Breaking through Barriers: Denee’s Story
Denee ’19 is a leader both at work and in her community. She’s in the home stretch of her online associate degree and is a member of the College’s honor society. You would never imagine that she’s also a high school dropout who earned her GED as a teen, entered the workforce right away, and didn’t believe college was attainable. She’s broken through barriers to find her potential and today, she’s a fully realized woman who asks to take on new challenges at work, steps up when her community needs support, and is fully committed to connecting young adults to opportunities that can help them realize their own unique potential no matter their background or place in the world.
In her teens, Denee made the decision to drop out of high school so she could start living independently. She got her own apartment, secured a job, and was paying her own bills. She earned her GED when she was 18 but beyond that, she didn’t anticipate any further education.
I had some animosity as a teenager. I just didn’t feel like it was worth trying academically because going to college seemed too far-fetched. Nobody in my family had gone to college, so it was never realistic for me.
Denee’s first jobs were within food service and customer service. Early on, a strong work ethic opened up doors. Naturally, she was curious about processes that didn’t run smoothly at work and she had a talent for figuring out how to make them better. This made Denee stand out to her supervisors. Consistently, she had great performance appraisals and what started as an entry-level job, soon evolved into a shift manager role. Denee was proud of the foundation she was building and the progress she was making professionally.
After several years working in food service, her career hit a plateau. Denee’s job no longer offered the forward mobility that had, at first, energized her so much. Frustration began to set in. Denee was just plain tired of her job: tired of resolving the same customer complaints, tired by the routine, and tired by the repetition.
One day, one of her regular customers gave her some feedback that made Denee think differently about her career outlook.
One of our regular customers told me: “I don’t understand why you work here.” I thought it was a weird comment at first. After all, I was just earning a living. He described an opening for an entry-level secretary position at his company. He said that my strong customer service skills and work ethic would make me a great fit.
His confidence in her helped Denee imagine a different future for herself. However, because she lacked office experience, she was afraid that it would be another opportunity for failure. She waited a few weeks, but ultimately, she picked up the phone and gave him a call. That phone call led to an interview and, eventually, a job offer.
When thinking about changing jobs, I was scared. But then it occurred to me. What do I have to lose? Thankfully, someone took a chance on me and was willing to be patient and help me succeed. It allowed me to enter a whole new career path.
Denee found that many of the skills she built in her previous jobs were transferable. She was great at project management, customer service, communicating with a wide variety of people, and meeting deadlines. What was once an intimidating position, began to feel natural. As Denee broke down more barriers, she sought out a more competitive administrative position as a Blood Donor Relations Specialist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire.
At this point in her career, Denee was thirsty to learn and grow. But, she knew there was something missing that held her back from advancing any further: she didn’t have a college degree. She decided to return to the Vermont Adult Learning Center, where she attained her GED, to start preparing for college by taking some math tutoring classes. She soon learned about our admissions policy, which would allow her to become a student and start taking courses right away. Even though she knew this was a good decision, there was still some apprehension.
I couldn’t help but feel a little overwhelmed. All of my friends had just graduated college and I was about to start. I wondered, “Can I do this? Is it too late?”
Even though it was outside of her comfort zone, Denee pushed forward and told herself to take one step at a time. One of her first classes was Introduction to Ethics, a course that’s required for her major in business.
Honestly, I wasn’t even sure what I was going to learn about in an ethics class. Once I got started, I had all this real life and work experience, so I was able to relate what I was learning to my job. It’s been that way with every single class since. Even though I haven’t yet earned my degree, my classes are already helping me grow in my position at work because I can apply what I’m learning daily.
Denee is excited about her future and proud of her recent achievements. One part of Denee’s job that she is passionate about is workforce development. Dartmouth-Hitchcock offers programs to local high school students which provide exposure to different jobs within the Hospital, including Denee’s role in the blood donation center.
I appreciate and admire the Hospital’s workforce development goals with high school students. Back then, I felt sort of like a lost cause. Today, I welcome any opportunity to share my story and let kids know that they’re worth more than where they come from. Life’s not easy, but if you work hard, you can open new doors.
Denee is just a few courses away from earning her associate degree and she’s eager to pursue her bachelor’s degree, too. She shares the following advice for others who are struggling to kick-start their career and education goals:
I made so many excuses not to go back to school. I was reluctant and scared, but in the end, education has helped accelerate my career. There is no way I could have advanced, no matter how hard I worked in my previous positions, without going back to school. You have nothing to lose if you try. You only have something to gain.