Stephen Kohler graduated from Governor Mifflin High School and enrolled in RACC’s Respiratory Care program. “The Respiratory Care Program itself attracted me to RACC, but it was also the financial benefit. I was able to graduate and not be in debt.”
Stephen graduated from the Respiratory Care Program and continued his education at Alvernia University where he received a bachelor’s degree in Computer System’s Management and an Executive Medical Master’s Degree in Business Administration. Stephen credits his experience and education at RACC for preparing him to care for his patients from the emergency room to the neonatal intensive care unit. “RACC is beneficial because students get to attend clinical experiences at a variety of hospitals and settings to gain a perspective from a multitude of institutions and varied care providers in the field, which makes for a synergistic real world learning experience.”
Stephen has worked at Tower Health Reading Hospital as a respiratory therapist since the day he graduated from RACC and currently holds a supervisory position as a critical care clinical specialist. He feels RACC’s rigorous program creates graduates who are ready to tackle their career. “You do not walk out of the doors on graduation day looking to the sky saying, ‘now what,’ you know, and are prepared for exactly what you were trained to do. You can find employment for exactly what your field of study was, and you have a chance to help people in their time of need.”
As Stephen looks back at his time at RACC, he has wonderful memories and valuable learning experiences. “RACC is a wonderful institution filled with an abundance of caring individuals who are dedicated and full of life experiences. The student body is comprised of a multitude of backgrounds and diverse age differences, which creates perspectives that are paramount in having the absolute best learning environment possible. Learning from those who have lived through changes and experiences can be very rewarding and eye opening. One should never shy away from where they have come; it will only make the future stronger if you never forget the past.”
Originally from Greenville, North Carolina, Pamela Tuck, has been writing poems and stories since she was a child. Pamela credits her writing to her upbringing surrounded by southern storytellers. In fact, her family inspires many of her stories. Pamela, mother of 11 children, was drawn to RACC for its conveniently, accessible remote courses. “The creative writing program is offered primarily online, which worked best with my schedule and lifestyle and the staff are very welcoming and supportive.”
Pamela graduated RACC with an Associate of Arts in Creative Writing. The creative writing program helped Pamela hone her craft as a writer in the areas of fiction and nonfiction. “I currently write leveled reading books for school students, which requires research and outlining. My experience with RACC further developed those skills for me and allowed me to apply those skills in my current position.”
Pamela is an award-winning author for the many children’s books she has written. Some of those awards include, the 2007 Lee and & Low Books New Voices Award for her book As Fast As Words Could Fly and the 2019 Mom’s Choice Award Gold for her book Mother of Many. Reflecting on her time at RACC, Pamela acknowledges the vigorous writing exercises and techniques she learned in the creative writing program that she applies to the various types of writing she produces. “The creative writing program also gave me a foundation of fundamentals that I am able to conceptualize and build upon as I grow as a writer.”
In fact, Pamela credits her professor, Joey Flamm-Costello, for helping her bring out the best in her writing. “Joey believed in me and her genuine interest in my success empowered me to follow my dreams. Joey offered such deep analysis of the literature we read and wrote.”
Moving forward, Pamela will continue to work her dream job as a fulltime writer and utilize the skills she learned at RACC to advance her career. “The challenging and engaging courses prepare students with the skills they need to succeed in their profession.”
Dr. Beth Brady was born and raised in Berks County. After high school she enrolled in RACC’s nursing program. However, it did not take her long to discover her true passion. “Although I initially went to school to be an RN, after a few years of nursing, I realized I desired to learn more about marine biology.”
Dr. Brady graduated from RACC with an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree and worked as a nurse while returning to school to obtain her bachelor’s degree at Kutztown University. “RACC provided me with such a solid foundation that I was able to gain discipline in the field of nursing and continue my education.”
While obtaining her undergraduate degree in marine biology, Dr. Brady returned to RACC to take advanced science classes that transferred seamlessly to Kutztown. The small classes at RACC were very beneficial to Dr. Brady. “This was instrumental to me as I was intimidated in my chemistry and physics classes. At RACC, I was able to connect with my instructors and have more individualized instruction.”
