During the month of April, FTCC will share a post on Monday and Friday mornings highlighting #CommunityCollegeMonth through students, graduates and our work in the community on our social media pages, which can be found by clicking on the following links: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
If you ask Lisa O’Hern to list some of the best choices she’s made in life, one answer would make the list: attending a community college. O’Hern works at Fayetteville Technical Community College as a senior secretary for Community Services for the Corporate & Continuing Education Department. Also, she’s a double graduate, earning her Associate in Arts in 2009 and an Associate in Applied Science, Office Administration for years later.
“It gave me the foundation I needed to move forward and find my career, even if I did change my mind a couple of times,” she said. “But I credit my associate’s degree in office administration for opening the most doors for me.”
She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in science of business from East Carolina University and her master’s in education, instructional technology, from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In 2020, O’Hern along with seven other faculty and staff members were recognized as Excellence in Teaching and President’s Distinguished Staff Award winners for her contributions to the College and its students.
O’Hern participated in a Q&A as part of FTCC celebrating April as “Community College Month,” a time to recognize higher education institutions for what they provide students of all backgrounds, celebrate the achievements of their graduates and to highlight the way those colleges – students included – give back to the communities that embrace them each year.
Why did you choose FTCC to pursue your associate in arts and applied science, office administration, degrees at FTCC? What were your motivations?
I originally chose FTCC because I was really interested in the dental hygiene program. I had been a stay-at-home mom for about 15 years at this point, and I was looking forward to starting a new phase as a working mom with a career. However, after being accepted into the program, I soon found dental hygiene was not the career field for me. I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to take after leaving the program, but I knew I didn’t want to quit school altogether.
I decided an associate in arts degree would give me the opportunity to transfer to a four-year college or university in the future, even if I wasn’t sure “what I wanted to be when I grew up”. After graduating with my degree in 2009, I found I still wanted to learn a skill that would help me get a better job with better hours, but also something that I would enjoy doing. I was working retail at the time which took a lot of time from my family. Since I knew a hands-on type of field like dental hygiene wasn’t for me, I decided I needed a career a little more behind the scenes, one where I could take a more supportive role. I took a chance and gave the Office Administration program a try. It turns out it was the best choice I could have made. I absolutely fell in love with the program and knew fairly quickly that I had made the right decision.
What did you take away from your time as a student at FTCC? What have you learned or taken away so far as an employee of FTCC?
As a student, aside from giving me the skills I needed to succeed, FTCC has always provided me with a sense of home and belonging. I’ve been a student here since 2005 and have taken many classes over the years. All of my instructors, from the dental hygiene program to [when I transferred to] office administration, have encouraged me along the way. There is a wonderful sense of community that I haven’t found in other bigger schools. I always felt that my instructors wanted me to succeed just as much as I did. This is especially true for my instructors in the Office Administration program. I’m grateful for Ms. Mullis and Ms. Gillis for giving me guidance as I worked to finish the degree, but also for recommending me for a part-time secretarial position in the Corporate & Continuing Education Division. That opportunity opened so many doors for me.
Then, I applied for a full-time position, was hired, and have been in that position for almost eight years. That sense of belonging still exists as an employee. I’m so lucky to work with a team of professionals that value and support each other. As secretary for Amy McLamb, Dean of Career & Community Enrichment, I’ve come full circle. I’m part of a team that helps students who are just like I was: [help them] find their career paths and give them the tools they need to succeed.
With April being Community College Month, why do you feel community colleges are important? How are they unique when compared to other higher education institutions?
Community colleges bring higher education within reach for so many people, myself included. Community college’s affordability, open enrollment, and flexibility in class schedules enabled me to attend school as a working mom. One of the convenient aspects of my community college classes was that I was able to take many of them online. While many bigger colleges have a wide variety of online classes, FTCC is in my neighborhood. If I needed to speak with one of my instructors face-to-face, I was only a short drive away. I never had that feeling of accessibility from the four-year colleges I attended.
What would you tell someone who asked about you attending a community college?
I would tell them attending a community college was one of the best decisions for me. It gave me the foundation I needed to move forward and find my career even if I did change my mind a couple of times.