This Valentine’s Day, we celebrate our love for community colleges!
Our founder Dr. Pam Cox-Otto says her lifelong love of two-year schools was sparked by her mother’s life-changing experience at College of the Redwoods:
“They showed my mom that she had what it took. They nurtured her abilities, and they helped push back against her fears. That’s why I love two-year schools. Had they not been there, had they not offered the support and opportunity to my family when it was needed, we would not be where we are.”
After her mother earned her degree, it changed the whole family. As Cox-Otto says, “My niece owned a dance studio. My nephew was a senior engineer with the Department of Defense. And I started a company called Interact.”
Read more of Pam’s story in our 2020 Valentine’s Day blog, “Why Do We Love Community Colleges?”
Keep reading to discover the Interact team’s top 10 reasons why we love working with community colleges!
1. “My Community College Teachers Never Gave Up on Me”: Our CEO, Diane Walleser
“As a first-generation college student, I did not see myself as college material,” recalls our CEO, Diane Walleser.
When Diane needed a quick way to upskill and get a better job, she chose community college. She came for the classes and the credentials … but ended up staying for the community.
“To my surprise, my community college experience was much more than I expected,” says Diane. She wasn’t just a number — she says her faculty really got to know her. “My teachers pushed me. Prodded me. They even made me mad at times, but they never gave up on me.”
Years later, she still remembers her instructors’ names and everything they did for her. As she says, “They saw more in me than I saw in myself.”
That was the beginning of Diane reaching her full potential, and she’s been paying it forward ever since:
“My 18+ years of working at or with community colleges has been my way of saying thanks to the people who firmly and lovingly placed me on my path so many years ago.”
2. “Community Colleges Offer Hope and Optimism”: Mary DeLuca, Vice President of Account Services
In the wake of the pandemic, times may be tough, but that’s when the tough community colleges get going.
“In a time too often defined by negativity and pessimism, community colleges offer much-needed hope and optimism,” says our vice president of account services, Mary DeLuca. “Community colleges are catalysts for positive change, unlike any other segment of higher education.”
That’s why Mary is inspired to know that her work with community colleges is helping students discover options to improve their lives, their families, and their communities.
As Mary says, “How could you not love being part of something that’s just so right and bright?”
3. “Improving Livelihoods”: Margaret Scott, Junior Copywriter
“Community college marketing is so unique because you’re genuinely improving someone’s livelihood through your efforts!” says our Philadelphia-based writer Margaret Scott. She takes a lot of pride in working with community colleges, especially when it comes to showcasing inspiring student journeys:
“Whenever I write a student’s story, I feel a sense of fulfillment knowing I’m helping make a difference by sharing their community college experience.”
4. “I Was a First-Generation College Student”: Grace Kendall, Director of Communications
Grace Kendall knows exactly what it’s like to be a first-generation college student without the “college knowledge” to navigate higher education.
“I knew nothing about college other than I was going, and I made so many missteps along my educational journey,” recalls Grace, the first in her family to earn a degree.
That’s why Grace’s job working with community colleges now is so fulfilling. Being a part of effective outreach and retention efforts at two-year schools across the country makes her feel like she’s supporting other first-generation students just like her.
“With effective community college marketing and communications,” says Grace, “I can help others find their way to attending and completing.”
5. “Being Their Best Selves”: Brittany Jansen, Project Coordinator and Copyeditor
As Stephen King famously says, “To write is human, to edit is divine.” That’s why we love our divine editor and proofreader, Brittany Jansen. And Brittany, in turn, loves working with our community college partners.
“As a copyeditor, I love helping make our work the best it can be so our colleges can give off their best first impression to potential students,” effuses Brittany. From eradicating typos to finessing grammar, our word wonder ensures correctness. For Brittany, paying attention to all the details is her labor of love:
“Our work helps colleges show off their best selves so they can recruit students and help them become their best selves.”
6. “Working with Community Colleges Fills Me Up”: Michele Byrd, Director of Communications
Michele’s love of community colleges is personal. She says that two-year schools are there to support those who have challenges. And as the mom of a son with learning challenges, she’s glad community colleges will be there to help:
“I love how community colleges offer all the support and resources for people who need additional help or just want an affordable, good-quality education.”
Michele’s son is 14, and she wants him to start his higher ed journey at a community college. In fact, he won’t have to wait too long to begin! His high school offers dual enrollment with Florida State College at Jacksonville, so he’ll be earning college credit and getting ahead of the curve in no time.
That’s why Michele says, “Working with our community college clients fills me up every day!”
7. “Making Big Life Plans Possible”: Leina Gilster, Director of Client Experience
This Valentine’s Day, Leina Gilster celebrates how community colleges can help everyone succeed:
“From lifting up first-generation families to aiding seasoned professionals with career changes, community colleges make big life plans possible!” gushes Leina.
“I am proud to be part of a company that solely focuses on showing communities how they can take advantage of what their college offers.”
8. “I Love the Flexibility”: Alice Kim, Coordinator of Client Development Communications
“I would have enjoyed going to community college because I love the flexibility they offer,” says Alice. “That’s something I wish I had while I was pursuing my degree.”
Alice remembers that there used to be a stigma about two-year schools. But she’s happy to see that in her younger brother’s generation, that stigma is being stomped out.
“To see that harmful narrative change so much with Gen Z and younger generations is great,” says Alice. After all, “Why would you go to a four-year university if you can get what you want at a technical or community college?”
9. “I Feel Purpose”: Rachel Kouba, Graphic Designer
As the famous graphic designer Lorinda Mamo once said, “Every great design begins with an even better story.”
Interact’s Rachel Kouba couldn’t agree more. She says the story of community colleges gives her the creative fuel she needs to make great designs every day.
“Community colleges offer opportunities for anyone to make a positive change in their life,” says Rachel. She is constantly inspired by community college students’ immense dedication to earning their degrees. In fact, you could say that their dedication makes Rachel work even harder to hone her designs:
“I feel purpose in creating marketing and design pieces that I know will positively impact students’ experience, whether it’s encouraging enrollment or making program information easy to find.”
10. “Community College Gave Me a Stepping Stone”: Roadrunner Forever Wendy Ferestad, Traffic Manager
With a background in photography and design, our traffic manager, Wendy Ferestad, has an eye for harmony and a soft spot for community colleges. After all, that’s where her journey through higher ed began:
“Right out of high school, I started at College of DuPage in Illinois, and it gave me a stepping stone to the four-year college I attended,” says Wendy.
What Wendy loves most about her alma mater is their mascot, the chaparral. What in the world is a chaparral? And why is it DuPage’s mascot?
When DuPage opened in 1967, classes were held at sites scattered throughout the district. Since folks initially had to drive from building to building for classes, the chaparral — commonly known as the roadrunner — was adopted as the school mascot!
The chaparral is a fast-running ground cuckoo, and like that speedy bird, Wendy started going places and giving back to community colleges. She worked at Madison Area Technical College, which made her appreciate community colleges even more. Now at Interact, she gets to support the two-year schools she loves the most.
“I just love being a part of other people’s path to higher ed,” says Wendy. “I feel like I am part of their journey.”