My journey began when I was in high school. I struggled due to experiencing terrible headaches. I did not have a clear focus for my future. There were no plans to go to college, as I was not encouraged to go that route. My parents thought I would get married and have a family; so why did I need college? My boyfriend, at the time, his parents encouraged me to go to ECC (Erie Community College) and get a 2-year degree. I did enroll in some random program but then switched to the Graphic Arts and Printing program, a brand-new program that just started in the fall.
I managed to maintain a 2.0 average, which was the minimum to stay on the bowling team! I did not have a lot of self-confidence in my abilities at this time of my life. I often think back to the instructors who encouraged me to do my best and not settle for anything less. They did not give up on me! I draw on this memory as my foundation to help every student to be successful when they cross my path.
I continued my education in Texas and finished the degree at Buffalo State College (BSC) with a Bachelor of Science in Design. I worked for a variety of small print companies and eventually branched out to freelance work. After many years, both of my parent’s health deteriorated, they passed within seven weeks of each other. Because I took a lot of time to help them, my freelance work declined. It was time to decide: do I rebuild my freelance business or go back to college? I always wanted to be an English teacher. I chose to go back to school. However, when I investigated the English degree, I would need about four more years! I explained that I had an AAS in Graphic Arts and a BS in Design, is there something I can do with this? Yes! I can get certification in Vocational Technical Education!
I completed the coursework needed and applied for the certificate to teach. My first teaching job was at ECC as an adjunct, teaching in the department where it all started. I attained a full-time instructor position at Erie 1 BOCES (E1B). While working at all three buildings throughout my time, Kenton, Harkness, and Potter Centers, I developed my teaching style. I believe every student deserves the opportunity to learn! Students participated in contests including the Allentown Art Festival poster design, the Taste of Buffalo, and the Association for Career and Technical Education. The contests provided a real-world experience, not only designing for a school project but a community. Many students received awards in the contests.
I continued at BSC, earning a Master of Science degree in Vocational-Technical Education. Completing coursework in Educational Leadership met the requirements for the School District Administration certificate. Participation in Lumens Circles and other professional development is important to me to stay updated on current trends. Adobe EdEX is a great resource where I take many courses to help me advance software skills and pass this knowledge and experience on to students. I plan to continue my education by attending UMass online in January.
Currently, I am Department Chair and Assistant Professor at SUNY Erie Community College in the Graphic Communications Technology program with recently updated curriculum. My message is that even if you don’t think you are smart enough or have the skills to go to college, don’t give up on yourself! You will be amazed at what you can accomplish — coming from the girl who didn’t believe she would go to college!
By: Roberta Schlehr