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Student discovers her time to shine

Like many college students, Darleen Ferguson has exciting plans for her future. But unlike many of her classmates, Darleen has already overcome the challenges of navigating a decades long career path. She has also experienced the rewards that come from raising a family.

“I am 73 years old, and I proudly claim all 73 of those years,” Darleen boasts. “When I was young, I made sacrifices for my children. Now they’re doing good. Now it’s time for me. For the years I have left, I’m planning on enjoying them.”

Darleen took a decisive step into her future when she enrolled in “Computer Applications and Concepts” at Southside Virginia Community College during the Fall 2021 semester. The course provides basic instruction in fundamental computer topics, internet skills, and commonly used software programs.

“You can do so much nowadays with a computer,” Darleen says. She speaks from the perspective of a person who knows how much the world has been transformed. When Darleen first joined the workforce, she lived in the Washington, DC area and was employed by a company that had a large, room-filling IBM machine. “Since then, everything has changed,” she laughs. “People even have computers in their homes.”

Darleen’s own life has been through dramatic changes as well. She had to put an earlier quest for education aside in order to focus on raising her two young daughters. When her father retired from the DC police force and moved to southside Virginia, she followed him. She worked as a teacher’s aide with Brunswick County Schools and then as a nurse aide for Community Memorial Hospital in South Hill. Eventually, she enrolled in SVCC’s RN program, but her plans were derailed when she developed sarcoidosis, a serious lung disease that required intense care and a lengthy recovery.

“When the sarcoidosis hit me, I became very depressed because I went from doing a lot to not being able to do anything,” Darleen remembers. After one attempt at returning to work resulted in a relapse and rehospitalization, she realized that returning to full-time work would not be possible.

In time, Darleen recovered sufficiently to embrace volunteer work. Today, she serves VCU Health CMH through the CMH Auxiliary, an organization that exists to serve the hospital’s patients, visitors and staff. Her primary duties include working at the information desk and in the surgical waiting room. Darleen also serves as chairperson of the Scholarship Fund and as the second vice president of the CMH Auxiliary, roles that require writing reports and organizing fundraising efforts. Her developing computer skills are already helping her do these tasks more efficiently.

Recalling the motivation that inspired her to return to academic pursuits, she says, “I credit my children who push me. My daughters give me hand-me-down electronic devices and encourage me, telling me I can do it.”

She attends classes once a week. “I like to be able to sit in a classroom and raise my hand. The teacher is very nice and helpful, and my fellow students help me.”

Her instructor, Kelley LaPrade, associate professor of Information Technology, notes, “At SVCC, we have students of all ages from high school to senior citizens. Ms. Ferguson has been a joy to have in class, and her persistence encourages me and others to be lifelong learners. The other students enjoy her in class. She is learning to use software tools, she has learned Canvas, how to use an e-book and how to submit online assignments.”

Darleen’s computer course is just the first step of a longer journey. When she’s finished, she plans to pursue a Career Studies Certificate in bookkeeping, a pathway that will require 17 credits.

“Every year, the Auxiliary sponsors the Tree of Love Ceremony that funds the Elizabeth T. Mosley Scholarship Fund to help people who work at the hospital to advance their education.” Darleen’s tasks include keeping track of donor’s names and addresses and other recordkeeping. She looks forward to Bookkeeping Training to help keep a watchful eye on every penny.

Darleen encourages other senior citizens to consider educational pursuits. “You’re never too old,” she says. “It’s something to keep your mind going. Learning gives you something to do to overcome aches and pains. Senior citizens have an advantage because they don’t have competing obligations, like child care and work schedules.”

SVCC offers a wide slate of flexible options for students of all ages. For more information, please visit SVCC’s website (southside.edu) or call (434) 949-1021.

Darleen reminds you, “It’s your time to do what you want to do. Go ahead and try. You never know what you can do until you try.”