organizations during my time at CCAC. These clubs/organizations consisted of--ABLE Company, Phi Theta Kappa, and Delta Alpha Pi. The ABLE Company is a club that promotes and advocates individuals who have disabilities. During my second year at CCAC, I was the Secretary and took notes at all of our meetings. In my third year, I served as the Vice President of the club. I was also involved in Phi Theta Kappa, which is an honors society for community colleges nationwide. In the Fall 2018 semester, I was a provisional member and helped out with table session events and attended one of the conventions that was held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Before the 2019 Fall semester began, I became the Vice President of the College Project. As Vice President, I oversaw the College Program Hallmark Award submission and activities and to come up with goals with my advisors and chapter members and officers. Lastly, I became involved with the Delta Alpha Pi Honors Society in the Fall 2017 semester. This is an honors society that recognizes students with disabilities. I was promoted to the President of the organization in the Fall 2018 semester and helped promote and advocate for those who have a disability. I also applied to the Rising Leaders program for the Spring 2020 semester. This program teaches students how to develop leadership skills to apply and utilize in the work industry. Every other week, there was a different topic session that I learned about and made connections with other CCAC students. When I took my Early Education classes, I was required to go to childcare centers or school settings for observations to see what it was like to work as a teacher. Some of the Early Education classes had a few practicums that I took part in. By going on weekly or bi-weekly observations helped prepare me because it helped me to gain experience and showed me what it was like to work as a teacher at a school setting or childcare center. During the beginning of the Fall and Spring semesters, I worked at the bookstore. My job was to help students find textbooks for their classes. I also reorganized and restocked books, notebooks, and other merchandise and answered questions that students may have before they start their classes.

Did any of these experiences lead you into realizing your passions for work and career? If so, how?
While working at South Campus’ bookstore at the beginning of each semester, I helped students find their textbooks and to answer any questions they may have about their classes. I informed most of the students about the tutoring services that CCAC offers. Some students told me they struggle with a certain subject and I told them to go to the Learning Assistance Center to get help. Just by telling these students this advice made me want to work as a Student Success Coach or even the director of a disability services office. Ever since I was young, I had the gift of being a people person and wanting to lend a hand to help everybody.

What (transferable) skills did you gain that you could take into a workplace?
I gained and learned leadership, communication, and collaboration skills.

What are you hoping to do next? What would you like to do professionally?
I have been setting up goals for myself both academically and professionally. I did some research on some local colleges by looking at important information that I need to know before visiting and applying. In the meantime, I am hoping to visit these campuses to see which campus I like the most in the fall or in the winter.

How do you manage stress (most especially during these uncertain times)?
If I am feeling overwhelmed, I enjoy taking walks around my neighborhood. I also enjoy spending time (or talking on the phone) with my family and friends, doing word searches, doing chores around the house, reading, and watching videos on YouTube. Since I have a reminder app on my phone, I type down all the tasks that I have to do for that day. This helps me to remember and know what I have to do.

What do you want prospective college students to know—what advice do you have for them?
Take advantage of the college resources that are offered to you at CCAC. They really help you out! If you are struggling in a certain class, I would go to the Learning Assistance Center, make an appointment, and see a tutor. I never went to the Learning Assistance Center until one day I needed to use APA for a paper. The tutors are so kind, helpful, and amazing. If you plan to go to the Learning Assistance Center and get one-on-one tutoring, make sure to schedule your tutoring appointments early because some tutors schedules could fill up very quickly.

Who inspires you and why? Do you have any mentors or people of influence in your life?
A lot of people in my family inspire me. My mom is really good at using the computer and talking on the phones with customers. I get really nervous before I send an email out or if I have to call someone and talk to them. My mom told me when she was my age, she was nervous when talking to people on the phone. Then when she was in her 40's, she overcame that fear and is really comfortable talking to people on the phone. I know what I have to say to people on the phone but I get really nervous trying to explain something. As for my dad, he told me to try my best and never give up. When I was younger and could not spell a certain word, I remember I told him that I “can’t spell it.” He said to me, “Never say ‘can’t.’ It’s not a good word to use.” Now I see why my dad told me because he told me to give it a try and hope for the best. A CCAC administrator that inspired me would be Perkins Student Support Specialist Steven Shaulis. Just by being home and classes switching all online, I met with Steven once a week or bi-weekly. I just saw by talking to him really sparked my interest in wanting to be like him. Steven gives really great advice, helps and cares for all students, and offers resources for students to utilize during their time at CCAC. That’s something I like to do and am passionate about--give advice and to help my friends or other students.

Anything else you’d like for us to know?
Enjoy your time at CCAC because it will pass you in the blink of an eye. It is perfectly okay to start your college career here because you save tons of money and get a really great education. These classes help prepare you for the workforce and transferring to a 4-year university. If you were not involved in high school clubs and have not held a leadership position, CCAC will give you that second opportunity. Join a club or two that interests you. When I was in high school, I was involved with a few clubs. I regret not joining in as many clubs and holding leadership positions because I wanted to focus more on my school work. By being involved, it helps to show you what you are passionate about and to make connections. It may sound difficult, especially if you have a full-time job and/or raising your children but it is totally worth it. I also want to thank all the South Campus administrators, the LAC tutors, peer tutors, and staff, my college professors, and friends I met here. You helped influence and shape me to grow as a leader and a person. I am very grateful for taking advantage of every opportunity that was offered and began my college career here.

 Sara Hnatiw 1

Sara Hnatiw 2

Sara Hnatiw 3

Sara Hnatiw 4

Sara Hnatiw 5

RyKai Wright graduated from Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) with an Associate of Science degree in Engineering Technology - Mechanical and an additional Associate of Science degree in Mathematics and Science in May 2017. RyKai's main campus was South Campus, however, she also took classes at Allegheny, North and Boyce campuses to complete honors credits through the Honors Program. After graduating from CCAC she transferred to Penn State Behrend where she will be graduating in August 2020 with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering.

How did you choose your major? What motivated you to choose that field/profession? 
My mom informed me about the Bureau Labor of Statistics website (www.bls.gov) and told me to check out their student resources section to help me choose my major. Since I was always a great math student throughout middle school and high school I looked at the different career fields that involved math and that is how I came upon engineering. After further research learning more about what engineers do I chose to be a Mechanical Engineer. Learning that engineering is a male dominated field with fewer minorities motivated me even more to move forward in the profession because I believe that is important to have a more diverse representation of not only women in engineering, but more specifically women of color.

What did you enjoy about attending CCAC? Any memorable moment to share? 
The most memorable moments of all for me was being selected as one of six students nationally as an Achieving the Dream (ATD) 2017 DREAM Scholar where I attended their annual conference which was held in February 2017 in San Francisco, CA. In February 2019, ATD invited me back to the conference as well as other alumni DREAM Scholars to highlight us and to introduce the 2019 DREAM Scholars in Long Beach, CA. Another memorable moment for me was receiving a proclamation from the Allegheny County Council on April 19, 2017, and delivering the student commencement speech for my graduating class in May 2017.

