Laura Holderman has worked in the food services industry for more than 20 years, including the past 15 years as a cafeteria manager for Howard County Public School System.
Ready to advance her career, she wanted to become a field representative for the school system so she could supervise other cafeteria managers and gain more responsibilities. But the single mother of three, who also works part time at a grocery store and her church’s nursery, needed a college degree to get promoted.
Her oldest son had an idea.
“Ian was a student at Howard Community College (HCC) at the time,” she recalled. “He said, ‘Mom, come to HCC and get your associate degree.’ He walked me into the admissions office to get some counseling and sat there with me as I talked to somebody in advising.”
After consulting with the advisor and browsing HCC’s catalogue of classes, Holderman decided to pursue her Hotel, Restaurant and Event Management Associate Degree. The degree is part of HCC’s Center for Hospitality and Culinary Studies program.
Holderman began taking a mix of online and on campus classes in 2019 – all while still working three jobs.
HCC faculty and staff members understood her situation and were “friendly and flexible” when it came to her schedule and workload, she said. HCC’s Step Up program, which pairs students with a faculty or staff coach support for managing the challenges of college and life, was especially helpful.
“I meet with Penny DeYoung, my Step UP advisor, once a week,” Holderman said. “The program has helped me get through some obstacles, and Penny is a phenomenal sounding board.”
Scholarships have also made Holderman’s education possible. A member of HCC’s Frederick K. Schoenbrodt Scholars honors program, she received the Frederick K. Schoenbrodt Honors Program Endowment , the BIC Educational Foundation Scholarship and the Hoanh Ton and Kiem Ly Memorial Scholarship.
Studying the hospitality industry has opened Holderman’s eyes to a new world of potential careers, she said. And her HCC education, combined with the support of her children, has given her confidence she will find success.
“The whole time, I’m like can I really do this?” Holderman said. “And my children were like, ‘Yeah Mom, you got this. You can handle this.’ When I’ve got my children as my cheerleaders, it helps.”
She also has some advice for other non-traditional, degree-seeking students contemplating a return to the classroom.
“Just keep chipping away at it,” she said. “It may seem like it takes forever, but really it’s going to be worth it in the long run.”
Wherever you want to go, you can get there from here.