Rowan-Cabarrus Community College graduate Amber Blackwelder has a story of determination and inspiration to tell. It’s about overcoming obstacles and doing hard work that has culminated into a career she loves and a promising future.
The 30-year-old graduated in May with a degree in radiology technology and the college’s 2015 Academic Excellence Award, recognizing academic achievement, leadership and community service of one student from each of the 58 institutions in the N.C. Community College System.
“I grew up in Ranlo. Everyone worked in the mill,” said Blackwelder. “There was a lot of ‘This is what you’ve been handed, this is what your life is going to be, this is as far as you’re going to go,’ and that was my perspective on it.”
She grew up around drug and alcohol abuse. When she was a teenager, years of abuse by a family member led her to move in with her mother in Concord. The move was a turning point, an opportunity she recognized as a way to burst through her circumstances.
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“Even in my teenage years, learning to deal with what I’d been through, and not being a victim, identifying that – ‘OK, this happened to me, but I don’t have to stay there in that dark place,’” she said. “Getting older, and reflecting on my life, I realized that I had a choice. I could either wallow in this, or I could forgive and make something out of it.”
At 25, with a young son and daughter, she decided that even though she enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom, there was more that she wanted to do.
“I decided to go to community college, just a little step,” she said.
Blackwelder arrived at Rowan-Cabarrus with hopes of joining the competitive radiography program, but she wasn’t admitted the first time. She studied even harder, taking a full course-load while caring for her family.
“When I got there, I felt like I had so much more value. I got involved on campus, and I felt like a flower in bloom.” She became president of her class and was involved in student government, participating in clubs, campus projects and fundraising.
“The biggest challenge was time management and being able to give 100 percent to everything all at one time. It’s almost impossible,” she said. “You’ve got to give yourself a little grace sometimes.
“I’m thankful that my husband is the way he is,” she said, because he’s calm and patient while she’s driven. They worked together to take care of the children’s needs so she had time to study.
For those thinking of going to college, Blackwelder advises them to become involved.
“You kind of have to think, ‘Where do I want to be in 10 years?’ and you have to make little decisions every day to get there. You just can’t fast-forward to there and think it’s going to happen overnight.”
She says it’s those tiny decisions every day when you ask yourself if it’s going to benefit you or keep you in the cycle of generations before you.
“The decisions that my parents made, and their parents, and their parents made have affected me,” she said. “My decisions are going to affect generations after me. It’s about thinking above yourself if you want to leave a legacy to your children.”
As for her patients, Blackwelder believes her life experiences give her a unique perspective and empathy. She says that even for the short time she spends with them, it’s important to listen and connect.
“I think this is my way to make what they’re going through a little more bearable,” she said.
According to Paula Dibley, director of College Relations, Marketing and Communications, radiography, like all health care careers, are in high demand and the majority of students at RCCC are working full or part-time.
Blackwelder’s goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree.
“The Rowan-Cabarrus instructors are amazing and they really care about their students. Once you become involved, you’ll start seeing the change and it just grows from there,” she said.
Carole Howell is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Carole? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.