How involved were you at CCAC? Did you study abroad? Did you have internships or Co-Ops? Clinicals and/or practicums? Were you a part of any clubs, sports, or extracurriculars? (please list as much detail as possible). 
I enjoyed my campus involvement more than ever. I was a part of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society as Co-President of my chapter, Alpha Iota Eta, at the South Campus. In addition, the Honors Program at South Campus where I served as an Honors Ambassador, and the Ambassador Program at Allegheny Campus. I grew a lot as a leader from the various team building and leadership trip opportunities that were provided through my previous leadership roles on campus. I was also one of the students who had the opportunity to study abroad and attend the India trip with the Honors Program in January 2018, where I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit New Delhi, Dharamshala and Agra. I loved that we fundraised for different organizations and were able to visit them once we arrived in India to present them with the funds we raised to help donate to their cause.

Did any of these experiences lead you into realizing your passions for work and career? If so, how? 
My leadership and volunteer experience encouraged me to want to reach higher into my career by taking on leadership/management roles and doing outreach to educate, encourage and inspire women of color to dive into STEM-related fields.

What (transferable) skills did you gain that you could take into a workplace? 
Some of the skills I gained that I still use are Autodesk Inventor software, leadership, working in teams and public speaking.

What are you hoping to do next? What would you like to do professionally? 
I will be graduating from Penn State University with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in August 2020. Afterwards, I plan on starting an entry-level engineering position that consists of doing design work because from my experience that is what I enjoy the most and I am always anxious to see my designs once they are finally manufactured. I have not selected a specific field I want to use my degree in yet; I am open and weighing out my options.

How do you manage stress (most especially during these uncertain times)? 
I have to create a balance for myself to try and avoid or deal with stress. I like to listen to music either between or during study sessions and sometimes just having my TV on while I do homework helps me as well, which I have learned may be strange to some people because typically people need complete silence to study, however, I am the opposite. Having either some music or the TV on keeps me going to get through studying for really tough classes.

What do you want prospective college students to know—what advice do you have for them? 
One of the biggest things I would say for incoming college students is to make sure that you have good time management skills because that is an absolute MUST! Do not procrastinate to get work done because it is terrible having to rush to complete an assignment at the last minute. Try and stay as organized as much as possible and do not be scared to ask for help whether it is from your professor, peers, or a tutor.

Who inspires you and why? Do you have any mentors or people of influence in your life? 
Katherine Johnson who was a mathematician, also known as, "the human computer," from the 2016 movie, "Hidden Figures," inspired me as well as all women of color pioneers who made careers out of STEM-related fields. I applaud all women who came before me and broke down barriers that gave more women the choice and opportunity to be involved in STEM. The person of influence in my life is, Latasha Wilson-Batch, Executive Director of the non-profit foundation, Best of the Batch Foundation, located in Homestead, PA. I worked with her and Best of the Batch Foundation as a Program Intern and later became the Volunteer Coordinator for 5 years since I graduated from high school in 2014 where I was a previous scholarship award recipient. Throughout the entirety of my college education, Latasha has demonstrated how much she believed in me and has always encouraged and motivated me to reach higher even if I sometimes doubted myself. She has supported me through so much to help me reach my academic and professional goals and I could not imagine what I would have done without her guidance.

 RyKai in front of a photo of herself at South Campus

RyKai at the annual PTK convention

RyKai reading to Tibetan children in India during her study abroad experience

RyKai with the Best of the Batch Foundation group

RyKai speaking at graduation

RyKai Wright

Please provide a bio about you. Include your name, what you studied, where you attended school and campus (ex: CCAC-North) and what year you graduated. Tell us anything here you'd like us to know about you! 
My name is Eric Leif Peters (which is an anagram of "fertile recipes" and "fierce reptiles", so my friends know me as the “Culinary Herpetologist”). I attended CCAC at the Dawn of Time, when dinosaurs walked the Earth (Fall 1977-May 1979). I may have earned an Associate Degree, but I honestly don't remember. I DO know that my credits (at least for the courses I passed) all successfully transferred to the University of Pittsburgh (from which I earned my B.S. in Biology in the Fall 1982 semester). I then went on to earn a M.S. in Zoology at the University of Georgia in 1986, and a Ph.D. in Radioecology, with certification in Ecology by the Program for Ecological Studies in 1993. After that, I worked as a Technical Advisor for the International Atomic Energy Agency, taught at Taras Shevchenko University in Kyiv, Ukraine, and was an Assistant Research Ecologist at the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL) on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina. In 1996, I was hired as an assistant professor of Ecology and Environmental Science at Chicago State University, retiring as a full professor in 2016. Last January, I began a Visiting Professorship in Biology at Governors State University.

How did you choose your major? What motivated you to choose that field/profession? 
I really had no choice. I was one of those kids who (sort of) got out of his bug and dinosaur phases, but then stalled in his reptile and amphibian phase. I worked as a Lab Assistant in the Section of Amphibians and Reptiles at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History from 1972 (when I was 13) until 1980 and have spent most of my life studying “herps” and fishes (often radioactive ones). I recognized when I was in high school, however, that museum curators needed to have a Ph.D., that there were very few museum jobs (which is certainly the case at the CMNH today), and that a career in herpetology would likely require at least a Master’s degree.

What did you enjoy about attending CCAC? Any memorable moment to share? 
I enjoyed the small classes and compact schedule at CCAC. Several of my professors were really outstanding (I particularly remember microbiology with Dr. Maxon and cultural anthropology with Dr. Medonça). I also greatly enjoyed having access to racquetball courts for the time between classes (a woman who was a fellow biology major and I used to play for hours). I occasionally played with Franco Harris, who was a friend of the guy who supervised the place (back then, there was this thing called Three Rivers Stadium that was also on the North Side). I even beat Franco a few times (he had more stamina, but I could hit shots too low for him). There was also a coffee shop on campus that sold two donuts and a vase of coffee for $1.00. I doubt I could have made it through morning classes without it. Be sure to visit the National Aviary next to campus. It has a flock of Guam kingfishers, which were driven to extinction in the wild by invasive brown tree snakes.

How involved were you at CCAC? Did you study abroad? Did you have internships or Co-Ops? Clinicals and/or practicums? Were you a part of any clubs, sports, or extracurriculars? (please list as much detail as possible). 
Soon after attending CCAC, I became an emancipated minor, so I really had no spare time (and I was so broke that I couldn't afford to pay attention). I worked downtown at night and could catch the bus to campus in time for 8:00 AM classes. Most of my classes were between 8:00-12:00, with afternoon labs for biology and chemistry. I also had two work-study jobs on campus (the first delivering A-V equipment and later cleaning glassware in the Biology department). The latter was not very demanding, so I spent a lot of time improving my chess game with my supervisor. Lest you think that time was wasted, as a doctoral student I wrote a paper between chess games with one of my profs on the pattern of cell damage that is caused by cosmic rays.

Did any of these experiences lead you into realizing your passions for work and career? If so, how? 
I had a chance while a senior at Taylor Allderdice High School to teach the last two weeks of my Biology II class. I borrowed animal specimens from the museum, wrote the lectures (I even got to write some of the questions for the final), and in the process learned that I liked teaching. I would not have been financially able to attend a four-year college (even locally), however, if not for CCAC. I most likely would have ended my formal education after graduating from high school (as a couple of my fellow herp enthusiasts did). Fortunately, I was able to receive Pell grants and assistance from the State (which I’m sure is next to if not actually nothing these days). I did not accumulate any debt while attending CCAC, and was able to graduate from Pitt (three years and a semester later) without a huge amount of debt.

