When it comes to balancing a career, parenthood and classwork, Jennifer Collins is a professional. She has learned firsthand the challenges of having multiple responsibilities. Originally from Johnsonville, South Carolina, Jennifer lives in Florence with her 14-year-old son. She works full-time as a legal assistant and studies part-time in Florence-Darlington Technical College’s (FDTC) paralegal degree program.
Jennifer first enrolled at FDTC in 2010 to study accounting, but after completing that program, she felt uncertain about what she wanted to do. Accounting just didn’t seem to be the right fit.
After taking a position as a legal assistant at Jebaily Law Firm in Florence, Jennifer became inspired to consider a new career path. She felt much more at home in the legal field, and decided that she wanted to become a paralegal.
Jennifer knew that in order to advance in her career, she would need more education. In August of 2016, she returned to FDTC to pursue her Associate degree in Paralegal Studies.
“I definitely want to go on and become a certified paralegal,” Jennifer said. “Once I finish this degree I can actually get the certification I need, and then narrow down the certification to an area of law that I especially like.”
Jennifer said that her work place has been supportive of her decision to study and allows her to take time off for classes. Even so, she said that balancing work and school has been challenging, and that it isn’t easy juggling a full-time job, part-time student schedule, and full-time parenting.
Fortunately, FDTC allows students to enroll in part-time course loads as well as online and distance learning courses. A part-time academic schedule and supportive instructors offered Jennifer the flexibility she needed to work and study well.
Jennifer said that being able to work in a law office and attend school gives her an advantage in her studies.
“I come to school and I hear the terminology that I’ve already been hearing at work, so it’s been better to come through the program and have some idea of what goes on in a law firm, as opposed to just coming in here and taking classes and not being able to use it until graduation,” she said.
Like many other students, Jennifer faced another challenge: how to pay for school. Even with a full-time job, Jennifer wasn’t always sure where the extra money to pay for tuition and books would come from.
Then one day, Jennifer received a pleasant surprise: a letter informing her that she had been awarded the Turner Padget Paralegal Scholarship, sponsored by Turner Padget Law Firm through the FDTC Educational Foundation. One of her instructors, Tracy Evans, had submitted Jennifer’s name for consideration.
“I was really happy, and then I found out Tracy had submitted my name. It meant a lot knowing that she thought that well of me,” Jennifer said. “It made me feel like, ‘okay, I really am doing a good job.’”
For Jennifer, the Turner Padget scholarship relieved some of the stress and financial burden of buying textbooks and supplies. But it also encouraged her to believe in herself and continue her studies.
“Sometimes you go through the hard classes and you feel like, ‘okay maybe I can’t do this, what was I thinking?’” she said. “But the scholarship also helped me feel like I’m doing the right thing. It kind of justifies those long, long study nights and time away from my son.”
The scholarship assistance gave Jennifer extra motivation to perform well, and she hopes to pass that motivation on to her teenage son.
“I tell him all the time, ‘look, I made a good grade on this, maybe you should do this too!’ and it kind of challenges him to want to do better in school,” Jennifer said. “If I can do it at age 40, then there’s no reason you can’t do it, too.”
Jennifer said that once she completes her degree program, she plans to obtain her paralegal certification and hopefully focus on personal injury or worker’s compensation law. While not completely certain what the future holds, she is confident that her investment in her education will open up new opportunities.
“Being able to come to Tech helped drastically. Being able to come back here for this second degree was great," she said. "It helps to be able to come back at any age. It’s going to advance my career.”
Jennifer said she is grateful to her instructors and her employer for helping her navigate a complicated work and study schedule. She also expressed gratitude to Turner Padget Law Firm for sponsoring her scholarship.
“Thank you," she said. "It really means a lot to get extra help as a student who is entering this field, and to know that a local law firm is behind the local students, helping us out.”
Jennifer added that she hopes other law firms and businesses will consider investing in scholarships at Florence-Darlington Technical College:
“This is where we live, and if you help invest in your local students’ futures, then your citizens are more educated," she said. "And that opens the door to jobs. If you help support local students, it’s better for [the Pee Dee], and you’re helping to grow the local community.”
For more information about how you can help support students like Jennifer, visit www.fdtc.edu/donate, or contact Celeste Nunn at 843-661-8111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the paralegal program at FDTC, contact Tracy Evans at 843-661-8047 or email@example.com.