Gone long? Take leap of faith with Perry Promise Scholarship

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Chanel McKenzie of Perry drops off a gift for Mary Ocker, Perry DMACC administrative assistant, in gratitude for her help in making the return to school an easy task.

Returning to school after a long gap takes courage and a leap of faith. It also takes money. Starting school this fall at the DMACC VanKirk Career Academy in Perry makes reentering the classroom a lot less scary, and the Perry Promise Scholarship makes college learning a little less costly.

An increasing number of adults are enrolling in career colleges in order to get the skills they need to earn a college degree or take their current career to the next level. In a strong economy, employers often specifically recruit workers with college education.

Unfortunately, for every adult who returns to college, there are many others who hesitate to take that leap of faith because of obstacles in their way, among them fear.

Chanel McKenzie of Perry has overcome her fear and is taking her leap of faith after a 10-year absence from the classroom. DMACC’s Perry Promise Scholarship is helping Chanel allay some of the financial fears.

The concerns and fears that make adults like Chanel reluctant to return to school are varied, but they include cost, time and homework. Over the next week, we will introduce you to a series of adults who are going back to school, to the instructors who will teach them and to the staff members who will help them reach their goals.

Returning to college can be expensive. For adults with living expenses that already include rent, car payments, food and utilities, adding another expense can be a deal breaker. For the last several years, the Perry Promise Scholarship has helped close the financial gap that can otherwsie prevent a return to school.

Chanel has lived in Perry since 1998 and first heard about the scholarship opportunity when she decided to enroll in DMACC to pursue a degree in liberal arts. The Perry Promise Scholarship makes the already affordable DMACC tuition even more bearable by cutting the per-credit tuition of $151 to the bargain price of $99. Perry High School graduates and residents of Perry qualify for one-third off their tuition bill.

Chanel has jumped right into the back-to-school mix, navigating the enrollment process, filling out financial aid applications, choosing classes and buying books. She said the process was intimidating at first, but she quickly grew to rely on the help of Mary Ocker, administrative assistant at the DMACC at Perry VanKirk Career Academy.

“Mary has been amazing,” Chanel said. “Things have changed so much over the years, with FAFSA and online enrollment.” Chanel has been in the Perry DMACC almost every day for a week, getting ready for the fall term, and she recently dropped off a gift for Mary as a token of her appreciation for all of her support.

The mother of three children, Trey, Kyla and Emily, Chanel has spent nearly 10 years working as a CNA and has a special interest in behavioral sciences.

“I want to show my children that no matter what stage or age you are, it is never too late to go after your goals,” she said.

Setting a positive academic example for her kids was one of the main reasons Chanel noted for going back to school. Her eldest child, Trey, is a junior at Perry High School, and he will be starting the DMACC welding program this fall. Chanel said having two college students in the household will make for some good family conversations.

Emily, her youngest daughter, still asks, “Mom, why do you have to go to school?”

Chanel expects Emily will eventually realize that mom wants to help create a better life for her and her siblings. She admits that she has some fears about the cost of school, the amount of homework and the challenge of balancing family and school, but she hopes that in the end she is able to make her kids and her parents proud.

Middle daughter Kyla is now in middle school and might make the perfect study-buddy for mom. Chanel said that “no matter how old you are, you want to keep making your parents proud, and I hope I can do that for mom and dad.”

Chanel is excited about getting back into school and meeting new people, especially other students with children — the so-called non-traditional students — and she is optimistic about reaching her goal of graduating from DMACC with an associate’s degree.

Classes at the DMACC at Perry VanKirk Career Academy start Thursday, Aug. 23, with registration ongoing through Wednesday, Aug. 22. For more information about the Perry Promise Scholarship or to register for fall classes, call 515-428-8100 or visit the DMACC at Perry VanKirk Career Academy website.

Eddie Diaz is the director of the DMACC VanKirk Career Academy in Perry.

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