Faced with an empty nest, Greta Kelleher sets the groundwork to gain an entry in a field that taps into her compassionate nature
Greta Kelleher is one of a new type of traditional students attending technical colleges across the country. With her children nearly raised, she's among many students who return to school to launch a new career.
Greta started school at Lake Washington Technical College (LWTC) while working full time and raising a family. She set up a five-year window to complete coursework in the Social and Human Services program, and has managed to far exceed her goal in less than three years. Her associate's degree is within reach, with only five classes to go.
At one point, three members of the family were going to the same school, with Greta as well as two of her sons attending classes at the technical college.
Because the Seattle-area technical college caters to students with an average age in the 30s, Greta felt comfortable returning to class in her forties; she is quick to encourage others to do the same. "I started to think about what I would do when all of my three children left home. The answer was to do something I was passionate about," Greta says.
With a placement test taken, a school counselor and instructor directed Greta towards the Social and Human Services program. Greta's compassion for people and her experiences with family and friends coping with mental issues and alcoholism made Social and Human Services the perfect fit.
Indeed, technical college has already helped Greta explore her career path. The school helped her land her current job with Eastside Employment Services, which provides support and employment to people with disabilities.
Education Information & Advice
Tell us a little about yourself, your background and about your studies in the Social and Human Services program at Lake Washington Technical College.
I have been married for 25 years and have three great boys, ages 24, 21 and 15. I have always worked in food service and decided to set myself up with a new career for when my children are all out of the house.
I thought I might like to work in the school systems with the special education students, as I have two children with learning disabilities. I decided on Lake Washington Technical College because the program was just starting out. When I talked to the counselor in student services, I realized she was going to head this program and her positive energy was contagious; I knew that I wanted to learn from her. Her name is Heidi Shepherd and she has been very instrumental in my success.
How did you decide to study the social/human services area of the psychology field?
I love to study the mind and how it works. I love the study of human development and I love how subjective psychology is.
What challenges have you faced as a 'non-traditional' adult student?
If there were any, I did not notice. I love people of all ages and backgrounds. I loved the diversity at this school and I learned as much from the students as I did in some classes.
Tell us about your experiences with student organizations/clubs/professional organizations.
Since the program was new, I was a founding member of the LWTC Social and Human Services Club. I served one year as vice president and one year as president. I can not credit myself for all of its success, but I helped to get it off the ground and today it flourishes. They have a hand in lots of community efforts as well as focus on the college campus.
Would you advise incoming students to join similar activities? What should they expect from membership?
I encourage everyone to get involved in the club representing your program and see collectively, as a group, how effective you can become. It fosters good interpersonal skills and also helps breed positive self-confidence. Now that I am in the workforce as a direct service provider, I am also on the student advisory committee for the social and human services program.
In retrospect, what do you know now that you wish you knew before you began to pursue your education?
I wished I would have done it a long time ago. I would like to go on in my education and it is hard to manage a full time job and a family and household. I have to keep myself balance and well cared for so that no one suffers, including myself.
What were/are your three favorite classes and why?
I loved chemical dependency, the class was fascinating and the instructor was wonderful as well. I have a lot of human interest as alcoholism is in my family. I took very well to the subject and thought about pursuing this if other interests did not pan out. I loved the disability class, as I enjoyed the book and learning about the disability movement and the history surrounding it. I felt compelled to help this population of people reach full potential and come out, for lack of a better term. I also liked the community resource class.
How can prospective psychology students interested in the social/human services field assess their skill and aptitude?
Research, ask questions and get involved with internships. With the help of my instructor and another teacher, I learned to research my field of choice and in my internship I reported back about my informational interviews with various agencies and people at the school district level. This was how I was introduced to the agency I work for now. I suggest everyone really make their internships count, to take internships as an opportunity to try on new hats.
What factors should prospective students consider when choosing a school? Are there different considerations for those who know that they want to specialize in a certain field of social work?
An AA in social and human services gives you a good foundation to make an informed choice of what direction you want to pursue and then you can decide what field to specialize in.
What can students applying to psychology-related programs do to increase their chances of being accepted?
Keep an open mind. You have to be willing to consider ideas and methods that might question your beliefs. If you can not bend, you may miss the possibility of seeing things from a new perspective.
What other advice can you give to prospective students?
Make sure and really do some inside work. You have to be willing to peel yourself down to an onion and be able to be honest with yourself as to why you want to do social service. In order to help any one with a problem, you have to get over yours. So take an opportunity to make the classes work for you. Life is a journey; do not miss a minute of it.
You & Your Career
Tell us about your career choice, and how you plan to tap into your psychology-related education.
My career choice has been to work for an agency that provides supported employment for people with disabilities. There are many reasons why people are not doing well at a job, and I love the challenge of getting them over the hurdles.
What steps have you taken as a student to launch your career?
You have to confidently sell yourself. You market yourself in a way that they are holding the prize and you want it.
How available are internships? Any tips for landing?
Yes, they are out there. You just have to be persistent. Always call back when you say you will and always show up dressed for success on time.
What do you enjoy most about your hands-on psychology experience so far?
There is a practical use to every situation. I am less rigid and expect the unexpected.
What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?
I know I will always be a life long learner. I crave it now. I plan to focus on the agency I work for and learn from a great bunch of people. I hope to be as great as they are, one day at a time.
Do you feel that is important for someone to be passionate about psychology-related fields in order to be successful in school, the workforce and in their personal lives?
I think it is the key to success! Passion is the driving force.
Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your education or your career goals that would be interesting or helpful to others aspiring to follow a similar path?
Always be looking for mentors and take advantage of them when the going gets tough. You need to find your own inspirations. Never give up, and remember that someday you may be an inspiration for someone else to succeed.