SUNY JCC Single-Parent Student Contributes to Conference Presentation

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Jamestown Community College

What drives a working, single parent to add the pursuit of a college education to their already full plate?

“My son,” says Victoria Neilson of Johnsonburg, PA. “I wanted to better myself for him and give him everything he wanted in life.”

Victoria liked the idea of a small college, and soon felt at home at Jamestown Community College. “I was kind of shy when I first started, because I was older,” Victoria shares. “I realized there were more people that were like me.”

In her second semester, Victoria brought her teenage son along for a meeting with her advisor. Upon realizing Victoria was a single parent, her advisor connected her with Single Parents Reaching Education to Employment. Known on campus as SPREE, Victoria credits this support system with helping her succeed. She’s worked closely with Wende Lescynski, SPREE achievement coach.

Victoria learned that Wende and Beth Starks, Director of Career Advantage and North County Center, and SPREE supervisor, would present on December 1 at the 2021 Fall Parent Leadership Conference in Albany, NY. They hoped to include one of their single-parent students in the experience. The topic, “Overcoming Educational Barriers for Student Parents,” was one Victoria had already addressed in a video she created for Faculty Advisement Day at JCC. Though she finds it difficult to talk about herself in front of others, that video was well received. Victoria was intrigued with the idea of presenting at the conference, and decided to participate.

The presentation illustrated barriers to education for single parents such as balancing work, school and home life with housing, finances, managing eligibility for public assistance and child care. According to Institute for Women’s Policy Research Student Parent Success Initiative reports at iwpr.org, within the span of six years, 9.1% of student parents earn an associate’s degree, 3.5% attain a bachelor’s degree, and 8% will attain a certification. Victoria’s words humanized these statistics.

“Victoria opened up and shared her story with other mothers who have always wanted to attend higher education, but perhaps didn’t know where to start,” Wende explains. “Victoria’s parent leadership was inspiring to others.”

Victoria says the conference opened her eyes to the wealth of resources available for people, and how to connect with them. She made friends and built connections with other single parents. While she has often felt judged for her position in life, she realized she was an inspiration in this arena. Victoria hopes to return to the conference next year.

By then, Victoria will be a graduate of JCC continuing her degree in education at Pitt-Bradford.

“I’m ready to become a teacher,” Victoria says. “I’m excited about it!” Her words of advice for fellow student parents are to not be afraid to reach out for support.

“There’s always help out there,” Victoria shares. “Speak up! Don’t be shy, use your voice. There are people like you out there.”