Moving On Up!
Latesha Cunningham moved from Louisiana to Denison some four years ago to be closer to her mom, and she hasn’t stopped moving in one way or another since!
In fact, Cunningham has been moving toward her ultimate goal of becoming a nurse for years. She became a mom at age 16, but she didn’t let that stop her from completing high school or earning her nurse aide certification. In 2018, four years post-high school, and after working as a CNA, Cunningham decided to take the next step in her education and career path. She enrolled in Grayson College’s Patient Care Technician (PCT) program.
The PCT program offers successful completers the opportunity to earn four certifications in healthcare professions: EKG Technician, Phlebotomy Technician, Nurse Aide, and Patient Care Technician. The program is short, but intense with 16 hours of class per week over a 16-week period.
Latesha’s children were aged two and six, and she was working nights at Stone Brook Assisted Living in Denison. It took daily planning and efficiency to make her schedule work. She arrived home at 3:20 am from work, slept until 7 am, and then rallied to get her son off to school and drop her daughter off at her aunt’s house. She attended class through noon, ate lunch, studied, returned home, spent some time with her children, and then prepared to report for her 5:30 pm work shift.
Cunningham doesn’t complain or even mention the challenges she faced to stay in school and successfully complete the program in December 2018. Yet she did what so many try and fail to do; she literally did it all! She was a mom, an employee, a co-worker, a caregiver, a student, a classmate, a daughter, a sister, a niece, an aunt, a friend, and the list goes on and on.
Cunningham describes the PCT program as “...good practice, and it lets you know if you are a good candidate for being in the medical field.” “Ms. Wilcoxen (the PCT instructor) was a great teacher and very patient. I really enjoyed her class,” added Cunningham. After graduation, Cunningham continued at Stone Brook, but kept her sights on a position at the Texoma Regional Blood Center. Then in a moment of serendipity, Cunningham left Stone Brook, and on the same day the Blood Center called her for an interview. She’s been at the Texoma Regional Blood Center since.
Now with three children, including a daughter born shortly after she graduated from the PCT program, Cunningham is continuing her pursuit of a nursing degree at Grayson College. We are in awe of you, Latesha! Keep moving on up!
Living the American Dream
Ekaterina (or Katya for short) Talanova hails from Volgograd, Russia. She has a university degree from Russia, but she essentially had to start over in the U.S. because of her limited proficiency in English. Katya, accompanied by her husband, began attending English classes on the Grayson College campus.
In spring 2019, Katya felt it was time to pursue her next goal. She wanted to transition from her job in housekeeping at Texoma Medical Center (TMC) to work in the TMC pharmacy. She enrolled in the fall 2019 Pharmacy Technician program through Grayson College’s Center for Workplace Learning. Katya will completed the Pharmacy Technician program on December 5, and graduated with her high school equilency diploma on the same night! Even before her graduation, she had secured her dream job as a Pharmacy Technician with TMC. She even works alongside her Pharmacy Tech instructor Dr. Nickson Leo.
Katya’s educational journey here in America isn't over. She's continuing her language classes, and she’s working on completing her high school equivalency diploma. Katya has overcome some incredible obstacles to be in her new role at TMC. She’s an inspiration to us all to set our sights on a goal and work tirelessly to achieve it!
Grayson College Alumna One Of Top 12 Student Chefs In U.S.
It began just five years ago. Sarah Dilling attended the Grayson College Summer Youth Programs’ Cooking Camp and fell in love with cooking. Today at age 19, Sarah has earned the Bronze Medal in the American Culinary Federation’s Student Chef of the Year Central Region competition held on March 31 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
And the competition was no joke.
Sarah had an hour to prepare a meal using one key ingredient- arctic char. Sounds manageable until you throw in there that she had to butcher and fillet the whole arctic char herself. The meal that this Hendricks, Oklahoma native created sounds like one Top Chef contestants would describe. It was seared arctic char with crispy skin on an apple, cauliflower, and potato puree, edamame succotash, and sauteed carrots and haricot verts. To show her range of skills in preparing the arctic char there was an arctic char croquette with a remoulade sauce adorning a portion of the plate garnished with a chimichurri style herb sauce. Hungry? Me too.
How does a 19-year-old develop such an interest and talent in cooking? Well, for Sarah the culinary spark was ignited at age 14 with a Grayson College Summer Youth Program Cooking Camp. Sarah describes it as “...a huge opportunity,” and says she has “...no idea where [she’d] be today without that camp.”
Sarah wasn’t a total novice to the culinary arts when she attended the youth camp. She and her mother smoked their own meats in their smokehouse, and they brewed beer too. The camp, though, put Sarah on a path of opportunity and success. After camp and as a 15-year-old Sarah enrolled in the Culinary Arts’ Safety and Sanitation course. Sarah took advantage of the flexibility that enrollment through the Center for Workplace Learning (CWL) offers. Getting started on her career path through the CWL simplified the process and allowed her to continue exploring her interest in all things culinary.
With that first class she earned a Food Manager Certification, but her next class, Basic Food Preparation, really hooked Sarah. She learned the versatility of basic techniques and how easily one recipe could be transformed into another for an entirely different result.
