By The Sun Newspapers
Washington Township resident Nadja Connor has decided to return to college at the age of 38.
“Since I was 20 years out of school, I had no idea where to even start,” she said.
Connor worked in banking during the day and at night at a hotel’s front desk and in its accounting department to earn money for her family.
After three years of that, she began a full-time job at a credit union. Connor quickly rose through the ranks as branch manager, went to the loan, then collections departments, and finally into insurance.
Connor then started to notice she was being passed over for management positions, something that happened more than once. So she decided to find out exactly what she needed to do to take the next step in her career.
“You know, the first time you kind of shrug it off,” Connor said. “But when it happened to me a couple of times again I had to find out why. One of my managers I’ve gotten close to over the years was an easy person to talk to. After she told me that I had all the qualifications but not enough schooling, the feeling hit worse …
“I didn’t think that I would be able to go back to school since I’ve been out so long.”
Connor realized she had to earn a degree before she would be considered for any management positions. During a family event, Connor ran into a coach from JEVS Human Services — a Philadelphia nonprofit that enhances employability through educational and other programs — realized it was her opportunity to make a career move that could change her life.
“JEVS and Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offer personal coaches to help make sure students don’t fall through the cracks with virtual learning while earning a degree through SNHU,” Connors explained. “Just thinking about going back was scary and having someone to talk to was great. When a paper I submitted wasn’t going through, he was there.
“That little extra hand holding makes all the difference and not being thrown out there with no idea what to expect was crucial,” she added. “It’s a great process and my coach is there 24/7 for me.”
For people like Connor, it is not easy getting back into schooling. She was able to receive scholarships and 24-hour help from her coach at JEVS that enabled her to start pursuing a degree.
Connor said the most difficult thing when it comes to going back to school is finding a balance between work and school, along with helping her children with school. But being part of the program has not only helped Connor but her oldest daughter as well.
Before Connor started the JEVS process, her daughter, Nayjay, didn’t want to attend college. After seeing her mom start the program, she had a change of heart.
“The idea of us going to college together seemed to get her excited,” Nadja Connor recalled. “She actually started a summer class at Rowan University. It was a program for students like her to get a feel of what college is like to see if she would want to continue.
“I am proving to my daughter and myself that this isn’t as hard as you think and that I can finish something I started,” she added. “Jumping back in 20 years later has definitely been a challenge, but I want to show my daughter that this option is always there. Completing life goals are crucial.”
Connor is scheduled to graduate with an associate of arts degree in general studies, with a concentration in business by 2022. She hopes to become an insurance writer and has already received a work promotion since starting the JEVS program. She was told to expect another upon her completion of the program.
“I will say that I think that being in school now has already helped me,” Connor noted. “I just got a different role with the company, and I think that in the interview process, when I let them know that I am currently going back to school, they were really excited and asked a bunch of questions about it.
“They did not say for sure, but I do believe that this is what helped push me over the other candidates on top of my experience.”
Editor’s note: Seed funding for JEVS’ partnership with Southern New Hampshire University was graciously provided by TD Bank through their TD Ready Commitment. The TD Ready Commitment is an annual North American initiative, which supports organizations developing innovative solutions for a changing world. Recipients must be organizations that have impactful and measurable solutions focused on helping to open doors for a more inclusive and sustainable tomorrow. JEVS continues to partner with TD Bank to offer impactful and measurable solutions to individuals in the Greater Philadelphia region.