What (transferable) skills did you gain that you could take into a workplace? 
At CCAC I learned how to program in BASIC. I earned a "D" in the course because in those days, you had to program using a terminal and count the characters in a line of code to edit a mistake (no video terminal). I wasn't then (and still am not) a patient person, so I stopped doing the homework. Several years later, I was in graduate school, and took a course in Ecological Modeling where I had to program. I bought an Apple ][e and believe it or not, I remembered nearly everything I needed to write the code for the models. Other courses in my Ph.D. program also required programming and I have used computer modeling in several research projects. While working toward my Ph.D., I had a small but lucrative business programming software applications. I was using other languages by then, but the principles were the same as I learned in the CCAC BASIC course. Last spring, I taught a course in Plant Diversity (which I had never taught before). I recalled quite a bit of plant biology from Sister Judith Shea’s class, and that helped a lot.

What are you hoping to do next? What would you like to do professionally? 
Well, I'm still sort of "retired", but I would like continue teaching, publishing some completed research, and perhaps write a textbook (which I'm told is a good way to make $1.00/hour for 10,000 hours’ work).

How do you manage stress (most especially during these uncertain times)? 
I picked the wrong semester to unretire (LOL). To relieve stress, I shout at the TV and bake a lot (but, I was doing that before Covid-19).

What do you want prospective college students to know—what advice do you have for them? 
Many young people today view higher education simply as part of an expected pathway to a well-paying job. It is demonstrably true that a college degree (both two-year and four-year) will lead to higher lifetime earnings. There is, however, an enormous difference between a "job" and a "profession". Most of the people I have known who have "jobs" hated their job and couldn't wait to retire. Most of the people I have known who have professions had to be dragged kicking and screaming into retirement (if they retired at all). “Get a profession.” You do not deserve a “C” for attending all of the classes. If 80% of success is showing up, then 90% of that is being ready to get to work when you get there. I tell my students that higher education is not a service. If you go to a restaurant, order a rare steak, and it arrives burnt, you get to send it back. You are not, however, a customer of the Higher Ed restaurant: you are an employee. You will start in the kitchen by cleaning pots and loading the dishwasher. Eventually, you may become a sous chef, chopping a lot of vegetables and learning to make sauces consistently. You will fail occasionally and have to eat your mistakes. Eventually, you may become a top chef and perhaps own your own restaurant, and your former boss will be grateful if you can book him a table on a busy night. Listen to your professors: they really DO know more than you do, especially about how to learn. College is not high school, and you can either accept that early and adapt or (like me) have to retake courses (which will cost you time and money). You do not possess the amazing power of multitasking denied to other human beings (look up the “Dunning-Kruger Effect”). The amount of perceived work in a course is inversely proportional to your interest in the subject. The more ways that you can find to make a subject interesting, the easier it gets. Nearly everything is interesting if you take a little time to see it in context. For example, if you find calculus a bore, go look up Newton and Leibnitz.

Who inspires you and why? Do you have any mentors or people of influence in your life? 
I would have to say that Eugene Odum was one of my greatest influences. Gene was my “academic grandfather” (my Master’s thesis advisor was his Masters student). He was known as “The Father of Modern Ecology”, and was the only person I’m aware of who founded THREE laboratories (including the SREL). Among other things, he was famous for describing the “emergent properties” of ecosystems. His concept that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” revolutionized ecology. When I was a graduate student at UGA, I used to lurk outside his office and walk with him to the Institute of Ecology (which he also founded) and we would chat. One day, I mentioned that I had noticed that he always left the sidewalk and cut across the lawn at a different point. He explained that grass has adapted to being trampled by herbivores and grows better if it is disturbed, but not if the soil is compacted and forms a rut. Ever since, I have tried to never to take the same pathway twice.

Anything else you’d like for us to know? 
I appreciate the invitation to share my CCAC experience and how it helped me have a career that I never imagined at the time I would ever have

Eric Peters

Eric Peters with Komodo Dragons

Eric Peters Scuba Diving

 
Natalie Hoover started attending the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC)—North Campus, in the fall of 2014 as a dual enrollment student since she was still in high school at the time. She studied nursing while she was at CCAC North Campus and then transferred to CCAC Boyce Campus which is where she finished her nursing degree and graduated in December 2017. While she was at CCAC, she was an Honor’s student and Honor’s Ambassador for North campus. Once she graduated, she became a Registered Nurse and started working at an emergency department in February 2018 which is where she still works today.

How did you choose your major? What motivated you to choose that field/profession?
I chose my major based on the area where I thought I could help the most amount of people. I was motivated by the desire to help people to the best of my ability and nursing was able to accomplish that.

What did you enjoy about attending CCAC? Any memorable moment to share?
Some of the things I enjoyed about CCAC was that every person was able to choose what they wanted to achieve and accomplish by being there. People were able to choose how involved they wanted to be with the college and committees. One of my favorite moments was participating in the Cultural Committee at CCAC North Campus and being able to coordinate for different ethnic groups to display some of their traditional arts such as food from around the world, different talents, and different styles of dance.

How involved were you at CCAC? Did you study abroad? Did you have internships or Co-Ops? Clinicals and/or practicums? Were you a part of any clubs, sports, or extracurriculars? (please list as much detail as possible).
I believe I was pretty involved in clubs at CCAC as much as I could be while in the nursing program. I had clinical rotations throughout hospitals, nursing homes, and long term acute care settings. I was in Phi Theta Kappa and was one of the board members. I was in the Honor’s Program and was also an Honor’s Ambassador at CCAC North.

Did any of these experiences lead you into realizing your passions for work and career? If so, how?
The experiences I gained from clinicals in the nursing program provided me with the skill sets I utilize every day while working as a nurse in the emergency department.

What (transferable) skills did you gain that you could take into a workplace?
Some skills I gained was multitasking, coordinating, and communication.

What are you hoping to do next? What would you like to do professionally?
I have already obtained my Bachelor of Science in Nursing and considering returning to school to get my Master’s degree. I enjoy the field I work in and at this time want to remain in my field of expertise.

How do you manage stress (most especially during these uncertain times)?
Laughter is the best key to managing stress. Working in the emergency department is normally stressful, but the coronavirus has added an additional layer of stress to my job. Talking to coworkers and friends help with managing stress. Baking and exercising also help with managing stress.

What do you want prospective college students to know—what advice do you have for them?
Focus on your academics, you will make it through and graduate. There may be challenges you face, but it will get better.

Who inspires you and why? Do you have any mentors or people of influence in your life?
I do have mentors who influence my life for the better. I became a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner while being a nurse in the emergency department. I work with people who have been working with forensic nursing for longer than I have and assist with guiding me in my practices, which I greatly appreciate.

Anything else you’d like for us to know?
I am grateful for my experiences at CCAC North Campus.

Natalie Hoover

Natalie Hoover Nursing

Tyler Kochirka is a 2018 graduate of the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) West Hills Center/North. He received an Associate of Science in General Studies. He recently graduated from Robert Morris University with a Bachelors in Organizational Leadership. Currently, he serves as Vice-President on the Sto-Rox School Board.

How did you choose your major? What motivated you to choose that field/profession?
I chose General Studies because I didn’t know what I wanted to do at the time. That’s what I liked about CCAC. I could earn a college degree that would transfer to other colleges and universities even if I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do.

What did you enjoy about attending CCAC? Any memorable moment to share?
Being a part of the student ambassadors program at West Hills. I also enjoyed hanging out with my friends in the student life office playing uno every day.

