Student of the Month: Nicole C.
At 45 years old, life was going well for Nicole C. She had raised three daughters, gained decades of experience leading and managing teams, and just celebrated two years with her current company. Things were running smoothly, but Nicole still wasn’t quite where she wanted to be. A go-getter and self-proclaimed overachiever, Nicole wanted more from her career — so she took a chance and did something that wasn’t part of the plan. She went back to school.
Although she was the first person in her family to graduate from high school, education had never been a priority in Nicole’s adult life. After earning her diploma, she immediately transitioned into the working world. “My father was an immigrant,” she said, “and so I was always taught to work, work, work. When I got to work, I always went above and beyond myself, so opportunities were presented to me.”
Nicole has held a variety of leadership positions throughout her career, including manager, shift lead, and chef. When Nicole left her job as a chef and started a new role with her current employer, she was eager to move up into a management position and quickly began seeking promotion opportunities. However, it didn’t take long for her to realize that her prior management experience didn’t quite fit the company’s standards. “Meeting all of the managers at my store, I could see that their professionalism was on another level than what I was,” she reflected. “I was in the back of the house of a kitchen where you yell and scream and throw things just to get your way. I had to learn how to calm that down and be more professional.”
Then, Nicole found out about her employer’s education benefits and decided that going back to school could teach her the leadership skills she needed to move forward. Having been out of school for a long time, earning a degree sounded a little daunting to Nicole, so she decided to enroll in a business management and leadership certification program. Signing up was simple, and she was accepted to the program and ready to start classes in no time.
Nicole was a little nervous about going to school online, but she found that even though she rarely uses computers, taking online courses was easy. She encourages other adult students not to be intimidated by online programs, either. “Don’t be afraid of the computers and the big words,” she advised. “Take your time and just follow the steps. They have a communication board. If you have any questions, talk to the professor. It’s not hard.”
Online schooling wasn’t just more doable than Nicole thought; it also took up less of her time than she expected. Not having to spend her evenings traveling to school and sitting in a physical classroom allowed her more time for homework and enabled her to stay ahead of due dates and submit her assignments early. In fact, she often completed all her classwork well before the term was over. “If you’re going to a school,” she emphasized, “you’ve got that pressure: I gotta get there, or I can’t work overtime ‘cause I gotta be somewhere. Online, that pressure is just gone. And you could do it at your own pace.”
Once she started her certificate program, doors began opening for Nicole. First, she was chosen to temporarily fill in as a grocery department manager while a coworker was on leave. After that position ended, Nicole continued to show her commitment to management by filling in for other department managers. Then, she interviewed for a management position. In her interview, she was able to use what she had learned in class to show her competency. She talked about her classes, referenced some of the communication techniques she learned in school, and even used specific management terms she hadn’t known before taking the certificate program. Finally, after months of hard work, she completed her program — and was promoted to a supervisor position.
Nicole’s time in school taught her a variety of skills that she has already been able to apply in her new role. “No matter how much you think you know from previous experience, this class helps you make it more professional,” she said. “It’ll tell you the technical form of how to properly communicate and how to make a plan. I’m learning how to handle a team. The class helps you pinpoint your weaknesses and strengths as a leader.”
Nicole never anticipated going back to school and earning a certificate while in her 40s, but she’s glad she did it. “I’ve been working since I was 17 years old, and I’ve learned a lot more in these 12 weeks about managing and leadership and communications than I have in all these years of working,” she said. “I feel I’m a better person — not just a better leader or manager, but a better person. It’s something for me to be proud of.”