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PART 3 — THE STUDENTS
When the Crossroads Institute opened in Galax in June 2005, among its objectives was giving Twin County residents easier access to rapidly expanding Wytheville Community College.
In those five years, WCC at Crossroads enrollment has grown to approximately 700 full- and part-time students. This past year, 661 were in programs WCC offers exclusively at Crossroads.
Last spring, WCC at Crossroads offered 115 courses and had 318 full-time equivalent students, about 16 percent of the college’s total that semester. Of this year’s 560 graduates, 126 were from Crossroads programs.
The programs WCC offers exclusively at Crossroads include five construction technologies courses, corrections, practical nursing and truck driving. The college offers several other programs in which students can complete the majority of their work at Crossroads, thus reducing travel to WCC’s main campus. Students can earn associate degrees, diplomas or certificates. Students earning associate degrees often qualify to pursue bachelor’s degrees at four-year colleges and universities.
WCC students at Crossroads tend to be older than WCC students in general, frequently in their 30s and beyond. Many are returning to school after losing jobs several years into their careers.
Here are profiles of three students who completed WCC programs at Crossroads and are now employed in the Twin County region:
Crossroads gave her life purpose
Alderman says Crossroads makes her feel there’s nothing she can’t do
It took Sandra Alderman 14 years to complete high school.
She dropped out, had a daughter and finally returned to graduate from Charlestown (Indiana) High School.
After working several years in retail sales and accounting, Alderman, now 57, moved to the Twin County region in 1989, going to work in the finishing room for Webb Furniture in 1990.
In 2005, Alderman confirmed she really wanted to be a nurse as she cared for her dying mother. The next year, on Feb. 14, 2006, Webb Furniture laid Alderman off.
She missed the WCC spring semester registration deadline by one day, but began the two-year practical nursing program that summer. She took the entire program at Crossroads Institute, graduating May 10, 2008.
“I graduated on my 55th birthday,” Alderman said proudly. “The confidence Crossroads gave me and that degree made me feel like there’s nothing I can’t do.”
The next month Alderman, now a licensed practical nurse, started at Waddell Nursing Home in Galax, where she does skilled nursing.
“Nursing was something I’d thought of for years. But I had a family and a job,” she said. She and her husband have four children and 11 grandchildren.
“But when the layoff gave me that opportunity, I was determined to pursue my passion,” said Alderman, who now lives in Galax.
“I doubt I would have done this if it weren’t for Crossroads. Otherwise, I would have had to travel to Wytheville. Crossroads made education more accessible, more convenient.
“I’ve come from hell to a real life. I now have a job with a purpose. My life has meaning.
“This from a girl they had to kick through high school and who was then out of school 30 years. I came through those [Crossroads] doors knowing I was going to fail. But the teachers here helped us build our self worth, our self esteem.
“There’s not a person out there on that street that’s any prouder of where they graduated from than I am,” Alderman said.
And about Alderman’s certainty she would fail at Crossroads — she earned her degree magna cum laude, with high honors.
From drop-out to faculty member
Burnette: 'Crossroads has given me a whole new life.'
When Roy Burnette, then 54, heard National Textiles would close its Galax factory in May 2006, his heart sank.
“I was planning on retiring from National Textiles,” said Burnette, who was born and raised in the Galax area. “Now I wouldn’t go back to my previous job at all.”
National Textiles suggested its laid-off employees consider returning to school. Burnette had dropped out of Carroll County High School nearly 40 years earlier, but earned his GED in 1982.
With 35 years’ experience in carpentry and machine and building maintenance, Burnette thought returning to school would buy him time. So, he enrolled in WCC’s construction technology program at Crossroads on Aug. 24, 2006.
He dreaded returning to school because he had hated it as a teenager, “but when I came to Crossroads to see about classes, I thought it would be nice if I could work here,” Burnette recalls. “Now I do.”
In the next two years, Burnette earned WCC diplomas — magna cum laude, with high honors — in carpentry and plumbing.
About halfway through his two-year program, on Oct. 1, 2007, he went on the Crossroads payroll doing general maintenance. He now works for Crossroads full time.
Burnette later obtained a state general contractor’s license, which, with his WCC diplomas and ample experience, qualified him to teach carpentry part-time for WCC at Crossroads. He’s done that for a year and a half.
“The teaching part, that’s what I really enjoy,” said Burnette, who is married with three children and two step-children, all grown.
About returning to school after 45 years, Burnette recalls, “I didn’t think I could really do it, but after I got started, I was a little more comfortable because I was surrounded by people like me who had lost their jobs and had to start back to school.”
The Crossroads-WCC partnership, allowing construction technology students to take all their classes at the Galax campus, also made a difference. “If I’d had to drive to Wytheville, I don’t know if I would have made it,” Burnette said.
“I’m very pleased with what I do now. It’s much more satisfying than what I did at National Textiles. Crossroads has given me a whole new life.”
Professional happiness — with no debt
Crossroads offers opportunity on the Twin County’s doorstep
A straight-A Carroll County High School student, Amber Frost Combs had ample college opportunities offering new and exciting campus-life experiences — and hefty student loans to repay after graduation.
But Combs preferred to remain close to her Pipers Gap home, so she went directly from high school to WCC and then Old Dominion University.
Her strong academic record earned her scholarships, grants and other financial aid — and associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in elementary education, both magna cum laude, with high honors.
Combs, 23, personally paid only one semester’s tuition at ODU, gained valuable professional experience while in school and landed precisely the job she wanted.
Combs gives considerable credit to the WCC branch in Galax, because students there have full access to the college’s financial aid.
“Crossroads saved me lots of time and money,” said Combs, who took her ODU degree through WCC. She graduated from ODU in December 2008.
While working on her WCC degree, Combs was an AmeriCorps tutor at Carroll County’s Oakland Elementary School for two years. After her May 2007 WCC graduation, and while completing her ODU bachelor’s degree, Combs worked as an Oakland teacher’s aide.
In fall 2009, Combs’ freshly minted degree and four years’ experience helped her obtain a full-time teaching job at Fancy Gap Elementary, where she just completed her first year.
“When I was ready, the Carroll County School System had a teaching position available that I knew from experience I wanted. Now I have a job I love,” Combs said.
CROSSROADS' 5TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
On Monday, Aug. 16 at 10:30 a.m., Crossroads Institute will host an information session explaining how the facility got started, how it has helped entrepreneurs and those continuing education and the vision for the next few years. The public is welcome.