Adult ed grads look forward to new career paths

Posted: Friday, May 26, 2000

For a woman from Thailand, an injured man who can't do physical labor, and a village family trying to make it in Juneau, classes in adult education have provided a new direction.

They are among dozens of adult students expected to attend an awards and graduation ceremony at 7 p.m. today at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall.

The ceremony includes students who have qualified for their General Educational Development credential or for certificates in computer skills or office skills, under programs offered by the South East Regional Resource Center.

Rungsri Seehawong, who will be one of two student speakers at the ceremony, has earned her GED and is completing an office skills course. She said she wished she had done it years ago.

Seehawong, who is married to a Juneau man, came here eight years ago from Thailand. But she didn't know English well and she didn't have an American high school diploma. For five years she was self-employed cleaning houses. But two years ago, she hurt herself and now she can't carry heavy materials.

She's interning in a clerical job at a state agency and hopes to continue her education with computer classes before looking for a paying office job.

``If I'd known the GED would open doors this way, I'd have done it long ago,'' Seehawong said.

``I learn lots of new things that I never thought I'd be able to do. I didn't know anything about computers, and now I want to be able to take computer classes,'' she said.

Mark Potts had always done physical labor -- in warehouses or construction -- ``everything using the body,'' he said. But after injuring his back he needed to be retrained.

When Potts was in high school, in the late 1970s, technology was a typewriter. Knowing he needs a sedentary job, he decided to take a computer skills course this year.

``I like the way a computer can enhance you. It raises you up. The opportunity to get information, to communicate -- it's very interesting to me,'' Potts said.

He learned word processing, spread sheets, databases and computer presentations. The course also covered business English, business math and life skills.

``Most of us are older adults, and we're making career changes from something to something else completely different, and they want to make sure we're as completely prepared as possible,'' Potts said.

Greg Brown and Judy Brown, married for 26 years, said it was scary going back to school. But they followed in their daughter Jennifer's footsteps at SERRC and took an office skills course.

Now the family is back on its feet and all three of them have full-time jobs, nine years after Greg Brown hurt his back in a construction accident in Hoonah that changed their lives.

The family moved to Juneau in 1996 so Greg could be retrained for a new career. He attended the University of Alaska Southeast, hoping to become a teacher, but he ran out of money.

Jennifer, a 1995 Hoonah High graduate, said she studied business at a college in California, but it was taking too long. She returned to Southeast and was the first family member to take the five-month office skills course, where she said she felt comfortable.

``It was to where you didn't have to be scared to ask them if you didn't understand,'' she said. ``It also has a sense of teaching to your peers, teaching other people in the class.''

Jennifer, who was the class speaker in her graduation year at SERRC, now works at the Mount Roberts Tram in the guest service department.

Judy Brown, who had done office work in Hoonah, took the office skills course next. She was self-taught and said she was scared to even turn a computer on.

``I was jack of all trades and none the master,'' Brown said. ``I had a lot of jobs before but most were self-taught.''

She wondered how she'd get her school work done, which includes homework, with a baby at home. But she studied in the 75 minutes after class and before the city bus picked her up.

Judy Brown ended up one of the 3 percent of adult education students nationally to be inducted into the National Adult Education Honor Society.

``I was in tears when I got it. I couldn't believe it was me,'' she said.

Judy Brown now works at SERRC as a receptionist.

``Still jack of all trades and master of none. Still, I do a lot and I'm comfortable with what I do there.''

For Greg Brown, a fisherman and construction worker, the transition to office work may have been the hardest of all the family members.

``The first couple of nights before school you toss and turn. You feel like a dinosaur, you've been out of school so long,'' he said.

Brown, faced with learning how to use computers, said he felt like a cave man. And it was hard for a man used to dealing with fish and heavy machinery to learn how to communicate with different ethnic groups in an office setting.

``With people, you have to deal with them more inwardly,'' he said. ``Get a feel of what their personalities are, what they want, and how to give it to them.''

Greg Brown has a job now with Hope Community Resources and it's his turn to speak at a SERRC graduation. He will tell the students tonight what his parents told him about the right path, ``the way it is'' -- yei-awe -- and the wrong way, ``that's what you get'' -- ach-qwat.

Do you want to be the way it is, or do you want to pay the consequences? Brown will ask the graduates.



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