Barbara and Tanisha Wiggins are about to reach the finish line together. This semester the mother and daughter duo will complete their Human Services degrees and walk the stage together at Onondaga Community College's December graduation ceremony. "I'll probably start crying," said Barbara Wiggins. "I think I'll feel like crying too," said Tanisha Wiggins. "I've been waiting for this for so many years. It's going to be a remarkable experience."
Barbara Wiggins is a 58-year-old mother and grandmother. Before coming to OCC two years ago she was working as a doula, helping expectant mothers in the home. When a medical condition limited what she was able to do, she decided to try college for the first time in her life. She was overwhelmed by the caring community she found on campus, starting with Student Navigator Betsy Vavonese. "She gave me a lot of tips that were very helpful, like the importance of reaching out to your professor and having a relationship with them. Every professor I've had is patient and caring. They've been excellent. Get to know your professor and let them know what's going on in your life. They'll know you as a person and understand if you need extra help succeeding."
As a non-traditional student Barbara Wiggins thought it might take her a while to feel comfortable on campus. But any feelings of insecurity vanished on day one. "Professor Tina May (Human Services) had us sit in groups and get to know each other right away. I thought it would take time to get to know everyone but it happened right away."
Political Science Professor Nina Tamrowski also went above and beyond to help her. "She pushed me to succeed. Before a test, she had me come in her office for 15 minutes so we could review things and it would be fresh in my head. She also encouraged me to work at a polling place on election day. It was a great experience for me."
This semester she's doing an internship at OCC's Community Care Hub which helps students facing a variety of life challenges. "Kimber (Gadaleta who is the Office Coordinator) is teaching me so much. I'm learning a lot about mental health and helping people."
Tanisha Wiggins is a 36-year-old mother of two. She first enrolled at OCC in 2007 and eventually realized she wasn't ready for college. When she decided she wanted to return to school, the Children's Learning Center made it possible. "If I didn't have this day care, I wouldn't be able to go to school and work and provide for my kids." She has a 2-and-a-half year old daughter, Marlay, and a 9-month old son, Jonathan.
Tanisha Wiggins took classes in the spring and the summer while also working as an Outreach Specialist with Arise which provides support for people with disabilities. She'll complete her academic journey at the end of this semester. "My kids are my motivation. I want them to know I was successful while helping people and serving others."
In December they will become the third family member with an OCC degree. Tanisha's sister, Alisha, earned her Human Services degree in 2020. She's working as a Med Specialist at Helio Health. Their mother encourages anyone considering going to school at any age to take advantage of the opportunity. "I hope what I'm doing inspires older people to say 'if she can do it, I can do it too.'"