How involved were you at CCAC? Did you study abroad? Did you have internships or Co-Ops? Clinicals and/or practicums? Were you a part of any clubs, sports, or extracurriculars? (please list as much detail as possible).
At CCAC west hills I was a student ambassador. I also was a part of the West Hills Student Activities Board and was one of the founding members of the West Hills Student Government Association.

Did any of these experiences lead you into realizing your passions for work and career? If so, how?
Yes. Working as a Student Ambassador and helping out with events, open houses, and new student orientation is what I think brought me to my degree in organizational leadership.

What (transferable) skills did you gain that you could take into a workplace?
I definitely developed my leadership skills being at West Hills Center. I also developed my communication skills and people skills. Leading new students in groups helped me to branch out and gain more confidence talking to strangers.

What are you hoping to do next? What would you like to do professionally?
My goal is to land a professional job, but always remain in politics in some way. I interned for a state representative political race as well as ran my own candidacy to be a School Director for Sto-Rox. I would like to be a US Senator one day and maybe President.

How do you manage stress (most especially during these uncertain times)?
I manage stress by taking time to relax. I wake up earlier than what I have to just so I can take time to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee or go for a walk outside. Anything I can think of to clear my mind. Oh, and play with my newly rescued dog!

What do you want prospective college students to know—what advice do you have for them?
Don’t worry if people are “ahead of you.” I used to think that I needed to earn my Bachelor’s degree within four years, well it took me five! We all have our own paths. Focus on short term goals that you can accomplish to lay the foundation for your future.

Who inspires you and why? Do you have any mentors or people of influence in your life?
I gain inspiration from those around me. When I see people working hard and succeeding it inspires me to work harder.

Anything else you’d like for us to know?
CCAC was one of my favorite times in life, so far. I looked forward to class every day. More importantly, I enjoyed hanging with friends in the student lounge playing uno, working on homework, watching Netflix, and planning our annual carnival!
Tyler Kochirka

Sean Kutch attended the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC)-South campus to receive two Associate degrees and a certificate. His certificate is in Administrative Computer Specialist and his degrees are both in General Studies and Administrative Assistant. He graduated Summa Cumma Laude both in 2019 and 2020.

How did you choose your major? What motivated you to choose that field/profession?
I chose this major because I love computers and making a variety of Microsoft Office documents. My motivation to be in this field was my seeing my aunt working as an Administrator for a big company.

What did you enjoy about attending CCAC? Any memorable moment to share?
I enjoyed every bit of it!! Classes were both educational and informative, along with a variety of clubs.

How involved were you at CCAC? Did you study abroad? Did you have internships or Co-Ops? Clinicals and/or practicums? Were you a part of any clubs, sports, or extracurriculars? (please list as much detail as possible).
I was very active at CCAC. I was the President of the GAP Bible club, and Vice President of Finance for Phi Theta Kappa, Alpha Iota Eta chapter. I was also a Student Ambassador, a bio lab work-study, and worked at our campus bookstore. I was a member of both Able Company and Delta Alpha Phi honor society! I also did several projects with Administration such as the work-study Kronos PowerPoint project, where work-study students now have access to see their time cards and other pay information online.

Did any of these experiences lead you into realizing your passions for work and career? If so, how?
Yes, especially when I worked on projects with Administration such as the Kronos work-study PowerPoint. I have gained a lot of skills and personality traits on what an Administrator does!

What (transferable) skills did you gain that you could take into a workplace?
Being more of a motivator, leader, and peer mentor. Plus, being more of an active listener.

What are you hoping to do next? What would you like to do professionally?
I want to be a great Administrative Assistant for a large company someday.

How do you manage stress (most especially during these uncertain times)?
I love watching tv, talking with friends, and listening to music.

What do you want prospective college students to know—what advice do you have for them?
Know your limit, do not take on too many classes you can handle. Also, use any on campus learning centers and tutors, which helped me. The most important thing is to have fun while you are learning.

Who inspires you and why? Do you have any mentors or people of influence in your life?
My parents always inspire me to do the best I can on anything! My friends and all of the staff who I encountered at South campus who really shaped me into who I am today.

Anything else you’d like for us to know?
I used to be South campus's representative by being our college mascot.

 Sean Kutch

Sean Kutch PTK

Sean Kutch as a Mascot

 

Raja Krishnaswamy is a thirteen year old who graduated in 2020 with a 4.0 GPA from the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC)—Boyce Campus earning an Associate’s Degree in Software Development and an Associates Degree in Mathematics and Sciences. Raja also took a calculus-based physics class at CCAC North and graduated with 95 credits. He is a coin collector, enjoys playing video games, and loves to read. Raja likes to learn and be challenged. He was dual-enrolled in high school and college and ended up completing both Associate degrees before earning his high school diploma.

How did you choose your major? What motivated you to choose that field/profession?
My dad is a software developer and he taught me to code. I found my love of computer science through my dad's lessons. Later, during the time I was in CCAC, I took a few programming classes because that is where I thought I wanted to be. It turned out that I was right. I also enjoyed math and science, and really any subject before college. However, I wanted to study Math and Science the most. I decided to double major in Software Development and Mathmatics and Sciences for that reason.

What did you enjoy about attending CCAC? Any memorable moment to share?
I enjoy the close-knit atmosphere of CCAC. It made the interaction between the students and teachers more one-on-one, and less like a lecture and a recitation. It also allowed me to make loads of friends. One time, my friends and I traveled to Maryland for a PTK Regional Convention. We enjoyed it very much. I also enjoyed participating in the various games made up by Dave DeVensio, our Director of Fun at Boyce.

How involved were you at CCAC? Did you study abroad? Did you have internships or Co-Ops? Clinicals and/or practicums? Were you a part of any clubs, sports, or extracurriculars? (please list as much detail as possible).
At CCAC, I was very involved. I was a member of many clubs and even an officer in others. I was the Vice President of Scholarship in Phi Theta Kappa, a two-year college honors society. In PTK, I took on a major role in making our chapter a 5-star chapter. I also was the President of the Young Entrepreneurs Club and the President of the Computer Club. Here I organized events, set up field trips, and even tutored. I was a member of the Student Ambassadors, where I gave tours of CCAC to new and prospective students and helped with different projects. At North Campus, I was a member of Mu Alpha Theta, a national math honors society, and the Geek Culture Club. A couple of years ago, I was also a member of the ASL club at Boyce.

Did any of these experiences lead you into realizing your passions for work and career? If so, how?
None of these experiences led me into realizing my passions for work and career. I am too young to think about working.

What (transferable) skills did you gain that you could take into a workplace?
Because I was asked by the CCAC Administration to share my experiences with non-students and students alike, I gained speaking skills by speaking in front of large crowds of people. I also gained speaking skills by taking a public speaking class. I also gained valuable tutoring skills that I can use to train incoming coworkers.

What are you hoping to do next? What would you like to do professionally?
I am going to go to a four-year university, most likely the University of Pittsburgh, to study Computer Science. I would like to run my own Software firm someday.

How do you manage stress (most especially during these uncertain times)?
I manage stress by watching TV or doing passive activities.

What do you want prospective college students to know—what advice do you have for them?
New college students, I want you guys to know that you are not alone. Everyone here wants you to succeed. You will learn many things here, but the most important lesson of all is perseverance. Somedays, you will find yourselves stressed out by a paper or a test. In due time, you will learn to persevere through any challenge.

