The year before she turned 50 — and after 14 years as a stay-at-home mom — Tabitha Watts decided it was time do something for herself, something that would make her life and the lives of her family better. That thing turned out to be enrolling as a student at Lorain County Community College’s Wellington Center.
It is Watts’ first college experience; she had spent her years since high school raising her family with her husband of 31 years, Mark. They had three children and, after nine years fostering a number of children, they adopted four girls, one of whom has a developmental disability.
After more than a decade as a full-time mom and caretaker to her elderly mother-in-law, and after a difficult period in her life, Watts wanted to make a change. With just two children still at home, she got a job as a cashier at Village Market, both to get out of the house and to help fund the education she was now determined to seek. Two weeks later, she began classes at LCCC’s Wellington Center, a decision that she says will ultimately transform her life.
And there was no hesitation about what she wanted to study and where she wanted her education to take her.
“I come from a long line of caretakers and have spent much of my life taking care of others,” she says. “I wanted to do something that would help people, so social work seemed like a natural career goal for me.”
LCCC has given Watts the opportunity to see first-hand what social workers do every day, and just how deeply their work affects the lives of their clients and their families.
“As I sometimes struggled to care for my mother-in-law and my daughter, and to cope with some of the issues my other children had, I saw how much it helped them to connect to the services they needed, including social workers,” she says. “I want to be one of those people who goes out into the community to help others, a medical social worker or in community family assistance.”
Watts, who began classes at LCCC’s Wellington Center in fall 2016, is now nearly two years into her journey toward her ultimate goal of a bachelor’s degree in social work. But first she is taking the classes she needs to earn an associate of applied science degree in human services.
LCCC's Wellington Center was a good place to start
Although it had been more than 30 years since Watts, as a high school student, sat in a classroom, LCCC made it easy to get started at the college’s Wellington Center. She spoke with an adviser about her educational and career goals, and the adviser explained her options and helped her make choices. Watts took the placement assessment and soon after was an active student, balancing an average of three classes a semester with part-time work and family responsibilities.
For Watts, the LCCC experience has been more fun — and not as difficult — as she imagined. ‘It’s been a very good start,” she says.
LCCC’s Wellington Center makes it easy for students who want to continue their education but don’t necessarily want to make the drive to Elyria, says Amy Szmania, coordinator of the Wellington Center.
“Our environment is easy and non-intimidating to navigate,” says Szmania. “We have many adult students like Tabitha who are starting college for the first time, as well as students who have come from home schooling and smaller high school settings. For all of them, Wellington is a great and accessible place to learn to navigate the higher education system.”
Wellington Center, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, provides a place where students from smaller high schools in the region can take College Credit Plus courses, allowing them to earn an associate degree while still in high school, giving them a head start both educationally and financially.
Cindy Kushner, director of school and community partnerships at LCCC, agrees the Wellington Center allows a diverse group of students to get a start in a comfortable environment, while helping students who, unlike Watts, haven’t identified their career goals.
“We have a variety of tools to help new students, or those thinking about starting classes, find their passion and become knowledgeable about high-demand career options in our community and region,” she says. “Advisers at Wellington then help them plan their schedules, and we can help with filing the financial aid application, too. It’s a full-service center.”
Flexible learning options make career goals a reality
Like Watts, many students at LCCC’s Wellington Center combine live and online classes to earn an associate degree or one of a number of business certificates. In addition to its six interactive video distance-learning classrooms, the 10,000-square-foot center features study/conference rooms, a 20-station computer lab and connections to courses at the main LCCC campus in Elyria, as well as with LCCC’s University Partnership program. It is through that University Partnership program — which allows student to select from more than 50 associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees offered by leading Ohio universities — that Watts plans to earn her both her associate and bachelor’s degree in social work.
Watts is working on both degrees at the same time and anticipates completing her associate degree in spring 2019 and her bachelor’s degree in 2021. After finishing the spring 2018 semester, she’ll now take most of her classes in Elyria.
LCCC’s Wellington Center, she says, has given her a solid foundation for her education and for her future career.
“I’ve found I really like taking classes; English composition and introduction to social work have been favorites. And it’s been fun to compare notes with my 21-year-old son, who is also in college,” she says.
Szmania says that in addition to offering classes, Wellington Center’s services are available to all LCCC students, regardless of where they attend classes, and facilities are also available to the community at large.
For those thinking about attending LCCC’s Wellington Center to begin or continue a college education, Watts offers this advice: “Don’t be afraid to try it. It’s very rewarding, and even though I’ve had to learn some new study skills, it’s never too late to go back to college.”
Watts, who became a first-time grandmother in June, says she’s also looking forward to earning her degrees from LCCC and starting a new career.
“My husband will be close to retirement when I finish, so I’m hoping he’ll have a chance to stay home while I go out and do work that’s fulfilling to me and helps other people,” she says.