Several years after she began her journey at Howard Community College, Jamal Stennett has a message for fellow nontraditional college students: perseverance pays off.
Stennett, a mother of four and travel agent, enrolled at HCC in 2008 to become self-sufficient and earn a degree in hospitality management.
At the time, her three youngest children were ages 8, 6 and 4. Raising young children while working and taking classes wasn’t easy, Stennett said. Math classes were especially difficult.
“Math was not my favorite subject,” Stennett said. “I had to re-take a particular math class three times before finally passing it.”
Recognizing Stennett’s struggles, Jenny Penniman, co-chair of HCC’s math department, suggested she try MATH 132 Topics in Mathematical Literacy.
“Caroline Torcaso, one of several great math professors, just explained (math) differently,” Stennett said. “She taught from a different side of the brain. It was amazing how I was able to grasp and just practice the concepts. I lived in the tutoring lab and the math lab, staying there for hours and hours.”
Stennett also worked with Torcaso during her office hours, reviewing content and practice exams. At the end of the semester, Stennett said she “passed with flying colors.”
Over the years, Stennett also received support from Career Links, an HCC program designed to help single parents achieve their educational goals.
“I had several car issues,” said Stennett, who commuted to HCC from Montgomery County. “My car broke down at one point, and another time, I had a flat tire. But Career Links came to my rescue.”
The staff at Career Links connected Stennett with Vehicles for Change, a nonprofit organization that helped Stennett secure a more reliable car. They also encouraged her to keep pursuing her studies, even when times were tough.
“They don't allow you to give up,” she said. “They're always trying to edify you and talk you through, even when you’re about to throw in the towel.”
Along with academic support, scholarships and campus jobs made it possible for Stennett to take classes consistently at HCC. She worked as an intern for the admissions and advising department, as an information specialist assisting students remotely during the pandemic, as an assistant in the campus food pantry and most recently as an assistant for the Learning Assistance Center.
She also received the McCuan Family Foundation Endowment, the JoshuaOneNine Career Links Scholarship, the HCCEF Career Links Scholarship, the Baltimore Gas and Electric Scholarship, the Kenneth Strobel Scholarship, the Baltimore/Washington Corridor Chamber Scholarship, and the Virginia Worthington Schardt, Ph.D. Endowment.
“With all of its programs, scholarships and internships, HCC made it possible for me to earn my degree,” she said.
Stennett graduated in December. She plans to continue her education at the Universities at Shady Grove, where she will pursue a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. And she’s not the only family member who will be working toward a degree this fall. Her daughter, Jahlana, recently received a scholarship to Delaware State University.
“I am so incredibly proud of her, and I know my example has played a part in her success!” Stennett said.
Stennett encourages students to use all the resources HCC has to offer and stay the course when it comes to earning a degree.
“Out of all the obstacles I had, I still persevered,” she said. “Finish. It’s well worth the hard work. And in the end, you’ll be so proud of yourself.”