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UNCC helps dropouts to stage a comeback

Counselors work with students to provide right mix of support

Victoria Namishia graduated from college Saturday. All it took was 28 years ... and a few phone calls from some persuasive people at UNC Charlotte.

“They kept after me,” says Namishia, who was among about 3,200 students receiving diplomas at UNCC’s two winter commencement exercises.

“I finally thought to myself, maybe this will work.”

She is a product of UNCC’s 49er Finish Program, aimed at giving a second chance to students who quit school within sight of a diploma.

About 35 of Saturday’s graduates were part of 49er Finish, which has now helped more than 500 people receive their degrees since the program started six years ago.

Namishia entered college in September 1984 at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., near where she grew up.

She got married soon afterward, left school, returned to a community college and graduated in 1991 with an associate degree.

Then she and husband, Mark, were transferred to North Carolina for employment reasons.

Victoria re-entered college in 1995, enrolling in UNCC’s education program.

She got pregnant about a year later, gave birth to son Andrew in 1997, and then quit school again in 1998.

“It was too much – working, going to school, and raising a toddler,” she says.

“I would have needed to student teach, and that would have meant going a semester without a paying job. It just made more sense to quit.”

And that’s how it stayed for a decade.

Namishia was working with Bank of America in a job she enjoyed, content with life.

In 2010, she got a call from UNCC’s Office of Adult Students and Evening Services.

School officials had noticed Namishia wasn’t far from her bachelor’s degree, they told her. Wouldn’t she like to come back and finish?

“We try to determine why students left,” says Kelly Moore, assistant director and academic counselor with the 49er Finish program.

“Once we know that, we can figure out how to help.”

Moore says for some students, it’s a job. For others, it’s marriage and/or children. Still others leave because of a death in the family.

Shane Auton, another of Saturday’s 49er Finish graduates, left 16 years ago after his grandmother died. For Namishia, it was financial and family considerations.

“When the need is financial aid, we can talk about scholarship resources,” Moore says.

49er Finish started in 2006. UNCC has contacted about 1,900 former students in that time, with about 100 in school now.

Namishia says she didn’t respond to a call from UNCC in 2010 but changed her mind when she was contacted last year.

She needed eight classes. She took four classes last spring, three in the summer, and one this semester. She will graduate with a bachelor’s in English.

She said being able to take four classes online was a big help.

The degree will be a big boost to her now, she says, because she was caught up in a round of layoffs at Bank of America and lost her job last month.

“My job experience outweighs my degree,” she says, “but now I won’t be weeded out of the job search process because I don’t have the degree.”

Besides, adds Namishia, as the first member of her immediate family to earn a college degree, “Now I can say that I finished. I did it.”

“That makes it all worthwhile, no matter how long it took.”

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