After graduating from Kutztown, Dr. Brady volunteered with multiple marine mammal and wildlife organizations. “I found my love of manatees through an extended internship at Florida Fish and Wildlife.” Dr. Brady completed her master’s degree at Nova Southeastern University and her doctorate from Florida Atlantic University.
Dr. Brady has researched the vocalizations of manatees in their aquatic environments. In addition to manatees, Dr. Brady has also studied the vocalizations of dolphins, whales and even attempted alligators.
Looking back at her time at RACC, Dr. Brady credits the exceptional instruction she received from the faculty that started her on her educational journey. In fact, Dr. Brady has in turn become an adjunct instructor herself at Broward College and Colorado Technical University. “The faculty at RACC was extremely helpful in my success.”
Barbara Lopez is originally from Paterson, New Jersey and moved to Berks County for her freshman year of high school. She was very interested in finance, so when she graduated from Reading High School in 2003, she was eager to learn more about personal finance in college. “I love helping others improve their financial health.”
The accessibility of RACC is what attracted Barbara most to the college. She needed a program that was suitable with her very busy schedule. “The fact that RACC’s campus was conveniently located and offered several classes online, I was able to juggle being a single mom, working full-time, and taking classes.”
Barbara graduated from RACC with an associate degree in accounting and then transferred to DeSales University. Recently, Barbara completed a dual degree earning a bachelor’s in finance and accounting. Plus, she finished the Certified Financial Planner Program and will be taking the exam later this year. Barbara credits RACC for giving her the foundational knowledge needed to continue her education. “Having the experience of taking so many classes online at RACC gave me the confidence to be able to complete my bachelor’s degree 100% online at DeSales.”
Barbara is very grateful for the guidance she received from her RACC faculty, especially Wendy Bonn and Dr. Maria Perez. Wendy’s support gave Barbara the extra help she needed both in and out of class. “She is one of the best instructors at RACC because of her dedication to make sure her students succeed.” Barbara personally knows Dr. Perez and spends time with her outside of RACC. She admires Dr. Perez’s work ethic and determination; and it resonated with Barbara while taking classes. “She is always encouraging me to work toward my goals and she was instrumental in my transfer to DeSales.”
Barbara currently works as the executive assistant to Berks County Commissioner Michael Rivera. She thanks her exceptional RACC experience for helping her in her current position. “RACC has helped me in understanding how important it is to build valuable relationships with others in the community and this has been essential in implementing initiatives that will benefit the residents of Berks County.”
By Jen Gittings-Dalton, KEYS Student Facilitator - There was a period in Taneah Mays’ life when life was turned upside down, and she and her daughters became homeless. She knew of no one who could help her.
“I was the last person who thought that this would ever happen to me,” she said recently in a recent meeting with KEYS program staff. “I don’t know how I made it during that time. But I was lucky. A homeless organization connected me to the County Assistance Office, who helped me apply to RACC and I entered the KEYS program. I could never have done it alone.”
She shakes her head at the memory. “My KEYS Student Facilitator, Rebecca Paull, and my amazing instructors in the Respiratory Therapy program, got me through. Now, I work at Tower Health as a Respiratory Therapist.”
On her one day off from the hospital this recently, she took time to talk with Rebecca and myself. Her smile is tired but compassionate. Her daughter, who just returned from six weeks with her uncle so that Taneah could work long hours in the current epidemic, is clearly very happy to have her mother at home with her. She pops in and out of our “Zoom” session.
Taneah is many women in one: a mother to her young daughters; a KEYS alumna; a dedicated scholar who achieved an honors academic record at RACC while overcoming her homelessness; an advocate for mental health care; and now, she works with very sick patients who need to be transferred to the ICU at Tower Health, in the very front lines of the COVID-19 epidemic.
Rebecca asked Taneah what advice she would give to someone like her earlier self. Taneah doesn’t hesitate. “The best advice I can give is – it is okay to ask for help when you need it! Vulnerability is a good thing sometimes.”
She should know. “I was a poor student in high school, and wasn’t ready for college,” she remembers. “I worked for a while in different jobs and realized that I really wanted a career in health care. When I became homeless, my caseworker put me in touch with a counselor, and I learned I was depressed and had anxiety, which were holding me back… but, as hard as it was, I don’t regret that time in my life. I learned so much from it. The coping skills I learned then, help me deal with challenges today. Everyone will need counseling at some point in their lives, and should get it.”
