Inspiring the minds of our future
By Dana Chrysler
Everett Community College Alumni Outreach Specialist
The daughter of a Filipino mother and African American father, Jennifer Nonisa is a first-generation college graduate who credits the support of her family, college mentors, and community with helping her to stay focused in school and her career. Today, she teaches third grade at Everett’s Whittier Elementary School and is thrilled to be a positive role model for her students. In this interview, Jennifer talks about what led her to being an educator and what drives her to succeed.
Tell me about your family: where you grew up, and did you have brothers or sisters?
I am the daughter of Filipino mother and African American father. I grew up in a tightknit household of five people in Oak Harbor, Washington. My dad was in the Navy until I was 12. We moved to Everett and I have been here ever since! I have a younger brother and sister and family members who live in Vancouver, British Columbia..
Did your parents go to college and did they encourage you to attend college?
I am a first-generation college graduate and my parents were major supporters and motivators in attending college. In our household, higher education was not an option; it was a necessity. They understood that education was the key to a successful future and they expressed that importance to my siblings and I at an early age.
When and where did you graduate from high school?
I graduated with honors from Cascade High School in 2002 (Bruin Pride!). I was involved in many extra-curricular activities such as National Honor Society, Junior and Senior Class Cabinet, Cascade Service, and the Multi-Cultural Club.
How did you choose EvCC? Was there a selection process involved in your decision making?
Attending EvCC was not in my original education plan. After high school, I attended Central Washington University, but returned home after one quarter due to a financial situation. Afterwards, I began work at McDonald’s and did so for a year. However, I knew that working at a fast food restaurant was not what I wanted in a long-term career. I decided to go to technical school and receive my certificate as a Pharmacy Technician. After working at a home-infusion pharmacy for a year, I decided I was ready and needed to return to college to get an advanced degree. Everett Community College was close to home, affordable, and the faculty and staff made a positive impression on me as I began the process.
Do you think your time at EvCC helped you pursue your current career? If so, how?
My time at EvCC was the exact place I finally made my decision to follow my passion as an educator. When I started in 2006, my plan was to continue in the direction of pharmacy and become a pharmacist. However, after a quarter of chemistry and a heart-to-heart with my mentor, Karena Hooks, I decided that education was the career path I needed to pursue. I volunteered to work with children in different settings: as an art room supervisor at the Imagine Children’s Museum and as a Junior Achievement volunteer in the classroom at Whittier Elementary (where I now work!) These opportunities helped to solidify my decision in becoming a teacher.
What did you do after you graduated from EvCC?
In 2008, after graduating with honors and an associates of arts and science direct transfer degree, I was excited to transfer to Howard University, an historically black university in Washington, D.C. For a year, I continued to pursue my degree in elementary education, but, once again, had to return home. Before the summer began, I was in pursuit of a successful transfer from Howard to Western Washington University at the University Center at EvCC.
Did you ever envision your current career while in college?
Yes, because after many volunteer opportunities working with children, I knew it was where I wanted to be. I was comfortable, excited, and passionate about helping to provide a positive education experience for students.
What courses or activities did you find to be most valuable and how did they help prepare you for your professional career or success in life?
It was my first education class that I found most valuable during my time at EvCC. It helped me realize my true passion for education and the importance of being a teacher of color. As our classrooms become more diverse, so should our teaching staff. It is one of my personal goals to help diversify the profession in any way I can. My participation in student government roles such as Student Senate, VP of Public Relations, and the Black Student Union provided me the opportunity to take leadership roles, work collaboratively with other students and EvCC staff, plan events and activities for the community, and work with a diverse group of people. In turn, these opportunities have helped me be successful as a professional educator, as I have utilized my experiences at EvCC throughout my first year as teacher.
Was there any one during your time at EvCC who acted as a mentor for you? Tell me about that relationship and why it was valuable.
Karena Hooks took me under her wing very early on in my journey at EvCC. We were connected via the TriO program. She has always been the first person I call for advice and guidance. She helped guide me through many major education decisions, navigate the community college and university system, and continues to play a role in my life as I begin my professional career. Karena continues to be a motivator and supporter. She is the person who helps calm me during my times of panic and self-doubt. I am most appreciative of our continued relationship after graduating from EvCC.
Any moments that stood out as especially memorable while at EvCC?
There are so many! Being involved in student government and making connections with key staff at EvCC provided me with many opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone and be part of some important initiatives. However, the most memorable was when I was invited to be a panelist at the annual Student Services Conference. I was selected to represent EvCC and share my education and personal journey with a group of community college and university staff. It was at that conference when I realized how many people helped me be successful. It truly takes a village and I understood my importance of becoming a teacher and being part of that village and serving students.
What is your lasting impression of EvCC?
My lasting impression of EvCC is that they have a staff and faculty that are committed to helping their students be successful. They will do all that they can to assist students in navigating the systems and go above and beyond to create a positive experience. From the time I entered Jackson Center to the time I walked across the stage to receive my diploma, I felt like I was part of a community. Even after graduating, I can step on campus and feel welcomed.
What helped you stay motivated, both in school, and in your career?
The support of my family, my mentor, and my community helped me stay focused and continues to be my motivator. I have two younger siblings for whom I have an obligation to be a positive role model, the inspiration from my parents to be the first in my family to graduate, and making a positive impact on my students and community.
Tell me about your current position or career.
I am currently completing my first year as an elementary school teacher. I teach third grade at Whittier Elementary and I have enjoyed every aspect! I worked briefly at Whittier as a volunteer and I completed my first year Western Washington University practicum at Whittier, and now I am a contracted teacher at Whittier!
What do/did you find rewarding about it?
There are two things that I find rewarding about my career: the first is being able to connect with my students. With a classroom of 24 diverse learners and personalities, I am still able to connect with each one on a different level, whether it be with sports, music, family, or school experiences. The second is being able to transfer knowledge to my students and have them think critically about what they learned and restate what they have learned to another student or teacher.
What do you find most challenging?
Thus far, the most challenging part of my career is being able to effectively teach to the varied level of all learners in my class. It has been good for me to constantly think of ways to challenge my high performing students and properly support my low performing students. It is something that I will continue to learn and I look forward to the challenge.
Would you do anything differently if you had the chance to do it all over again?
There is no part of my educational journey that I would change. Each challenge helped shape the person I am today and allowed me the opportunity to learn something new about myself and the process of college and career choices. Because of my journey, I have met and built relationships with people who have been supportive of me throughout and continue to be of support as I begin my career.
What were your keys to success?
My keys to success are dedication, hard work, and perseverance. You have to be dedicated to your education, to your career, and to your passion to be successful in anything you do. Hard work brings success. And perseverance allows you the strength to push through those barriers that come your way as you are making your way to success.
What words of advice would you give to current ECC students?
My words of advice for current EvCC students are to continue to work hard, regardless of the challenges that come to you. Dedicate yourself to something for which you have a passion, because it will keep you there. Persevere through all the challenges. Do not give up on your dream, because there is always someone watching your journey and you may become their motivation. Finally, never hesitate to ask questions or for help. There will always be someone around who will know the answer and be willing to help.
From this vantage point in life, what do you care about the most?
I care about the impact that I make on my students and parents and the impact they make on me. I hope to make a positive impact throughout my years in education that will inspire the minds of our future. And I am sure that my students will continue to impact my career as an educator to reflect on and improve my teaching.