by Rebecca Rakoczy
One student is a Georgia Tech baseball hall of famer. Another is a budget analyst for Coca-Cola. And still another juggles a night-shift job with full-time day classes.
All three are older students who are coming to Georgia Perimeter College from different paths but with a single goal: to get the best education they can and move up in their careers.
They all just happened to land in Laura King’s Principles of Accounting I and II classes this semester at GPC’s Decatur Campus. “I can’t believe what fantastic students I have,” King says.
Derrick “K.G.” White is a star student in King’s Accounting I class. White has an affinity for accounting, his instructor says, and often helps other students who are struggling. “We call him ‘Mr. 115 Percent,’” she says with a laugh. The number reflects his straight-A test scores. “It’s a bit intimidating to have a Tech graduate in my class,” King adds.
White’s route to GPC was circuitous. He earned his degree in industrial management at Georgia Tech, while also playing center field for the college’s baseball team from 1985-88 and earning a spot in Tech’s baseball hall of fame.
“But I didn’t have any real idea of what I wanted to do with my life,” he remembers. After graduation, he played minor league baseball for two years with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. But he never made it to the majors. “There were a lot of other more talented guys on the team, and we were all vying for the same position,” he recalls.
So White left baseball “with no regrets,” he says, and returned home to Coffee County to work as a plant manager for a company that manufactured marble sinks. When the company outsourced its operations to Mexico, White called his old coach, Jim Morris, and asked him for any job leads.
“That’s how I got into the janitorial business 20 years ago,” he says. White became a project manager for a 10,000-employee janitorial services firm, managing cleaning jobs from Hartsfield Jackson International Airport to the towering Sun Trust Plaza building in downtown Atlanta.
But at age 47, just as his older child was beginning college, White found himself reassessing his life. “I thought, if I could do anything, what would I want to do? And I realized I had enjoyed accounting while at Tech, and I thought I’d like to be a CPA,” he says. “I knew I needed to get refreshed before I go for a master’s degree, so I came to GPC. It was convenient to my house, and the cost is reasonable.”
So what advice does “Mr. 115 Percent” have for other students? “I would tell anybody that they must put the time and effort and work into their studies,” he says. “You have to work to be successful.”
Sherry Savage “used to play secretary” as a young child, pounding away on her mother’s electric typewriter. “I didn’t have a goal of college,” she says. Her mother had never finished high school, and her parents divorced when she was 6 years old. There were no expectations of going further in her education, she says.
Now at 51, Savage is pursuing an associate of business degree at Georgia Perimeter and is a proud Honors student, something she never dreamed possible for herself. “I love it,” she says. “Ms. King is amazing. She made me believe I could do accounting.” She previously took King’s Accounting I course and now is taking Accounting II.
“My first job out of high school was with the Board of Education in Newark, (N.J.), working on payroll,” she recalls.
Over the years in different secretarial posts, she learned she had a knack for managing multiple administrative projects. After moving to Atlanta, she worked as a senior administrative assistant at the Arthur Andersen Company, managing three senior partners. When that firm dissolved after the Enron scandal in 2001, Savage landed on her feet at KPMG before being recruited by the Coca-Cola Company.
While at Coke, she parlayed her managerial skills into a full-time job as budget analyst with the marketing department. It was a good job, but Savage realized she lacked an essential tool for her career at Coke. Despite years of experience, “I could only go so far,” she says. “I knew I had to get my degree.”
With the support of her husband, her daughter—and her employer—she decided to go to college, and she chose GPC.
It wasn’t easy going to college as an older adult, even with her decades of professional experience. She had to take a remedial math course because, while she was adept at adding and subtracting figures as part of her job, she had never tackled algebraic formulas.
Savage’s progress toward her degree is slow but steady, as she balances classes with her demanding job and home life. After this semester, she’ll have five more classes to take before she’s eligible for graduation. She plans to transfer to Georgia State University in spring 2014 to pursue her bachelor’s degree in finance/accounting.
“I’m thinking maybe I can do this,” she says with a grin.
Michael Washington has a dream of opening up an accounting firm with his wife and daughter. Now at age 50, that dream is becoming a reality, thanks to his commitment to college and a fierce study and work ethic.
After his daughter enrolled at Georgia State to study accounting, Washington knew he needed to go back to college. It had been almost 24 years since he had dabbled in a few classes at a Rhode Island technical school before heading South with his wife and daughter.
Applying to college was a gradual decision for Washington. He had tackled multiple jobs while raising a family—from driving supervisor of a courier service to delivering papers for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But when his wife went back to school—she is now pursuing a master’s in accounting at Southern Polytechnic University—he saw a different future.
“Both of us were inspired by our daughter,” he says. Their daughter graduated last year and is now working as a manager in a tax office and studying for her CPA.
Washington enrolled at GPC in the spring of 2012. “When I was in high school, I was pretty good in math,” Washington says. Like his wife and daughter, he decided to pursue a degree in business.
These days, he juggles an eight-hour night shift at Bard Company in Covington, sterilizing medical devices. The company is supporting him with tuition assistance, he says. After work, he takes King’s Accounting II class on Decatur Campus plus other courses on GPC’s Newton Campus. He also has become active in campus life: he is chief justice for the Newton Student Government Association and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa.
Most days, you can find him studying in the GPC Decatur library until 8 p.m. An A student, Washington puts his heart and soul into accounting, serving as an example to other students, King says.
“I love the class—I put a lot of effort in it, and it’s challenging,” Washington says.