Date: October 26, 2021
By Lisa Garrett
Lori Greenway and her brother, Jason Hawkins, never thought they would ever call themselves college graduates.
With zero interest in academics and no career plan, Hawkins dropped out of high school at age 15.
Over the years, he continued to reside with his parents, “just getting by,” working minimum-wage and temporary jobs in manufacturing. “I couldn’t get hired full time without a GED or a high school diploma,” said Hawkins, 34. He wanted to move forward in manufacturing but didn’t know how.
Greenway, 29, and the single parent of two small children, did finish high school with mediocre grades. She is the first in their family to earn a high school diploma. She married and started her family while working entry-level retail management jobs. “It was decent pay but it wasn’t where my heart was,” she said.
Like Hawkins, she also needed a career plan.
It wasn’t until Hawkins earned his GED in 2019 from the Anderson Adult Education Center 3, 4 and 5 and soon after discovered the I-BEST program that both of their lives – and their mindsets – began to change.
The I-BEST program is designed to increase the College’s focus on unemployed and underemployed populations. It is a one-semester learning experience designed to prepare students for entry-level positions in manufacturing or healthcare and to continue further post-secondary education and training needed for career growth and advancement. Students graduate with a Tri-County certificate (Personal Care Aide I or Manufacturing Production I) in addition to a number of industry-recognized skill certifications and trainings that give them the edge as they enter the workforce. I-BEST provides individualized advising and educational/career planning. Every student completes a Personal Success Plan detailing the next steps on their path—whether that’s work, school, or a combination of the two—all the way through at least the associate degree. There is no cost for the I-BEST program.
“After I earned my GED, things just started to fall into place,” said Hawkins. “I was at the Adult Education Center one day when a lady from I-BEST began to talk to me about the program. She told me about all of the resources offered -- all at no charge! It was hard to believe. I wasn’t used to people helping me like that.”
When she finally convinced him that I-BEST would cover the cost of his education, with no strings attached, he signed up immediately. “It was the first time I had done anything that quickly in my life. All of a sudden, I was excited about education,” he said.
In 2020 he graduated at the top of his class (4.0 GPA) with a Manufacturing Production I certificate. He also completed Six Sigma Yellow Belt training and earned his OSHA 10 certification. He enrolled in TCTC’s mechatronics program where he maintains a 3.7 GPA.
This year, he was hired by E& I Engineering as a wire technician. He learned the importance of the certifications he achieved through I-BEST when interviewing for the job. As suggested by I-BEST staff, he prominently highlighted them on his resume. “Those entries impressed them the most,” said Hawkins. “The interviewer told me it was the first time he has seen that outlined on a resume and he said it really stood out.”
Although Greenway was the first in their family to earn a high school diploma, she, too, wasn’t interested in college. “Jason was always telling me about I-BEST but I still didn’t believe it was free,” she said. When COVID-19 struck last spring, she was laid off from her job at a bakery and was at home all day with her kids. She had time to really think about her life. She finally called the I-BEST office and signed up for personal care aide classes and began in January 2021.
She still was wary of college. “I expected younger students and strict teachers,” she said. Instead, she found a welcoming and nurturing staff and classmates whom she bonded with.
“If not for everyone on staff and the atmosphere, I would not have been motivated. The classes were way more than just books. The College 120 course taught us what to expect out of college,” she said.
“Even when you graduate, they are still there to help,” said Hawkins.
In May 2021 Greenway graduated summa cum laude with a Personal Care Aide I certificate as well as certifications in CPR, First Aid, OSHA 10 and dementia training. “When I graduated from high school, I remember seeing the honor grads wearing their gold tassels on their mortarboards. I finally got to wear one.” She added that going to college really motivated her children and they have already begun to plan their career paths.
Hawkins says his manufacturing certificate is framed and hangs prominently on the wall at home, alongside his Phi Theta Kappa honor society invitation -- something he never dreamed would be possible, until he entered I-BEST.
“Money always prohibited me from continuing my education. If not for I-BEST, I would still be working a dead-end job, living paycheck to paycheck and no hope for the future,” said Greenway, who received a Pell grant, SEOG, lottery tuition assistance and a scholarship from the Gambrill Foundation. She is enrolled in TCTC’s Expanded Duty Dental Assisting program debt free this fall.
With a Pell grant, lottery tuition assistance, SC Wins grant and an Arthrex scholarship, Hawkins said, “I’ve paid nothing out of pocket since I’ve been at Tri-County.
They also received COVID-19 relief grants to lessen the economic hardships placed on students and their families during the pandemic.
“I am so thankful for I-BEST. It set me on a path to go to college debt free and stress free,” Greenway said.
“Every time I see a member of the I-BEST team, I say thank you,” said Hawkins. They always tell me ‘you did it, Jason.’ But, honestly, I couldn’t have done it without them.”
About Tri-County Technical College
Tri-County Technical College, a public two-year community and technical college serving Anderson, Oconee and Pickens Counties in South Carolina, enrolls more than 9,000 students annually and offers more than 70 major fields of study, including computer technology, industrial electronics, mechatronics, nursing, and university transfer programs. Tri-County boasts the highest student success rate among two-year colleges in the state and ranks in the top one percent nationally for successful student transfers to four-year colleges and universities. To learn more, visit tctc.edu.