As a child growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, Michael Turner was not a huge fan of attending school. He was placed in special education classes from the time he first began school up until the ninth grade. Despite several odds against him, he is now able to share with students his story of adoption, overcoming obstacles and the importance of education as the Dean of Students at Northern Virginia Community College’s Woodbridge Campus.
Based on his lack of enthusiasm for learning new concepts, Turner said his teachers believed he had a learning disability at an early age. It wasn’t until his ninth grade English teacher discovered his advanced reading comprehension level that he was able to transition into a traditional classroom and graduate high school as an honor student.
“When I was younger, I didn’t want anything to do with school or learning for that matter,” Turner said. “One day after class, I noticed my English teacher had a copy of William Shakespeare’s Othello on her desk. I picked up the book and started reading it aloud. She was so surprised that I could understand the words and pronounce each one correctly. She told the school principal that I was gifted in such a way that I shouldn’t be in special education classes.”
After receiving a full academic scholarship, Turner went on to further pursue his education at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, where he received a bachelor’s degree in organizational communications and a master’s degree in higher education administration. He is currently completing a doctorate program in higher education administration from West Virginia University.
Turner overcame adversities in learning with support from his adoptive parents. His biological mother battled with drug addiction, while his biological father was deported based on his affiliation as a drug dealer. As a newborn, Turner suffered with medical complications and was placed in foster care. At 10 days old, his adoptive mother noticed him having a difficult time adjusting to receiving medical care and inquired further about his family’s situation.
“My biological mother was 20 years old when she had me and I never knew my father,” he shared. “When I was first born, she put me up for adoption. I received several medical treatments because drugs were in my system as a newborn. One day, my adoptive mother was visiting the hospital and noticed me in the NICU crying hysterically. When I grew older, she would often tell me from the moment she first tried to comfort me, she knew I was going to be her son.”
Turner became the youngest of nine children growing up in a middle-class family of hard-working parents that he affectionately refers to as “The Turners.” His father worked as a steel mill operator and his mother as a nurse’s aide. Although both of his adoptive parents are now deceased, he credits them for his success.
“My parents, the Turner’s, raised me to tell the truth and speak from my heart,” Turner said. “My parents gave me so much love and they didn’t have to do that. After finding out details regarding my biological mother, I decided last year to write her a letter to introduce myself. I didn’t want anything from her, but just to let her know that I was doing well. She responded and last year during the Thanksgiving holiday, I visited my hometown and we met for the very first time. My biological mother did the best thing she could every do for me, she gave me the opportunity to live a fulfilling life.”
Turner has shared his story with countless NOVA students in hopes to serve as an example of what it looks like to overcome life’s unforeseen challenges. He described his role of serving students at the Woodbridge Campus to be the most rewarding job he has obtained throughout his professional career.
“The most rewarding part of my job at NOVA is having a front row seat of observing students reach their fullest potential,” Turner said. “The best way to describe NOVA is understanding this College is a living laboratory of human experiences.”
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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.