Math plus Janet Althen did not equal college.
At least that’s what the former New Yorker thought after graduating from high school almost 50 years ago.
“Math had been a struggle for me since fourth grade,” she said. “It was a big issue, a phobia and an embarrassment.”
Instead of going to college, Althen entered the workforce. But in 1991, shortly after moving to Maryland, Althen divorced. Now a single mom with a high school education, she said she needed to try something new.
While working four part-time jobs, Althen reached out to Howard Community College (HCC) to explore her options. She met with an HCC advisor, who listened as Althen shared her fears around math.
“I expressed my concern because I would have to start from scratch,” she said. “As we wrapped up our conversation, the advisor said, ‘We will address your perceived math problem.’ That one word, ‘perceived,’ threw my mind into a whole other place. I thought, ‘This is just something I perceived, it’s not necessarily true.’”
At HCC, Althen finally saw math in a new light.
“For statistics, I had a tutor who taught me with shapes and colors,” she said. “It was mind blowing how I could absorb that information and get it because it was presented to me in a more creative way. That’s when I knew I didn’t have an issue with math. I had an issue with how math was taught.”
Althen received an ‘A’ in that class and soon after, an ‘A’ in her economics class, taught by HCC Professor John Bouman.
“(Bouman) took the time to send me a personal, typed letter when I got the highest grade in his class that semester,” she said. “I was blown away. What teacher takes the time to sit down, type a personal letter and then mail it?”
That letter was just one of many examples showing just how much HCC faculty and staff care about their students, Althen said.
The instructors and HCC’s Career Links, which provides single parents and displaced homemakers with resources to achieve their educational goals, gave Althen the confidence and support she needed to succeed. She received her associate degree in 1995 and went on to receive her bachelor’s degree in communications at what is now Notre Dame of Maryland University and her master’s degree in acupuncture from what is now the Maryland University of Integrative Health. In 2001, she opened her Columbia-based acupuncture practice, where she specializes in helping women with chronic health and reproductive conditions. Then in 2006, HCC named her a “Distinguished Alumni.”
“Everything is a building block, and HCC was a very solid foundation for me to jump off of,” Althen said. “I would never have made it the next two years without that foundation. It’s such an incredibly beautiful and resourceful place for this community. How lucky we are to have it here.”
Wherever you want to go, you can get there from here.