Tamara Dennie knew she faced an uphill battle when she first enrolled in the Pembroke Pines Business Office Administration program at Florida Career College (FCC).
Not only had the 45-year-old mother of four quit high school nearly three decades earlier to raise her children, but major health issues during her 30s forced her from the workforce, eventually requiring that Tamara receive dialysis treatments three times each week.
Then, there was the issue with computers.
“I was kind of ashamed at first because I felt like everybody [at FCC] was younger than me,” she said. “They all knew what they were doing, and they all knew the computer. Me … I didn’t even know how to turn the computer on. It was really hard.”
Tamara didn’t run from the challenge, though. She had overcome so much just to be in the position to go back to school, and she wasn’t about to let her opportunity go to waste.
One-on-one tutoring sessions with her FCC instructor helped her get past the first hurdle: becoming more computer savvy. From there, her confidence seemingly grew exponentially, ultimately earning her a nickname from her classmates.
“They’d call me nerd,” Tamara laughed. “It actually made me feel good. I felt like that was valuing me. They didn’t know what it took me to get there. But, when they didn’t understand something, they’d ask me and I was able to explain it to them. And I thought, ‘Wow! Me?’ It was unbelievable.”
Today, Tamara has a high school diploma and is a graduate from FCC’s Business Office Administration Training Program. Upon graduation, she was hired as an office administrative assistant for an in-home senior care provider in Hollywood, FL – the same company with which she completed her externship.
“Since I didn’t have a high school diploma, getting that’s been one of my dreams … my goals,” she said. “But, I didn’t just want a high school diploma. I wanted to do something that could benefit me, [like] learn a trade. FCC offered that, and it opened a lot of doors and opportunities for me I never realized I had.”
‘There’s More To My Story’
Tamara first learned about FCC when her son, Devon, enrolled in its Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) program back in 2018. His experience at the school, Tamara said, led to a transformation in her 24-year-old son that made her proud.
“I saw his growth and I saw what they did with him. It was a miracle, if you know my son,” she said. “Now he’s doing really, really good.”
Eventually, though, her pride in Devon evolved into wondering, “Why not me?”
“I wanted to see if I could do something with my life instead of being a single mom raising kids,” Tamara said. “What have I accomplished? Just being a mother? No. There’s more to my story.”
So, without fully knowing if she could overcome issues like dialysis appointments and car trouble in order to make it to her classes — and understanding she would need to learn to work on a computer, a prospect that intimidated her – Tamara made a leap of faith.
During the summer of 2020, she followed in her son’s footsteps by enrolling in Florida Career College.
“My teacher (Joel Nagelbush) said, ‘You know what? First thing you need to do is get a computer,’ so I did,” Tamara said. “I brought it in, and he started showing me how to use it – all of it, step by step. I would come in sometimes 30 minutes before class started, and he’d be there and take the time out. And, eventually I realized I could do this.”
This confidence spilled over into her studies, where Tamara said she always strived to be the first student to complete assignments – her way of staying organized and ahead of the curve as she made her way through the Pembroke Pines Business Office Administration program.
Opening Doors for Herself and Others
She said the support she received from faculty and instructors, such as Joel Nagelbush, also made a difference during moments when she struggled with schedules, lessons … even transportation.
“I remember Tamara’s first module, and she was frustrated about learning how to be an adult learner, use technology, and manage life simultaneously. She seemed a bit overwhelmed, and with everything that she was dealing with, no one would blame her,” Joel said. “I could see something special in her; she has strength and perseverance that is palpable. Being here for her is something that I am grateful for; watching her life change is why I do what I do! There were times when she felt like she didn’t have the strength to continue and needed a reminder of who she is and why she was at Florida Career College.”
“When she needed a softer motivational approach and other times where a more ‘direct’ motivational process was necessary, both of which Tamara responded to perfectly. She exemplifies why we do what we do at Florida Career College, and I’ve very proud of her,” Joel added.
“Being a mom and doing everything on your own for so long and not having no help, and then finally when I came to FCC … I’ve never seen so much support in a staff,” Tamara said. “All the staff was rooting me on to make it, and I think that helps a lot, too.”
Within her current position, Tamara said she assists the scheduler and human resources manager, a job that involves filing, answering phones, and plenty of computer work. It’s great preparation, she said, for when she someday opens a business of her own.
“My dream is to open my own childcare center,” she said. “Before I got sick and got on dialysis, that was my field. I was in childcare, and I was really, really good at it. I really enjoyed it, and when I got sick, I couldn’t do it anymore. But, with the job I’m working at now, I feel like I can get all the experience in need to eventually take that step.”
In the meantime, Tamara said she’s sort of become an unofficial spokesperson for FCC and the ways in which career training can positively change the trajectory of a person’s life. Currently, she has a niece and a daughter-in-law enrolled in FCC’s Dental Assistant program, and she working on convincing her son and his girlfriend to attend.
She said the feeling of accomplishment she felt during graduation, and the moments of success she’s had since, made the effort and investment all worth it.
“Oh god, [graduation] was amazing,” she said. “It felt so good. It was like a dream come true. I thought, ‘Oh my god, I did it! I can’t believe it!’ I felt like I earned my graduation. I worked hard for that!”
“As a parent myself, I am so proud of how Tamara led her family to success. After supporting her son’s transformation into a college graduate, Tamara decided to go for it as well.” Said Gregg Falcon, Executive Director at FCC Pembroke Pines. “Tamara has established a legacy of education for the future generations of her family. Congratulations Tamara and Devon. You make us FCC PROUD!”