Dr. Felicia Blakeney, first-year advisor and assistant professor at NOVA, talks about what brought her to the college and how she aims to continue to make a difference.
What brought you to NOVA?
I came here as a fluke. I had never heard of NOVA before arriving here. I was a New Yorker, and I had never seen this part of the beltway, and at the time, I was working in North Carolina.
Prior to coming to NOVA, I was teaching in the K-12 Charlotte (N.C.) system for many years and was ready to go back to New York. As I was getting ready to go back, one of my sorority sisters who worked at NOVA, asked me to come by. That friend, Dr. Minora Bryant (an administrative emerita) was the coordinator of counseling at the time. She had been at NOVA for 20 years and was a mentor to me at my college sorority. She wanted to talk to me about working at NOVA. I honestly wasn’t thinking about it, as I was already hired for a new job in New York.
At the time, she wanted me to talk with the director of Workforce Development for the Annandale Campus. I just intended to talk to him. I wasn’t focused on a job, but surprisingly I got a phone call before I could even leave the Annandale area. He wanted to hire me as a contract employee.
He liked the fact that I was bilingual because I was going to teach Spanish up north. The pay was a bit more, and I only had a bachelor’s at that time. I didn’t think there was anything for me in higher education with just a bachelor’s degree, however nine months later, I was offered a full-time position.
What do you enjoy about NOVA?
I was able to grow here and eventually got my master’s degree and then my PhD.
When I finished my master’s degree, I was looking to teach Spanish, but I knew I wanted to teach SDV-100 (Student Development). So, I worked with the dean of students, and they looked at my transcript and were able to line up what would make me eligible to teach SDV-100.
For me, being in Student Services is the best fit. We are the heartbeat. Before it gets to the faculty, it starts with Student Services. I think what Student Services does is amazing. There are so many levels to the work that we do.
What do you enjoy about teaching?
I enjoy it so much. I hold the students accountable, and they benefit from that.
Even if I retire, as long as I can teach the Student Development class, I will. I especially love my most recent cohort. For all of them, this is their first time in college. I lost my mother recently while teaching this cohort, and I am able to talk to them when they tell me about their losses.
What do you do to really connect with students?
I incorporate music from every era to align with all topics I teach about. Each student’s journey is completely different. No two students are the same. Each one has a unique situation.
Do you have a specific advice you give to incoming students?
I want every student to know that, regardless of background or any challenges, they have the tools to be successful. We have enough resources at NOVA to carry them through. ‘We don’t know what we don’t know,’ but if you have a specific need, never feel that you cannot reach out to someone. If I don’t know the answer, I can find the answer.
I once had a student who was homeless, and he wanted to go to a four-year university. I got on the phone and helped make it happen. This is why I live and breathe.
Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.