Who inspires you and why? Do you have any mentors or people of influence in your life?
Science has inspired me to keep learning. Some of the scientists, including Bill Nye, have made learning fun. They have helped me continue down the scientific road, also known as the road to knowledge. My mom has influenced me to persevere through any challenge and learn as much as I can. I was always challenged by my parents because I was extremely curious. They fed my insatiable curiosity.

 Raja Krishnaswamy

 

Josie Albrecht graduated from CCAC with her Associate of Arts degree in Psychology in May 2017. Her “home campus” was Allegheny Campus, but she became familiar with North and South campuses through the Honors Program and other student leadership activities. After CCAC, she transferred to Chatham University and completed both her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology (2018), and then a Master of Science in Counseling Psychology (2020).

How did you choose your major? What motivated you to choose that field/profession?
I transferred to CCAC after a semester at an intensive music conservatory - So I originally thought I wanted to be a musician. I love connecting with people on a deeper level, and music was my gateway to do that. Once at CCAC, I took a psych class or two to fill general requirements, and completely fell in love with studying about how we react to our environments and experiences. Towards the end of my associate’s degree, I decided on counseling because I wanted to directly help people heal themselves, and this was the best path to do just that.

What did you enjoy about attending CCAC? Any memorable moment to share?
I am so thankful for my experience at CCAC. I primarily grew up in environments that lacked inclusivity, diversity, and an appreciation for other perspectives. CCAC provided me with an environment, not only of acceptance and inclusivity, but that encouraged and challenged us to think about issues in our local community and on a global level. I loved the way I could engage in these learning moments at CCAC - But it was also SO fun too! Some favorite moments: The STAR Awards (big awards event that I had the honor of hosting two years in a row!), traveling to Nashville for PTK’s annual convention, and laughing until I cried multiple days a week with my friends in Student Life.

How involved were you at CCAC? Did you study abroad? Did you have internships or Co-Ops? Clinicals and/or practicums? Were you a part of any clubs, sports, or extracurriculars? (please list as much detail as possible).
Being involved in Student Life at CCAC made my experience worthwhile. My favorite role on campus was as the Lead Ambassador of the Student Ambassadors. I was able to help the Director of Student Life organize trainings and events for our group of ambassadors to be able to give tours, help out with campus events and student orientations, and speak confidently about Student Life at CCAC. We had such a tight knit group and I walked away with some life-long friends. I was also the Officer of Scholarship for Phi Theta Kappa, Vice President of Student Government, and Treasurer for Psi Beta. All of these roles came with responsibilities that taught me valuable skills and lessons that I still use in my jobs today - And also came with an unforgettable experience and awesome people!

Did any of these experiences lead you into realizing your passions for work and career? If so, how?
Yes! I love working with college populations, which I learned when I was working in Student Life at CCAC. That encouraged me to apply for a graduate assistantship as a Success Coach at Chatham. I was able to work with first and second year students— helping them transition to college, plan for the future, and make decisions about their education. I also had the opportunity to plan programs, start a new organization, and even teach a class. I don’t think I would have had the same level of experience and confidence for this role, if it weren’t for my leadership roles at CCAC.

What (transferable) skills did you gain that you could take into a workplace?
Public speaking (and I previously hated it), planning and executing events, facilitating meetings and groups, problem solving, organizational skills, interpersonal communication, and so much more!

What are you hoping to do next? What would you like to do professionally?
I just graduated with my Masters back in May, so I am on the job hunt! My research and clinical interests lie in gender-based violence prevention and working with survivors of trauma. I would love to continue working as a therapist, serving survivors by helping them process their trauma, developing healthy coping skills, and build the life that they want. I can also see myself developing programs that involve talking to kids and young adults about healthy relationships and sex education.

How do you manage stress (most especially during these uncertain times)?
Even as a therapist, we have to work towards self-care too! To manage my stress, I like to engage in activities that help me ground myself— like yoga, journaling, therapy, cooking or baking, and listening to music or watching Netflix. Yoga is definitely my number one! I feel like I am my best self when I can get into my body and out of my stressful thoughts.

What do you want prospective college students to know—what advice do you have for them?
Take advantage of all of the resources you have in front of you (if not because they are FANTASTIC resources, also because you’ll probably have to pay for them eventually!). Make connections with your professors and classmates - Human connection is so underrated, and I think we are beginning to notice that as we continue to remain socially distant. And most importantly, be yourself!

Who inspires you and why? Do you have any mentors or people of influence in your life?
Tarana Burke, creator the MeToo movement. Michelle Obama, queen and genius. Brené Brown, one of my many inspirations for becoming the best counselor I can be. My mom, for teaching me that women can be strong AND soft, and that celebrations should always include margaritas.

Anything else you’d like for us to know?
I wish more people would choose CCAC! Although I’m biased, it truly is the best option on the table :)

 Josie Albrecht

Hezreel O. Robertson studied classical piano and choral music at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC)-Boyce Campus. He graduated in the spring semester of 2015 with honors and an Associate of Science Degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences. Later that fall, Hezreel began studies at the University of Pittsburgh and later graduated Cum Laude with a degree in Jazz Music. After Pitt, he wanted to combine his love of music and film so he became a graduate student in Film and Digital Media at Chatham University in the Fall of 2018. He’s currently working on building a career in the film field.

How did you choose your major? What motivated you to choose that field/profession?
A love of music and film. I wanted to combine the two technologies. My generation is very much social media driven.

What did you enjoy about attending CCAC? Any memorable moment to share?
As a Peer Tutor at Boyce, I enjoyed writing and creating a video-commercial for the Learning Commons. I was told that more students came in for help after seeing it on the CCAC website. Here is the link: https://www.ccac.edu/tutoring/learning-commons.php

How involved were you at CCAC? Did you study abroad? Did you have internships or Co-Ops? Clinicals and/or practicums? Were you a part of any clubs, sports, or extracurriculars? (please list as much detail as possible).
I was recruited by Mark Ellison to be a member of the Men of Merit Initiative and traveled with the group on several occasions for student development conferences. I was an English Peer Tutor in the Learning Commons. My English Professor, Mr. Reynolds was instrumental in my becoming a tutor. Another interest that I was able to pursue was hosting Gamming competitions in the Student Union. I used the competitions to encourage students to use the Learning Commons. I was the President of the Boyce Music Club, where I helped a small group of students interested in music by working with them on getting better at playing their instruments. Mr. Jennings was my music professor and work-study supervisor. He encouraged me to revive the club. I played for two years at the Boyce Student Awards Banquet. I was also in the Boyce Choir under the Direction of Mr. Jennings and Mrs. McDonald.

Did any of these experiences lead you into realizing your passions for work and career? If so, how?
Yes. When I graduated from CCAC, I knew I could graduate from a university. And I did! I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor’s degree in Jazz Music. Creating the film for the Learning Commons and hosting the gamming competitions at Boyce gave me experiences that I used in both, undergraduate and graduate school. I graduated from Chatham in December 2019. In Chatham's Master of Film and Digital Media program I created and directed my first major film work "Forlorning". Recently, it was selected for a national film festival, the San Francisco Black Film Festival. I felt honored that my work was recognized by such a prestigious organization on a national scale.

What (transferable) skills did you gain that you could take into a workplace?
I really came out of my shell at CCAC. Being able to pursue my degree, music and social media interests gave me confidence to try new avenues, like filmmaking, which led me to working with other types of digital technology, software programs and new forms of technology in the film industry.

