Non-Traditional Students Make Education Work

Sponsored - They say nothing in life worth having comes easy, and it’s a safe bet that many college graduates would agree that a degree is worth having and hard to attain.

Completing a college education is sometimes challenging for non-traditional students – the ones who take circuitous routes to campus rather than enrolling straight out of high school.

Take Donna Williford, for instance. It had always been her dream to attend college, but ‘real’ life got in the way first. After graduating from New Bern High School in 1988, Williford got married, started a family and worked several jobs, including one with the Craven County School System in which she eventually became a child nutrition program supervisor.

In 2008, Donna and her husband adopted a special needs child and life was good, she said, but something was still missing. So, in 2010, at the age of 41, Williford made the decision to enroll in the Occupational Therapy Assistant program at Pitt Community College. It was a decision based partly on her adopted daughter. As a first-generation college student, she wanted to better herself and set a good example for her children to follow.

“Everyone at the college was so supportive and helpful,” Williford says. “I enjoyed every single part of my experience at PCC.

“There was blood, sweat and tears going through the OTA program, but we also had a lot of fun. My instructors, my classmates and my family helped to get me through.”

Williford graduated in 2015 and was hired by TheraPlay Junction, Inc., in New Bern as a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant. She works with children ages 2-14. Eventually, she would like to get certified in other areas and maybe even pursue a master’s in Occupational Therapy.

Donna is a true example that anyone can change the course of their life; she says, “Grab your dream and don’t let go,” Williford says.

Ryan Champion did just that after finding himself unhappy and unfulfilled despite having a bachelor’s degree in economics in hand with 14 years of experience in the investment field.

“Life in sales and office work was no longer for me,” Champion says. “I wanted something where I could use my hands and something that I enjoyed more.” With encouragement from his mother to find a job that makes him happy, Champion left the financial sector and enrolled in the Industrial Systems Technology (IST) program at PCC. There, IST Program Coordinator Tony Gallardo and other instructors helped Ryan find his passion.

In June 2016, Champion took a job with Spirit Aerosystems in Kinston and worked full-time on the third shift, so he could attend classes during the day. He completed the IST program in four semesters and graduated in December 2016. After getting married shortly thereafter, Champion moved to Cary for a new job as a maintenance mechanic with Kellogg’s – and he couldn’t be happier.

This fall, PCC is making it easier than ever for adult learners like Williford and Champion to enroll in classes. After a successful trial run in August, the college has scheduled “Adult One-Stop Day” events for Oct. 14, Nov. 4 and Dec. 2.

“As the name implies, these programs give adult learners a chance to become Pitt Community College students in just one day,” says PCC Recruitment and Orientation Specialist John Carrere. “They can apply and earn admission to PCC on the spot, receive assistance with submitting financial aid applications, complete placement testing, attend New Student Orientation, and register for courses – all in the same day.”

The special admissions opportunities will take place in Room 120 of the Craig F. Goess Student Center each day, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Carrere says attendees should plan to participate in the entire program in order to complete each admissions and enrollment requirement.

Students planning to apply for financial aid are advised to bring along their 2015 income tax returns or other income information, Carrere said, adding that they should also bring copies of their official transcripts, if they have attended schools prior to enrolling at PCC.

Students interested in evening and weekend courses are particularly encouraged to attend a ‘one-stop’ program. And all individuals planning to attend can RSVP by visiting the "New Student Connect" page on the PCC website:

For more details, contact Carrere at (252) 493-7380 or The 2018 Spring Semester at PCC is scheduled to begin Jan. 8.