De Winfrey studies in the Learning Resource Center on NPCC’s South Campus on Tuesday. Winfrey, 41, went back to school thanks to the Bridge Grant Program.
Sometimes all you need is a little push.
For Decubanise “De” Winfrey, that push came in the form of a Bridge Grant Program at Mid-Plains Community College in North Platte.
“I always said I would, but I really don’t think I would have gone back to college if not for the Bridge Grant Program,” said Winfrey. “It made me believe in myself again.”
The Nebraska Department of Education first piloted the Bridge Grant Program in 2012. The idea behind it is to prepare adults for entry or re-entry into the workforce by teaching them specific skill sets that improve their chances of obtaining employment or increasing wages. The program targets non-traditional students, low-income individuals and GED recipients.
Winfrey heard about the program through a friend who had earned a GED and been contacted by Teresa Piccolo, Bridge Program manager, in the spring of 2014.
Although Winfrey’s friend decided to pass on the program, she did encourage Winfrey to sign up for it. Winfrey, who lived in Kansas City prior to moving to North Platte in September of 2013, was also a GED recipient.
She attended Metropolitan Community College – Maple Woods in Kansas City from 2005-2007, but had not furthered her education beyond that.
“My friend said, ‘This sounds just like you’, when she told me about the Bridge Program,” said Winfrey. “I decided she was right and, even though I didn’t really know what I wanted to study, I started classes that summer.”
After browsing through options in the college’s course catalog and job shadowing at the local hospital, Winfrey began to envision herself as a medical coder. Medical coders assign numeric codes to represent diagnoses and procedures, describe patient treatment and delineate fees for health services, based on an official classification system.
“I enjoy it because it’s kind of like accounting, but with codes instead of money,” said Winfrey. “Plus, there’s a big demand for every kind of job in the health care field right now.”
She is currently on track to graduate from MPCC in May with an associate degree in business office technology and a double emphasis in the medical and administrative assistant categories. Winfrey will also receive medical transcriptionist, medical office technology and medical billing and coding certificates.
Much of what she has learned through the Bridge Program, however, won’t be documented on a piece of paper. That includes a strong work ethic, time management skills and how to dress and act professionally.
Bridge Grant students must maintain a “C” average to stay in the program. They follow a strict attendance policy, have a study lab twice a week, are required to job shadow, learn about career expectations, participate in an etiquette lunch, receive help with résumés and cover letters and sit through mock job interviews.
“There are so many more facets to the program than just going to class,” said Piccolo. “When students come out of the program, they are well-rounded and aware of what it takes to be successful.”
Bridge Grant students transition into a college setting gradually. The 10-month program begins with a summer class, during which students learn about college expectations and form a support group with their peers.
“Having that safety net of other Bridge Grant Program students was really helpful,” said Winfrey. “I’m in my 40s, so going back to school was intimidating enough on its own. If I would have walked into a classroom full of strangers, that would have been really scary. As it was, I had friends all around me.”
The experience also gave her the confidence to speak in front of the Nebraska Legislature about the future of the Bridge Grant Program.
Now that the pilot period is over, the program is funded on a year-to-year basis. This year, student tuition and fees are covered by scholarships provided through the North Platte Community College Foundation. Winfrey’s goal was to convince senators to designate permanent funding.
“It didn’t work, but I was proud of myself for getting up there in front of them,” said Winfrey. “I used everything I had learned in the program to make my case.”
Piccolo is proud of Winfrey as well. Not just because of her speech in the Unicameral, but because of the person she and all the other Bridge Grant students have become.
“These students are dedicated, determined and hardworking,” said Piccolo. “And thanks to the Bridge Grant Program, they have a foot in the door toward a better life.”
Those interested in learning more about the Bridge Grant Program can contact Piccolo at 535-3700.