Reconnect Navigator Becomes Resource for Adults Returning to College

Find out how Sandra Timberlake went from feeling stuck in her own career to becoming a resource and cheerleader for other adults wanting to return to college.

Sandra Timberlake is a Tennessee Reconnect Navigator for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

What prompted you to go back to school?

I was inspired to go back to school after 17 years of working for St. Thomas Health Services. I understood the importance of getting my college degree, but I felt stuck. Stuck in a job that I loved, I needed the current essential technology skills needed to compete in a competitive marketplace.

In September of 2015, I entered Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) Nashville for a departmental promotion. This led to my discovery that I am an ongoing learner. I chose the Administrative Office Technology (AOT) program to make me a better and more valuable employee, as I continued to pursue my career in leadership management. I chose TCAT Nashville because of the financial safety net of the TN Reconnect program, and the ability to complete the program in a timely manner. What I did not expect was the benefits of going to a TCAT college. The AOT program teaches the whole person, not just the rigorous rock-solid academics, but effective communication, soft skills, and universal relationship development, using technology as a tool. I did pretty well. I graduated with two honor diplomas, (Medical Administrative Assistant and Administrative Office Technology). I became a member of the National Technical Honor Society. I was awarded TCAT Nashville’s Outstanding Student of the Year and went on to win the 2015-2016 Outstanding Student of the Year for the state of Tennessee’s TCAT colleges. And, oh yeah, I won a car.

What most helped you get back to and through school?

Two main factors helped me get back and get through school. One was the awareness that a college degree would not only improve my employment potentials and economic possibilities but also enhance the quality of my life, my children, and my community. It brought out that “I CAN” mentality, and motivation to continue to look for opportunities toward my well-being, then ways of giving back. The one thing I always said about going back to school was that I wanted to be that role model for that single mom out there with four children, three boys and one girl. She will see that I did it and see that she can too!

The other factor that helped me get through school was my support team. I was and still am so grateful for the support of five wonderful people: Nancy Anness, Chief Advocacy Officer, Saint Thomas Health, Ascension, Tennessee; Loretta Green, retired Metro Public School Family Coordinator; Dr. Rietta Turner, Executive Director of Christian Community Services, Inc.; Tash Weddle, President & CEO of the New Beginning Center; and LauraWard, then Director, Middle Tennessee Reconnect Community. On their specific day, they made phone calls, texted, and/or visited me to remind me that education provides a foundation for future opportunities. I am grateful to them for sharing their insights on the challenges of life, their love, and their friendship. I consider myself blessed and exceptionally fortunate to have these people in my life.

What difference has it made in your life to have a degree?

A feeling of accomplishment and the alignment with my personal mission statement has made a difference in my life since having my degree.

Accomplishment—my vision board has the affirmation I paraphrased from Zig Ziglar: “When I put all excuses aside—I Am ABLE!” It was always my desire to obtain my college degree. In 2017, I enrolled at Lipscomb University College of Professional Studies. I received the maximum of 30 college credit hours as a result of going through their CORE assessment. With the college credits I had received from the past, this left me with less than 10 classes to reach my goal. The thought of asking for a student loan came to mind. But God had other plans. I would get my college degree without any student debt. I opened a savings account and named it “Sandra’s College Degree Fund.” I took only one and sometimes two classes at a time and paid for it.

At TCAT Nashville, I had the honor of having a brilliant instructor, mentor, and friend the late Mrs. Robbin Holland. She gave her life, as she lived her life, in service to others. She once shared with me a quote by Thomas Edison, educator, that says, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” I dedicated May 4, 2019, to the memory of Mrs. Robin Holland. I graduated from Lipscomb University College of Professional Studies with my Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership with NO STUDENT DEBT!

The alignment with my personal mission statement—I can now add completing my college degree to the list of opportunities that help shape my personal mission statement. My personal mission statement and purpose in life is to help underexposed people to break generational cycles, by peeling back the blinders that have become the norm, by offering confirmed practical and spiritual solutions to life’s toughest and most challenging circumstances.

What would it be like if you hadn't returned and completed your degree?

I would honestly have to say, if I had not returned and completed my degree, I would have settled for far less than what I wanted in life—mediocrity and unfulfilled potential. One of those blinders that have become the norm. I would have had to live with regrets and never understood what I was capable of and that is I am an ongoing learner and adding confirmed value to my personal mission statement.

What would you tell others who are considering returning to school?

I would and have often shared with others considering returning to school that your past does not dictate your future. I have faced several obstacles in my life and have turned them into opportunities. I would tell others who are considering returning to school to overcome that fear—mediocrity by living a life of purpose. Find your affirmation and use it!

Now that I am in a position to help other adults navigate their way to and through postsecondary education as a Reconnect Navigator with the Chamber, I tell each of my Reconnectors to always… “Remember—I’m your Reconnect Navigator, I am your biggest cheerleader and resource finder. I will work with you every step of the way—all the way to GRADUATION!!”

It brings to mind a snowball effect. Through the TN Reconnect program a snowball has started with adults who have returned to school (whether it is for personal satisfaction or a personal goal; a promotion, requirement from current employer; increasing earning potential; career change; to complete what they started, or even interest in obtaining a better job). I hope that adult learners will:

  • Have the understanding that a college degree or certificate will improve employment potentials and economic possibilities
  • Be inspired and create that “I CAN” mentality
  • Enhance the quality of their lives, their children, and their communities
  • Become a role model
  • Utilize the TN Reconnect Navigational services as part of their support team as TN Reconnectors turn this program into a big snowball avalanche

Originally published on The Graduate! Networks newsletter, The Lightbulb. Click here to view the full issue.

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