Four women who returned to school years into their adulthood to give their careers a makeover vied for a spot as the student face of Lanier Technical College on Tuesday.
Tammy Baker, a 41-year-old stay-at-home mom, enrolled in Lanier Tech to study cosmetology — an educational experience she said would finally help her answer the persistent question: "What do I want to be when I grow up?"
Jennifer Whaley, studying medical assisting technology, and Leisa Stevens, focusing on business administrative technology, both went back to school to sharpen their jobs skills after becoming victims to layoffs.
Sue Ferguson, a 49-year-old Dawson County school bus driver, needed supplemental income, but couldn't find the part-time job she wanted with her skill set. So, she started taking classes at the conveniently located Lanier Tech Dawson Campus.
The college, with the help of the Gainesville Lions Club, selected Lanier Tech's representative for the Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership on Tuesday. GOAL is a statewide contest to select a student ambassador for Georgia's 28 community colleges.
Each candidate shared her story for returning to school at an award ceremony on Tuesday at luncheon with Lanier Tech faculty and Lions Club members at the Ryan's steakhouse restaurant on Browns Bridge Road.
Ferguson, who is looking to complete her business administrative technology training in June, was selected as the winner.
She will go on to compete against other technical college winners, said Jennifer Pulliam, Lanier Tech's GOAL coordinator. The statewide winner becomes the student ambassador for Georgia's Technical College System and receives a new Chevrolet car.
The ambassador speaks to institutions, officials and potential students on the importance of technical education, said Pulliam.
The ideal candidate, she said, "is a good spokeswoman who can think on their feet, not just about technical colleges, but about everything."
Tuesday's finalists were whittled down from 26 candidates who interviewed with school and Lions Club representatives. Candidates were students with high grades and nominations by instructors.
With the finalists, the college found four well-spoken women — each looking for technical education to help them manage their career destinies.
In Ferguson's pitch to judges, she recalled how hard work picking blackberries on her grandmother's farm as a child would pay when she got to enjoy it as blackberry pie, cobbler or jam. Ferguson compared that hard work to juggling work with school. Like the blackberry treats, Ferguson said the reward comes later.
While she had some experience with office work 12 years ago, Ferguson said Lanier Tech has helped her get up to speed on the latest office software, management skills and interview strategies.
Beyond preparing her for the work force, Ferguson said her technical college experience has also inspired her to want to teach business in the future.
As Lanier Tech's representative, Ferguson will compete against regional winners this month. If she passes that stage, Ferguson could go on to compete as a statewide finalist in April.
All of the candidates received cash prizes from the Lions Club, which sponsored the local portion of the contest.