HCDE’s Adult Education division helps students turn dreams into goals

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September 27, 2021 by HCDE-Texas

Access to quality education can change futures, no matter where students are in their life journey. HCDE Adult Education Program Manager Denise Johnson shares her anticipation for how adult learners will grow and thrive in the workplace under the new Contact to Careers: My Plan model.

Denise Johnson poses for a photograph, September 8, 2021.

Tell me about your role with HCDE Adult Education.

DJ: “I have been here for about 14 years. Before that, I was an instructor at Houston Community College (HCC). Prior to [education], I was a project manager for IBM, so I came out of corporate America. I needed a job that would allow me to parent my son the way I wanted to because I am a single mother. I came into the program as a part-time instructor and [advanced] from a program assistant to my current role as a program manager. Right now, I manage our data entry for all the data that comes into Adult Ed, and the career component of the Contact to Careers: My Plan model. [This component] is what we call Integrated Education and Training (IET) courses, which are our workplace courses.”

How do you think the new model will benefit future Adult Ed students?

DJ: “Students are either placed in soft skills courses where they talk about how to set up an interview, how to dress for success—things like that—or they go into career certificate programs, like medical assistant training. We look at their qualifications [for placement] because our goal is to make sure that we provide them with an opportunity to advance into a workplace environment, even if they don’t have the credentials to work right now. That’s the ultimate goal.”

Will you oversee any new courses?

DJ: “We just started about 20 courses [this week], including business office technologies, entry-level management, front office specialists, and a safety course for construction provided by the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER).”

What positive impact have you seen Adult Ed create so far this year?

DJ: “We are going into more of a community college mindset, so there’s more rigor in the program, and it’s encouraging and supporting our students to push themselves to the next level. Our true goal in Adult Ed is to make lifelong learners. The skills we teach in the classroom transition to their personal lives and into their children’s lives, leaving a legacy of education. We’re trying to change the trajectory of people’s lives because, without education, it’s very difficult to make a livable wage without having multiple jobs. We’re trying to give them an opportunity to have a more balanced life where they can spend more time with their children and their families. When I came into the building, this was supposed to be a [temporary] part-time job. What keeps me in Adult Ed is [seeing] the changes that we are helping people make. They tell us how it’s impacting their children or how the conversations at the dinner table have now changed from [everyday] things to college. So, to me, not only is it my job, but it’s also a part of my purpose here on earth as a human to help someone get to a better place and strive to be at the next level. It’s helping me serve my purpose from a spiritual standpoint.”

What are you most looking forward to in the next year for Adult Ed?

DJ: “I think the thing that I’m most looking forward to is helping people understand that in this new normal, it’s okay to move forward and still have goals and dreams. I think that’s a part of what we do. We help people go from having dreams to having goals that give them a tool set to be successful. If we truly walk in our purpose as we plant little nuggets of wisdom around us, then you may not see the transformation immediately, but you will begin to eventually. The manifestation of where we are with Contact to Careers is the result of all that planning last year. I think that’s important because you have to be able to celebrate the small successes as well as the large ones. We’ve gone through session one and are beginning to see this goal on a larger scale, so the fact that we’re here—because it’s not been easy, it’s been hard work—is rewarding. We are seeing our foundation get stronger.”

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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