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Perspective | Turning a daydream into reality: Love for teaching sends 50-year-old learner to college

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In the quiet moments between work and family responsibilities, Tommy Williams often found himself revisiting a recurring daydream that had taken root in his mind about six years ago — a vision where his love for teaching became a reality. 

Williams comes from a family with a history of teaching. His wife had encouraged his dreams, noticing how he shined while helping his own kids with their homework.

So he decided to take the first step of becoming an educator himself, enrolling in the teacher prep program at Piedmont Community College (PCC) in 2022 with the ultimate goal of becoming a physics teacher.

Williams joined the Navy after graduating from high school and has since held a variety of positions in retail, telecommunications, and auto body work. He had attempted college in the past but said that the process was more challenging than it is today, and that financial aid was not as easily obtainable as it is now. 

As an adult coming back to school, Williams, now 50, explained that time management is often one of his biggest challenges. Fortunately, he has been able to be a stay-at-home-dad since returning to school. On a typical day, he takes the kids to school and then comes to PCC’s campus for class or to work on his online classes in the learning commons. 

Williams said PCC’s instructors have been very accommodating, including PCC english instructor Dr. Chandler Fry.

“Tommy is not just an excellent student, but something much more rare, a truly great person,” Fry said. “I have found him an ideal student: someone who makes everyone, students and instructors both, sharper, more acutely aware of the issues that make and unmake our lives in the 21st century.”

Referring to himself as a “computer geek,” Williams has not had any issues with online learning or navigating the college’s learning management system but said that this is a struggle for many adult students.

Williams has also been involved in PCC’s Student Government Association (SGA). When attending PCC’s summer bridge program, designed to help new students transition into college, SGA members took notice of how helpful he was with other students. He was approached by the SGA advisor to become the treasurer at the time and currently holds the role of SGA president. 

“The one thing that I appreciate about Tommy as an adult learner is that though he’s not your typical traditionally aged student, he still wants to have the traditional college experience,” said Tiffany Skouby, PCC student engagement director and SGA advisor. 

“I first met Tommy through the summer bridge program. Though Tommy was the oldest student in the program, he still participated, gained insight, and by the next year he was one of the student leaders helping to guide students through the program,” Skouby said. “Summer bridge really sparked his interest in getting involved with clubs/orgs. He’s the president of the SGA and one of the founding members of the gaming club. He’s in our teacher prep program and I can see that interacting with our younger students and getting them involved in these activities are important to him, but more so he’s setting a standard for our adult learners and showing that they too can have a traditional college experience.”

Another influential person during Williams time at PCC has been PCC Advising and Quality Enhancement Plan Director Bernadette Ragland-Bailey. 

“I believe we all admire how Tommy supports the college and community through his SGA leadership,” Ragland-Bailey said. “As a student, Tommy exemplifies the skills needed to be a successful college student. From an advising perspective, Tommy communicates often, actively participates in the planning of his academic future, and encourages others do so as well. His perseverance and dedication to achieving his academic goals while skillfully balancing life’s obligations is remarkable.”

“I’ve always been the sort to believe that you lead by doing, and that’s really been enforced in my tenure with SGA,” Williams said. 

Williams said he appreciates that SGA ensures that all student voices are heard and that he has the opportunity to lead young minds. 

Williams’ advice to adults thinking about returning to college or starting for the first time is that it’s not all or nothing, and that you don’t have to have a full 12-hour load each semester. 

“Know your limits, but don’t be afraid to try,” Williams said. “Don’t doubt your ability.”

Serving Person and Caswell counties, PCC is a public two-year institution operating under the direction of a local Board of Trustees and a dedicated leadership team.  PCC transforms lives, strengthens community, and inspires individuals to excellence. PCC strives to be recognized nationally for achieving exceptional levels of success in student learning and completion, gainful employment, equity, and affordability.

Felicia Holt

Felicia Holt is the communications specialist for Piedmont Community College (PCC). She was previously the executive assistant to the president at PCC. Holt is also a news contributor for the website NewReleaseToday.