Donald started his first semester at NOVA in January 2014, a few months after his release from the Arlington County Jail. He wanted to obtain a Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Counselor certificate because of his desire to help people who faced the same battles he fought before successfully receiving treatment.
Donald was full of questions: Would a prior conviction impact his ability to complete a required internship in substance abuse? What would he be able to do with the certificate when he completed it? How was financial aid awarded? To answer these questions, Donald participated in NOVA’s Adult Career Pathways (ACP), a grant-funded, award-winning program designed to serve adult students with demonstrated barriers to college access and success. Participants receive ongoing support and guidance from an ACP Counselor through each step of the college experience.
Donald’s ACP counselor, Wende Ruffin-Lowry, helped him to understand NOVA’s financial aid policy so he could formulate a budget. Sticking to this budget allowed him to save enough to purchase a car, which then afforded him the ability to work additional hours and take on internship assignments. Donald is quick to credit Wende with providing him with the support and motivation to succeed, calling her “his partner,” and especially for being a sounding board as he confronted “the unknown.”
In addition to helping him with financial aid options and enrolling in the right classes, she also encouraged Donald to see the bigger picture beyond certification, and consider next steps in his education and long-term goals. Donald completed his certificate in substance abuse counseling in December 2015. He earned a 4.0 GPA every semester.
His experience at NOVA also led him to explore new opportunities. Donald has represented NOVA and ACP at numerous program events, and has even co-founded a chapter associated with substance abuse treatment on the Alexandria campus for students in recovery. Donald, a student who entered NOVA full of questions about how quickly he could graduate, is now plotting a course to earn a bachelor’s degree and attend graduate school.