“I’ve lived. I’ve experienced so much heartache,” says Montreat College management and leadership student Sandra Ferguson. “But I never give up.”

When Sandra suddenly found herself without a job in April 2018, her faith and determination pushed her to persevere.

“My seasonal job at the post office had just ended and I thought, ‘What am I going to do? Oh my God, what am I going to do?’ I was driving on Interstate 77 when I heard a radio announcement for Montreat College. I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to find that school.'”

At Montreat College, Sandra has found the support and community she needed. Nikki Chavis, Montreat College’s campus services coordinator in Charlotte, showed compassion and helped jumpstart the job search and Sandra’s decision to pursue a graduate degree. “I’m going to submit my application to Montreat College because of the love and compassion this lady showed me.”

Shortly after being accepted into the Master of Science in Management and Leadership (MSML) program, Sandra got a new job. However, the transition into academia is often a challenge for adult students juggling work, family, and other commitments. Like many new students, Sandra struggled with self-doubt.

“I am almost 60 years old. What is it going to look like going back to school? How am I going to do this?”

Once again, Nikki showed up. “I freaked out about my first class. I hadn’t been to school in over 40 years and it was an online class. Miss Nikki comes to me and says, ‘You got this. You can do this.’ I made an A in the class.”

Nikki wasn’t the only one who offered Sandra encouragement. “My accounting instructor was not going to let anyone fail. She told our class, ‘Anything you need – extra encouragement or need help with a paper or studying for an exam, just come talk to me.’ She gave us her home number so we could call her and ask her questions. What other school would do that?”

Nearly a year into her academic journey and Sandra already has big dreams for her MSML degree.

“When I get this management and leadership degree, I’m going to open up my own halfway house. I want to encourage ex-offenders. I’m going to provide housing, training, and education. If I can go through what I’ve gone through and inspire someone else who’s going through challenges, then I’m going to pay it forward. Some ex-offenders getting out of prison don’t even have a home or family to go to. I’ll help them put the pieces back together in a better way. That’s my passion.”