Commencements in 2012 have been opportunities to celebrate milestones. In May, the University honored its 100,000th alumnus. In December, UNC Charlotte’s 49er Finish Program shepherded its 500th participant into the ranks of those who have completed their undergraduate degree.
Victoria Namishia could have been that 500th 49er finisher. Obtaining her bachelor’s degree has been 28 years in the making; the University’s innovative, award-winning 49er Finish Program, administered by the Office of Adult Students and Evening Services (OASES), helps individuals to realize the dream of a college degree.
The program began in fall 2005 as a University initiative to proactively reach out to senior-level students who stopped short of completing their bachelor’s degree; it uses a concierge approach of service and support, and it is earning national acclaim. In 2009, it was named Outstanding Institutional Advising Program by the National Academic Advising Association, and this fall, the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education presented the program its Malcolm Knowles Award for Outstanding Adult Education Program.
– Victoria Namishia
Class of 2012
Earlier this year, OASES officials discussed the program’s progress with chief academic officers for the UNC system and gave a presentation to members of the Joint Education Oversight Committee for the State Legislature. Janet Daniel, OASES director, and her colleagues have fielded requests from other universities about implementing similar programs at their institutions, too.
For Namishia, her educational journey began at New Jersey’s William Paterson State College in September 1984; however, she withdrew the next year. Four years later, she entered Passaic County Community College, where she graduated with an associate’s degree in May 1991.
That fall, Namishia and her husband moved to North Carolina for work reasons. Now a project manager with Bank of America, Namishia said she attempted to finish her degree at UNC Charlotte in the intervening years, but between work and family commitments, it was a daunting task.
"I was contacted by the program a few times, and I even responded in 2010. But I didn’t follow through," said Namishia. "But last fall, I received the 49er Finish Program Stake Your Claim flier. My life had settled down, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I expected to be told that I’d have to start all over. Originally, I was pursuing an education degree. As it turned out, if I switched to an English major with an American Studies minor, then I could complete my degree with only eight classes."
Determined to graduate in 2012, Namishia took four classes in the spring, three during the summer and is taking her final class this fall. After 13 years out of the classroom, she received three As and a B in the spring and made the Dean’s List.
No matter the challenges, each 49er Finish Program participant who returns has exhibited little acts of courage to complete the quest. For Namishia, commencement was a 28-year odyssey.
"You shouldn’t let the dream go because life happens," said Namishia. "Langston Hughes, in his poem 'Harlem,' asks 'What happens to a dream deferred?' I can answer that question – it doesn’t go away. It hides and it waits for the opportunity to be realized. I always said I would graduate from college someday. For me, someday is Saturday, Dec. 15.”