NOVA student Samantha Blain is all smiles when talking about her experience at Northern Virginia Community College. Her motivation – even when she’s just a little discouraged by the “what ifs” – is knowing that everything will fall in place in time. Samantha’s education journey is a testament to this; after two false starts, the single mom is preparing to graduate with an associate degree in business administration in May 2017.
After graduating from T.C. Williams High School in 2004, Samantha decided to stay in the Northern Virginia area instead of moving to Barbados with her mother. Although she had siblings who still lived in the area and supported her, Samantha said she essentially had to figure it out on her own. And at that time, moving away from friends, family and the city she called home was not something she wanted to do.
“Transitioning from high school to NOVA, I didn’t want to go away. I felt like my mother going away was enough for me,” she said. “I wanted to stay here where I knew people in case I needed support and just needed a familiar face.”
Samantha first became a NOVA student in fall 2004, taking one night class in an effort to slowly work her way toward a degree in business administration.
“I just wasn’t mature,” she said. “There was separation and emotional anxiety I was feeling because I had never lived away from my mother. Her leaving, it kind of took a piece of me. So I was trying to cope with that and attend classes at night, and it just wasn’t good for me at the time.”
Samantha admits that she didn’t officially withdraw from the class; instead, she just stopped attending. The next semester, she enrolled again in two classes and didn’t do well. At the time she was working full time as an assistant manager at a UPS Store and that was a full load for her. At the age of 18, she was consumed with working and paying bills all on her own.
“I was 18 and it was just the process of growing on my own. I could’ve moved with my mother but I didn’t know anyone there and I didn’t have familiar resources,” she explained. “I stayed here and I had to live, work and support myself, and I quickly learned how to do that.”
Samantha continued to work full time in different industries including childcare, retail, executive assistant positions and customer service. Looking back, she said she learned a number of different skills that she still uses today. By 2009, Samantha had her son Malik to consider and wanted to advance professionally and knew she wanted to earn a degree in an effort to continue to provide for herself and her son. In 2014, she decided to return to NOVA to finish what she started 10 years earlier.
“Here I was, a single mom pulling it off on my own and still trying to find my way. I was making OK money but still living check-to-check,” Samantha said. “I didn’t have more than a high school education at the time and in our society, they’re looking for credentials.”
Returning to the classroom, Samantha admits that she was scared and knew the task would require even more of her than it did before she had the responsibility of being a mother. However, the third time around, Samantha felt more connected, determined and present when it came to her studies at NOVA.
Since 2014, she has been a NOVA work study student and has worked in Workforce Development, TILT (Technology, Innovation, Learning, & Teaching) and in the Liberal Arts Department at the Alexandria Campus. After graduation, she plans to enroll at George Mason University where she hopes to pursue a degree in finance – another step to becoming a financial adviser.
There are times when Samantha thinks about how her life may have turned out very differently had she completed the program at NOVA when she first enrolled in 2004. But over the years, she said she’s learned patience and that timing is everything.
“Everything happened in my own time. I’m here, and that’s the most important thing, to show up and be here mentally. I’m soaking it in and enjoying the experience,” she said. “I tell the younger generation they need discipline and focus. Turn off the television, and put down Facebook and other social media. Give something up so you can gain, and there’s always something here to gain at NOVA. And you have to stay focused and be there in the moment for it all.”
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 the Extended Learning Institute. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.