What are you hoping to do next? What would you like to do professionally?
I am currently working with a small film team creating an animation series. I plan to make more films, and I hope that my film "Forlorning" will win at the San Francisco Black Film Festival in June.

How do you manage stress (most especially during these uncertain times)?
I find that taking short breaks between tasks helps ease my stress. I remember that what I am dealing with will not last always. It will pass.

What do you want prospective college students to know—what advice do you have for them?
Never say what you can't do. Find others who believe in you and surround yourself with those people.

Who inspires you and why? Do you have any mentors or people of influence in your life?
God is my inspiration for my work. Without him I truly don't know where I would be. Mentors and people of influence: I am grateful to my family and for the people who came along side me and helped to shape and support my interests. I would especially like to thank to Mr. Jennings and Mark Ellison

 Hezreel Robertson

Rebekah (Bekah) Waldron studied psychology at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC), at the North campus and recently graduated in May 2020. She initially started her higher education journey at West Virginia University (WVU) in 2016 but when her dad passed away, she decided to stay and be near family, which ended up being the best decision for her. 

How did you choose your major? What motivated you to choose that field/profession? 
I started psychology at WVU. I had an awesome AP psychology teacher in high school at North Allegheny High School (Mr. Schall) and my professors at WVU and CCAC just motivated me further. It's a really compassionate field.

What did you enjoy about attending CCAC? Any memorable moment to share? 
I loved the community at CCAC North. I'll never forget all the friends I made in each of my classes. I didn't walk away from a single class without having a friend in there that I would go and hang out with outside of school, get coffee, or go on drives through the city. I've made some lifelong best friends in that school.

How involved were you at CCAC? Did you study abroad? Did you have internships or Co-Ops? Clinicals and/or practicums? Were you a part of any clubs, sports, or extracurriculars? (please list as much detail as possible). 
I started as a sports writer for The Voice newspaper in the fall 2017. I quickly advanced to become the Sports Section Editor, then became Editor-in-Chief in Fall 2019 and held onto the position until my graduation in the Spring 2020. I also attended almost every open house, most of the student life fairs, helped with presentation lectures in the journalism class, and helped with tours during orientations. I attended as many student life activities as possible. Some favorites being: open mic nights, karaoke nights, and anything involving food in the atrium. I also spent time as the School’s mascot, the Wild Cat, Ace. I went on one trip to Hershey in the spring 2019 for the Keystone Awards for The Voice, and was queued to go for the Harrisburg 2020 trip, which unfortunately didn’t happen due to COVID-19. I played small parts in the Creative Arts Club as well.

Did any of these experiences lead you into realizing your passions for work and career? If so, how? 
Absolutely. I never EVER would have considered journalism before working for the student-run newspaper for the College, The Voice. Now, I have a part time job as a Freelance Health Journalist in a fitness app (A job they offered me after seeing my wildcatnews.net publications on my LinkedIn!). I realized it's a great platform to have in order to help publish information that people might be seeking out, and a great way to help small businesses get traction in the community. Working with student life functions helped me realize that I have a knack for leadership and that I should take more risks more often.

What (transferable) skills did you gain that you could take into a workplace? 
Leadership, organizational skills, working under pressure, hitting deadlines, communication,, diplomacy (especially in difficult situations, as in, my coworker is doing something that's really bad for the company/group, how should I go about it?), INTERVIEWING SKILLS FOR SURE (on both ends, being interviewed and interviewing someone else), multitasking, proficiency in different office apps and especially with InDesign, and interestingly enough, how to dress and carry myself in a professional way. I also learned how to research properly, how to fact check sources and how to manage things on social media.

What are you hoping to do next? What would you like to do professionally? 
I'm finishing out my courses at my other school (National Personal Training Institute of Pittsburgh - NPTI). Once I get my degree in Personal Fitness Training and Nutrition from there, I hope to work in a gym applying both my degrees (from CCAC and NPTI) so that I can help people find more balance and peace in their life and combat depression, anxiety and self-image issues with body positivism and healthy lifestyle adjustments.

How do you manage stress (most especially during these uncertain times)? 
I go for walks in North Park. If I don't have the energy for that during my depression spells, sometimes I'll just swing by a Starbucks drive-through, order myself a small of something yummy, go to the park, and park by the dog park and watch all the dogs hang out and be happy. I also really like to go for drives, or just stay in and play XBox. Anything to give myself a breather from whatever is stressing me out so I can get back to it later with a fresh mindset.

What do you want prospective college students to know—what advice do you have for them? 
If it doesn't challenge you, it won't change you. And no one wants to be stuck in the same spot and never grow their whole life. That's not living, that's surviving. Take the risks, because when they pay off, there's nothing better. Even your comfort zone pales in comparison.

Who inspires you and why? Do you have any mentors or people of influence in your life? 
A few, depending on the area of life I need inspiration for. My 3 older brothers inspire me with their work ethic. Rob Velella has been my mentor for a while, with how to handle tough situations and keep on trucking through things and just be the best version of myself and keep trying. My mom inspires me to take all of life's crap and smile through it even on the worst days.

Anything else you’d like for us to know? 
I've grown so much, and CCAC prepared me for aspects of life that I would never have gotten if I never went there. I'm going to miss it so much but I also know I'll be that old lady telling her grand kids about the awesome people I met in college and how I was Editor-in-Chief of an award winning newspaper.

Rebekah Waldron

Brendan Smith studied Technical Theater at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC)-South Campus and graduated May 2020.

How did you choose your major? What motivated you to choose that field/profession? 
I chose Technical Theater due to a teacher I had in high school telling me to get into the club when I was a junior. I enjoyed working with the teacher so I went and fell in love with all the elements of technical theater. That year, we did the show Suessical and I helped run mics backstage with a few other students and loved being behind the scenes. My teacher then hired me to help run the dance shows that would come in over the summer for $10 an hour where I’d come in and run lights or pull curtains for him. That was truly my first job in this profession.

What did you enjoy about attending CCAC? Any memorable moment to share? 
When I got to CCAC I was hired as a work study in the theater department where I worked with many people who really taught me along the way including Conrad Quesen, Kevin Maloney, Diana Ifft, and JR Hall. But in my second semester I met George Jaber fresh off a sabbatical. I walked in on the first day back in spring semester and introduced myself. The first words he spoke to me were “You’re my work study? Where you been we have a show to do!” And ever since then I’ve worked as George’s right-hand man.

How involved were you at CCAC? Did you study abroad? Did you have internships or Co-Ops? Clinicals and/or practicums? Were you a part of any clubs, sports, or extracurriculars? (please list as much detail as possible). 
I was a work study for the theater department. I performed in many shows while attending CCAC. I was President of both the Drama club and then Improv, Film and Theatre Society (IFT). I was also in Dance, practicing where we performed a few shows.

Did any of these experiences lead you into realizing your passions for work and career? If so, how? 
Work study really showed me how much work I could go and do in technical theater.

What (transferable) skills did you gain that you could take into a workplace? 
I learned how to stand in front of a crowd and public speak.  I also learned leadership through many of my experiences where George or another teacher would let us take a bigger role.

What are you hoping to do next? What would you like to do professionally? 
I work with IATSE Local 3 working concerts and shows in downtown Pittsburgh

How do you manage stress (most especially during these uncertain times)? 
I find myself doing more projects on the side, like I have started an Etsy business for wood burnings. Which I so cleverly named Brendan woodburns.

