Mayland Community College student Rebecca Willis was inspired by others to finish an educational path that would open careers for her to help others. She began her education years earlier at MCC, but left the college to make a move and raise a family. She returned to Yancey County, and after a series of events decided she was ready to enroll at MCC again. Willis’s determination and positive attitude does not go unnoticed on campus as she earns credits toward an Associate’s Degree in MCC’s Human Services Technology Program. She is the MCC award nominee for the 2017 Dallas Herring Achievement Award. This award was established by the North Carolina Community College System in 2010 to honor the late Dr. Dallas Herring, one of the state’s earliest advocates of community colleges. The award is bestowed annually upon a current or former student who best embodies Dr. Herring’s philosophy of “taking people where they are and carrying them as far as they can go.”
Willis is diagnosed with Stargardt Disease, and according to Blindness.org this disease is the most common form of inherited juvenile macular degeneration. The progressive vision loss can occur in younger people, but can also worsen in older individuals. Four years ago, Willis’s vision deteriorated more, and threw her life into a tailspin.
She began working with the New Horizon’s Blind Support Group, and regained her self-esteem and confidence that her vision loss caused. She also began taking classes on how to read braille. This encouraging learning opportunity led the way to her returning to college.
Rebecca is a remarkable student, said MCC Human Services instructor Misti Silver. “She is self-motivated, eager to learn, and has a gentle kindness about her that radiates to other students. Although Rebecca has faced significant challenges in her life, she has not let any of them define her. Rebecca's "abilities" are much greater than her disability.”
Willis said the human services field is a great fit for her because she loves working with people.
“The people who helped me were my inspiration,” said Willis. “They helped me understand that I have this disability, but it doesn’t have to define me or my life. I can do this. I might have to find out ways to do it a little differently, but it is possible. I want to share that with others.”
Willis said she was concerned about different aspects in returning to school like being able to see to read to transportation to and from campus. MCC staff were able to assist Willis with audio books and computer programs that support her success in the classroom. She also said instructors worked with her to help her succeed—not just because she had trouble seeing, but if she just didn’t get a concept in class.
“There is always a way to do it, you just have to figure out a way to accomplish what you want.
Willis also is a work study helping the college with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance.
While taking classes, Willis learned that she could complete the credits to earn the degree she had started years earlier in Criminal Justice.
“I checked on my credits and decided to double major,” said Willis. It is awesome to me to that I can finish the degree I started and another degree. It is huge to me.”
Willis intends to continue her education in the human services field at a four-year university. She said didn’t realize there were so many places where social workers are needed and desires to be an inspiration to at least one person or help them in any way.
“I have enjoyed learning so much, and getting to know the people at Mayland—there is just some really awesome people here. I am very happy I went back to school. What you get at Mayland is invaluable because even if you are going to transfer, it is an extremely good way to get that support and foundation to be able to move on and be successful. I have grown as a person and as a student while I have been at Mayland.”