Safe childcare was provided by the county, and that made all the difference to Taneah. “I started to work part-time in retail, then in a medical lab, and I loved it! I knew I wanted to work in healthcare. I chose RACC and got connected to KEYS right away. I started out wanting physical therapy assistant training, but there was no way I could travel to the clinical site in Allentown. Rebecca helped me decide that Respiratory Therapy was the way to go.”
Rebecca Paull, a 15-year KEYS staff member, became her main support at RACC. “I always knew I could stop by and see Rebecca when I needed her,” Taneah says with a smile. It is immediately obvious that their bond is a strong one. “She helped me deal with any issue – when my car broke down, exploring majors, finding money for gas, and the KEYS pantry was helpful – but it was knowing she was there, that mattered.”
Rebecca laughs. “Yes, I knew you (Taneah) were out there doing what you needed to do. I didn’t worry about a missing attendance form here or there! I remember you loved doing your budgets.” Both of them smile. “I could see your dedication to your work, and now to your profession.”
Taneah also becomes enthusiastic talking about her instructors at RACC.
“I had incredible teachers, who worked with me. While I was still struggling, some teachers early on in my first semester, worked with me to attend class one day a week, and I completed all the required work. I could not have done it without them.” Taneah falls silent as she considers that time. She quickly navigated her new environment. “Of course, to succeed in the Respiratory Therapy program, dedication, participation, and attendance are important… and the instructors in my major also cared very much about all of their students.”
“I also had some amazing friends from my church who would come watch my kids early in the morning and get them off to daycare, so I could go to clinicals. I could not have done this alone. I had great people in my corner.”
She was one of those people “In the corner” for others, too. Even while she was a student, a worker, and a busy single mother, she still found time to serve her fellow students as a GED tutor and a RACC Student Ambassador.
Taneah did her clinicals at several regional hospitals, and was offered a position in her field two months before she graduated. She started working for Tower Health in 2017 and was hired full-time there in 2020. “RACC prepared me well,” she says.
We asked Taneah what her life is like now, as a member of the front-line team helping COVID-19 patients at Tower Health-Reading Hospital during this epidemic.
“Well, I love my job, but it is very hard right now. It’s scary! There are more very sick people than ever. We are physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted. In the beginning we weren’t fully prepared for what was happening, but we are now. The best part is that we are part of a team. I love my coworkers. We rely upon each other to make it through each shift….” Her voice is emphatic, but sad.
“…But the hardest part is seeing that many coronavirus patients, because of their isolation, end up dying alone. So many have touched my heart. They are very sick – air hungry, low on oxygen. Sometimes I am one of the last people they get to see. We help them do FaceTime with their relatives, but many still end up alone.” Taneah pauses. “I was feeling impatient with one patient who wasn’t doing what I needed him to do. I took a step back and had to re-think, because I was feeling overwhelmed. This patient was fighting for his life. I vowed I would do better.”
She continues, “One result of this crisis is that, although very often Respiratory Therapy used to be sort of unrecognized by the public as a profession, now we are definitely feeling love from the community! For all healthcare workers. It helps a lot.”
We ask, what would she say to new workers in her field right now?
“You will need support to get through. Ask for help – find the right people to turn to. Jump right in.” Taneah shrugs her shoulders. “We’ll get through it. I have no other advice – these are not usual times.”
“What can we, the public, do to help?” we ask.
“Well, wash your hands, stay at home if you can. I feel so sorry for the small businesses that have taken a hit. I am very grateful to have a job. But I am concerned about opening too soon; it may make it worse.”
We ask our final question: “Taneah, remembering yourself at the beginning, what was your motivation to do so well despite all the difficulties? So many others fall away.”
She pauses, looks off-screen where her daughter is playing. “Well, I wanted this for my children. They kept me going.
“And for all the great people who were in my corner.”
“And I never give up,” Taneah Mays says.
(Reading Area Community College’s KEYS Program is a Pennsylvania state grant-funded program which helps low-income students utilize a wide array of academic, personal, and advising support as they educate themselves for a better career and fulfilling life.)