What do you want prospective college students to know—what advice do you have for them? 
I would want anyone who is looking to go to college or looking to take classes to know it’s ok to experiment. Take classes you normally wouldn’t take and try to see if there is a path you haven’t thought of yet.

Who inspires you and why? Do you have any mentors or people of influence in your life? 
I have many mentors who have helped shaped who I am today. The people I looked up to the most are my parents. My mom and dad always made sure they were there for us as kids. Then as I was in school I looked up to many of my teachers including ones like my third grade teacher Mrs. Bergel who took care of me like I was one of her own. Mr Stanley who was my band teacher first but then showed me what theater could do for me. And then in college it was George who not only showed me the way in theater but many aspects in life. George has gotten me more work than I could have ever asked for.

Anything else you’d like for us to know?
I have enjoyed my time at CCAC and now work at south campus in the film department!

 Brendan Smith

Stormi Maxwell attended  the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) North Campus between 2016-2017, graduating with an Associates in Liberal Arts.

How did you choose your major? What motivated you to choose that field/profession?
I have always been interested in History, though let’s be honest, everyone has that Egypt phase when they are younger don't they? (Only history majors? Whelp.) This translated over to Anthropology as well. Pursuing a degree in Liberal Arts at CCAC allowed me to transfer a large amount of credits into a History and Anthropology degree at the University of Pittsburgh.

What did you enjoy about attending CCAC? Any memorable moment to share?
My favorite thing about CCAC North Campus was always the Student Life activities. I was involved with work study and as such attended a lot of the events, which I would have gone to regardless!

How involved were you at CCAC? Did you study abroad? Did you have internships or Co-Ops? Clinicals and/or practicums? Were you a part of any clubs, sports, or extracurriculars? (please list as much detail as possible). 
I was involved with several different clubs while I was attending CCAC North Campus. I was the Vice President of the Veteran's Club, the Treasurer of the World Cultures Club, and President of the Library Student Advisory Board. I was also a member of the Phi Theta Kappa chapter as well as being a member of the Honors program. Needless to say, I was very busy during my time at CCAC North. When I look back at my calendar for that year it is a miracle that I managed to find any time to sleep!

Did any of these experiences lead you into realizing your passions for work and career? If so, how? 
I enjoyed going to college at CCAC for the experiences it gave me rather than anything else if I'm being honest. While I do believe college is important, it's the things you experience along the way that can change everything in an instant. I've gone from being an aircraft mechanic, to being a baker, to working with kids, to managing boat cruises. Some of which I experienced before college and some which I experienced after. None of which have anything to do with what I actually studied. If anything, being at CCAC just reaffirmed for me that I'm descent at working with people.

What (transferable) skills did you gain that you could take into a workplace? 
Well, I'm a daft hand at making buttons now. (I made a lot of them for club activities over the course of my time at CCAC.) Otherwise, as I said above, working and going to school at CCAC showed me how well I do with people, and how much better I work with a solid goal when it comes to a task. All of which can be transferable to any job I wish to pursue.

What are you hoping to do next? What would you like to do professionally? 
Before the pandemic, my plan was to finish out my degree at the University of Pittsburgh and stay at the job I'm at now to gain good experience for my resume. Now? I'm not entirely sure what I am going to do besides take it one day at a time.

How do you manage stress (most especially during these uncertain times)? 
I try to hang out with friends, zoom and discord has been especially helpful for that as face-to- face interaction has waned. Otherwise, I will listen to music, or watch funny videos on YouTube.

What do you want prospective college students to know—what advice do you have for them?
Look, college isn't “the be all end all”. Make friends, break up with friends. Try a new fad! Color your hair blue, or green, or orange! Experiment with your clothes. Other people don't care as much as you think they do. Once you learn that, then life gets a lot easier. Basically, just live!

Who inspires you and why? Do you have any mentors or people of influence in your life? 
Inspiration is a funny thing. It's easy to pick a person and say they inspire you. The cop out answer would be to pick a celebrity. Some grand figure that everyone knows, that you can point to and say 'them! I like them, I'm going to be like them'. But that would be a cop out. You want to know who inspires me? The woman who goes out of her way to smile at me at the grocery store and tell me that my shoes look nice. Maybe she could tell I was having a bad day, but let me tell you that comment made me far happier than I had been. Who else? Hmm. How about the man who helped me change out a tire when I broke down and got a flat. I had been struggling to figure out how to do it, because they don't really teach that in liberal arts class. The man only spoke broken English and yet he went out of his way to help. It's the little things that inspire me. Because it's the little things that people remember. I might not know these people's names but they were kind just to be kind—and  sometimes that's all it takes.

Anything else you’d like for us to know? 
I miss CCAC! The University of Pittsburgh is nice but it's ultimately a 4 years university geared towards students coming directly from high school. CCAC North Campus was more inviting as a whole and fostered closer bonds with classmates in a way the University of Pittsburgh never could. 

 Stormi Maxwell

Courtney Seiler graduated from the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC)—South Campus in 2020 with her Associate's Degree in General Studies and transferring to California University (Cal U) to pursue a Bachelor's Degree in Communications with the end goal of working as an Administrator at a Community College.

How did you choose your major? What motivated you to choose that field/profession? 
I actually came to CCAC with every intent of becoming a nurse. My whole life that is what I wanted to do. My mother was a nurse and I wanted to follow in her footsteps. I did all of the work, got into the program, and I realized that it was not for me. I thought I owed medicine another chance, so I tried the radiography program and again, it just did not feel right. I was immensely involved at South Campus and I truly loved and enjoyed working with college students, planning events, being in clubs, etc. When the choice came between my involvement and being in the program, I could not walk away from my involvement. I kept looking for answers and I was so upset at myself for not being able to become a nurse, but I realized that I was exactly where I was meant to be, and that was working with college students. The sense of pride that I feel and satisfaction that I get when I am able to help a student in any way is incredible. That feeling made my decision easier and I knew that this field was for me. So, I decided that I want to get into Higher Education and hopefully one day be an administrator at a Community College. It was crazy for me that the people I was around saw this in me before I did. Two of my mentors who were Administrators had Communications degrees and that felt like the next logical step to reach my end goal.

What did you enjoy about attending CCAC? Any memorable moment to share?
Is everything an answer? These past 2 and a half years at South Campus have been the best time of my life. I have never felt more myself than I do now. I was around the most amazing faculty, staff and administrators. The sense of community that South had is special and I will never forget it. It is so hard to pick just a few moments.