Sarah gives a lot of credit to Grayson College’s Chef Joanna Bryant, who has mentored and advocated for her along the way. Chef Bryant got Sarah involved in the American Culinary Federation, and it was Chef Bryant that nominated Sarah for the Student Chef of the Year competition. Chef Bryant also helped Sarah prepare for the competition. She and Sarah worked together on composing practice plates and refining Sarah’s approach and techniques to give her an edge. No surprise, Chef Bryant was named the Student Chef Educator of the Year by the American Culinary Federation (ACF) for the Central Region herself.
Though Sarah earned her Associate of Arts degree in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management in May 2018 at Grayson College, her ties to Grayson College and Chef Bryant are strong. Sarah was encouraged in her Student Chef of the Year competition by the entire Grayson College Culinary Team, a team she was once part of as a Grayson College student. Sarah has moved to Oklahoma State University in pursuit of a Hospitality Management and Entrepreneurship double major. She dreams of opening her own gastropub one day.
Pursue your purpose and passion at Grayson College. Let us help you find a place to connect, commit and complete. You may end up just like Sarah- recognized for your talents and hard work doing something you love! Congratulations to Sarah and best wishes for continued success!
Luck Achieves Sky High Goals
Ever wonder who’s working those critically important anti-missile defense systems? Well, wonder no more! Michael Luck, Denison native, Army Veteran, and Grayson College graduate, has his eyes on the skies for you. Luck’s route to this certain niche role was paved with hard work and seized opportunities.
Luck graduated from Denison High School in 2011 and joined the Army right out of high school. He left the Army in late 2015 and almost immediately enrolled in general education courses using his Veteran’s education benefits at Grayson College.
Luck landed a job at Presco working a weekend shift that gave him time for his college classes from Monday through Thursday. His Presco supervisors saw Luck’s potential and capacity for more responsibility so they asked Luck to attend even more classes at Grayson College in the Industrial Maintenance Technician (IMT) program in the evenings.
During the day Luck took his general education courses. In the evenings he took Industrial Maintenance Technician classes, and he worked on the weekends. Luck graduated from Grayson College for the first time in May 2018 with an Associate of Science degree in General Studies. Today he’s just two classes away from completing an Associate of Science degree in Computer Science at Grayson College, which he’ll finish online.
Luck cites Presco’s flexibility as a key element of his success as a working student. Presco’s weekend shift and his supervisors’ understanding when he occasionally needed to run over to Grayson College on a Friday made it possible for Luck to survive his packed schedule. Luck also credits Grayson College Veterans Services Officer Marlina Reese with helping him during his educational journey. “Reese helped me anytime I had an issue; she was always there for me,” said Luck. “He had three full-time jobs: student; father; employee. That is so difficult to do, but Mr. Luck did it. He definitely deserves all the rewards and success that come his way,” praised Reese.
Luck was recently offered a new job with Leidos, a government contractor working on Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), an anti-ballistic missile defense system he previously worked on during his time in the Army. So with much gratitude and appreciation to Presco, Luck accepted the THAAD Field Engineer position with Leidos. Luck describes this new role as, “100% a combination of the IMT and computer science programs from Grayson College.” He has an edge on others at Leidos because of his diverse education and skills training coupled with his prior experience.
Leidos will be moving Luck, his wife, and 18-month-old son to Guam soon. Characteristic of Luck, he’ll be working and studying there, too. He’s been accepted to the University of Maryland University College in pursuit of a Bachelor’s in Information Technology and Cyber Security. Luck’s advice to working students is to find an employer that will work with your school schedule; realize it’s hard, but it’s possible.
Many thanks to Luck for his military service and for keeping an eye out for us now. Thanks, too, for showing us how to seize opportunities!
GED to Degrees in Three
“It was a long time coming,” reflected 28-year-old Nathan Elliott, on the subject of earning his high school diploma. Yet Elliott, who dropped out of high school in 2007, actually set a blistering pace for his educational accomplishments.
Elliott graduated the second time from Grayson College on May 10, 2019, with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Cyber Security Administration to go with his AAS degree in Computer Maintenance and Networking Technology and his four computer information systems certifications. From Elliott’s start at Grayson College Adult Education & Literacy to this most recent graduation, barely more than three years had passed.
Elliott’s own drive and determination certainly led to his impressive success. However, Elliott acknowledges that a few individuals were essential to his journey. Carrie Stell, Grayson College AEL Instructor, welcomed Elliott into her classroom. “Carrie was amazing,” proclaimed Elliott. She clearly articulated a pathway to success and patiently explained the steps to obtaining his high school credentials.
John Dick, Computer Maintenance and Networking Program Director at Grayson College, also helped guide Elliott. “John Dick is really incredible. I don’t think I’ve had a better teacher in my entire run,” explained Elliott. Dick encouraged Elliott to go beyond computer repair to complete the Computer Maintenance and Networking program and add the Cyber Security degree on top of that.
Elliott’s wife, a junior high math teacher, pushed him to go back to get his high school credential. Their first daughter was born by the time he had earned his GED®, and their second daughter was born the day before his first college graduation. Luckily, Elliott gave everyone a second chance to see him graduate, and cum laude the second time no less!
For now, Elliott is giving himself a little break in his educational pursuits. His first AAS degree earned him the full-time Technology Coordinator position for a local school district, but ultimately, he plans to earn his BAAS. One day he hopes to be the technology director for a large ISD, giving students the resources they need to reach their own graduation day.