Some that stick out in my mind are:

  1. Being a work-study in Student Life - (every single opportunity that I got stemmed from this. I loved working behind the scenes on huge events like Orientation, the Medieval Faire, and the CCAC South XCampus 5k). My Student Life Crew were all mentors to me and they are some of the most amazing people I have ever met (Shout out to Dean, Ben, Kate and Abby!) They let me almost become a part of their department and I learned so much from them.
  2. Ambassador Retreat - This trip was amazing and as an ambassador, we got to spend three days in a beautiful house up in the woods. Spending time outside of school with fellow student leaders and our advisors was incredible and I felt so much more connected to my peers. I don't think I have ever laughed as much as I did during that trip! Also, we got to visit the Flight 93 Memorial (we actually went right around the anniversary) and that is a moment I will never forget.
  3. The Student Life Awards Banquet in 2019 - I am not a materialistic person and awards are not what really drive me. This night meant so much to me because my father, my twin brother, and my aunt were able to come. My family, especially my dad, at first, did not really get all of my involvement and my decision to leave the medical programs. The fact that he was able to see me win awards and to see the impact that I have had at South Campus almost flipped a switch in his brain. He started to be really supportive after that. Also, my amazing supervisor Dean at the time presented me with an award and it was one of the most special moments of my CCAC career. Receiving something like that from someone who you look up to and consider a mentor meant the world, especially coming from him.
  4. Surprise Parties - I, with the help of some friends, threw two big and one smaller surprise parties. The first two bigger ones were for my old supervisor Abby before she got a new job. It was so much fun shopping, planning and setting up these parties (we even got confetti cannons!) I will never forget the look on her face both times that we did it. It meant so much to me that I was able to make this happen.

How involved were you at CCAC? Did you study abroad? Did you have internships or Co-Ops? Clinicals and/or practicums? Were you a part of any clubs, sports, or extracurriculars? (please list as much detail as possible). *
I was involved in a lot at South Campus. 1. Work-study in Student Life, 2. President of Student Government Association (SGA), 3. Student Ambassador, 4. Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Public Relations Chair, 5. Honors Program Student, 6. Campus Activities Board, 7. Campus Enhancement Committee, 8. Stand for the Silent Secretary, 9. Women on a Mission, 10. CCAC South XCampus 5k Planning Committee, 11. Out of the Darkness Walk Planning Committee, 12. STEM Club, 13. Book Club, 14. Newsletter Committee (Before it got canceled), 15. Diversity Committee, 16. Campus Cupboard and Closet Volunteer, 17. Orientation Leader and Panelist, 18. Society for Social Advocacy, 19. Rising Leaders Program ..... There is probably more but this is what I can think of right now. I look at this and I still can't believe that I did all of this.

Did any of these experiences lead you into realizing your passions for work and career? If so, how?
Being involved at South Campus and having great mentors literally helped me figure out exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I loved working with students and being involved so much that I want to make a career out of it. I was so lucky to have people who pushed and believed in me every step of the way. They helped me see my worth and my potential and all I want to do with my life is return the favor and do the same thing for a student. They saw me as me, they did not try and change me at all. They gave me every single opportunity to better myself and to experience as much as I possibly could. I always wanted to work in Student Life and to learn as much as I could, I could not get enough. I felt like a human sponge. There were times where I had to force myself to go home. That was something that made me realize how much I loved what I did.

What (transferable) skills did you gain that you could take into a workplace? 
One of the biggest skills that I learned, especially from my supervisor, is how to find the good in a situation and to see the best in someone. It is so easy to jump to conclusions and act on feelings. He taught me how to take a step back, look at things from someone else's perspective, and to make rational choices. Also, I think leadership is a huge skill that I have learned. It is hard for me to consider myself a leader, but I do now. Being the SGA President was a huge leadership role and I learned so much in the two semesters that I did it. I learned patience, how to listen, collaboration, commitment, and being enthusiastic about what I was doing. I can do on and on.

Finally, dedication was something I learned a lot about. I put everything that I could into South Campus. I gave it my all and that campus came first in my life for a while. I learned how to engross yourself into something, how to have a great work ethic and how to be humble at the same time. With all of the things that I did, I received many opportunities, acknowledgements and praises. I always felt almost not worthy of everything that I was getting, but I was so incredibly humbled and grateful for everything. All of these skills will serve me well as I continue on with my educational journey.

What are you hoping to do next? What would you like to do professionally?
I am hoping to get my Bachelor's Degree from Cal U and to get my Master's as well. I am not sure if I am planning on working right after my Bachelor's or if I am going to try and get both of those degrees done one right after another. My end goal is to be an Administrator at a Community College (I would LOVE to come back to CCAC, but we will see what the future holds). I honestly fell in love with Community College, there is something about seeing people from all over the world, from all different backgrounds and ages trying to better themselves that blows me away. I am biased towards Student Life and I would love to do things that help engage students outside of the classroom. I am hoping to get more experience at CAL U and we will see where life leads me.

How do you manage stress (most especially during these uncertain times)?
The best thing for me during this time has been working (whether on classes or on Student Government or PTK projects). South Campus has been my salvation for years and any time I was able to connect with anyone from there (especially seeing administrators and students) helped me relax. Seeing them gave me the motivation and drive that I needed. Also, Netflix has been a great way to keep my mind off of things. Finally, I think just trying to remain positive and being grateful for the time I spend at South and the people in my life has helped me a bunch as well.

What do you want prospective college students to know—what advice do you have for them? 
I would want them to first step out of their comfort zone. There were so many times where I was scared to do something but luckily I had great support and they helped me go outside of my comfort zone. The more I did it, the easier that it got. Second, I would want them to take any and every opportunity that is given to them. I had a moto for myself to not let any opportunities slip away and to take all of them. Third and simply, GET INVOLVED! Being involved lead me to finding my passion in life and lead me to a scholarship for me to go after that passion. Also, the people I met from being involved have changed my life in all of the best ways possible.

Who inspires you and why? Do you have any mentors or people of influence in your life? 
I think Dean Jolin is probably tired of me always talking about how incredible he is. I will always look for any and every opportunity to shout him out. Dean gave me the initial opportunity in Student Life and has been by my side ever since. I don't even think mentor is a strong enough word to describe him. He just has a way about him that brings out the best in everyone, including myself. He makes me want to work as hard as I possibly could and to do as much as I possibly could. He is also probably the nicest person that I have ever met and I see him putting everyone before himself. I look at him as an epitome of how I want to be as an administrator and even as a person. Every step of the way, through the best and worst times, he was there for me. When I needed him, he was always there to listen to me and give me the motivation that I needed. He let me get every skill and opportunity that I could out of Student Life. He was always thinking of things and putting me in situations where I could learn and grow (even if I did fight him on a few things that I did not think I could do). Being his work study was one of the best parts of my college experience. Not only that, but he helped me tremendously with Student Government things and even things going on with me personally. He treats people with such kindness (the man literally gave a student the shirt off his back) that I can only hope to emulate.

Also, I have to mention Ben Williams and Abby Hindman. Ben is just such a chill person and he again has an ability to see and bring out the best in people. With him, I felt like I could relax at times and I could take a breather and that I did not have to be on 150%. He always has been one of my biggest supporters and I would not have won the All-PA Scholarship without him forcing me to join PTK and making sure that I completed the application. Ben just gets and understands students and I have seen so many people connect with him. Finally, Abby actually saw how much I loved working with students and said before I even realized that I should do this as a career (I disagreed at the time, but she was totally right.) Working with her was the first time where I felt so connected to the school and could see the impact that I had. She pushed the heck out of me and really got me out of my comfort zone. She helped me realize how amazing Student Life is. I absolutely adore her and it was hard when she left. Luckily, over a year later, we are still in contact and she is still here for me. All three of those individuals are mentors to me and have inspired me in countless ways.

Anything else you’d like for us to know? 
CCAC and South Campus will always have a special place in my heart. I will never forget the people I met, the opportunities I had, and the memories I made. I am determined to make everyone proud and to turn my dreams into a reality. The time I spent here has been the best time of my life and I am just go grateful that I chose CCAC and South Campus. I could never thank everyone enough!

 Courtney Seiler