Student Success Stories:
In October 2014, Joseph Howell found out he would soon become part of a growing trend in the United States – an employee whose job was going overseas. What could have very easily been a devastating turn of events, however, proved to be a door of opportunity for Howell, thanks to the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Program and Missouri State University-West Plains.
The Illinois native who had moved to West Plains to be closer to his father was one of nearly 400 workers at the local Robertshaw plant who received the disappointing news of the plant's closure nearly a year ago. After 17 years of loyal service, Howell would soon be unemployed.
Fortunately, officials at the Missouri Job Center in West Plains quickly responded with their Employment Transition Team and told Howell and his fellow employees about the benefits of the TAA Program, which include job training, job search and relocation allowances, income support and assistance with healthcare premium costs.
"I had worked on my feet 10 hours a day, six days a week, and I didn't want to go back to that," Howell explained. "If I could have the opportunity to go to school and have all of the costs paid, I wanted to go that route."
That's exactly what Howell did following his last day at Robertshaw on March 26, 2015. With encouragement from Kyle Mahan at the Missouri Job Center and the knowledge that his tuition, books and supplies would be covered by TAA funds, Howell explored career options at Missouri State-West Plains and settled on the new Associate of Applied Science in Health Information Technology degree.
"I had taken some health information technology classes online through a private school before," he explained. "Since I work with computers so much and the field is growing, and I learned you could get a better job with a degree, I decided to enroll in the program."
He immediately began the admission and enrollment process and took his first classes – Introduction to College Composition (ENG 100) and Introductory Psychology (PSY 121) – this past summer, earning Dean's List honors for the session. This semester, he is enrolled in Computers for Learning (CIS 101), Medical Terminology (ALH 116), Student Success (IDS 110), College Reading and Study Skills (IDS 150) and Pre-Algebra (MTH 20) and, at the time of his interview, held straight As.
"I really like the flexibility of these classes," he said. "I make sure when I pick my classes that I have plenty of time to do my homework. Right now, I take classes Mondays through Wednesdays, and I have Thursdays through Sundays to do my homework."
Howell attributed much of his academic success to his instructors. "They are wonderful! They go out of their way to make sure you get a good education and understand the material. They really want you to succeed," he said. "I also really appreciate how we can go to the Adult Education and Literacy/College Readiness Department to brush up on our math. Mrs. Jimmie Walters and Elizabeth Nehring are really helping me with my skills."
Next semester, he plans to take Writing I (ENG 110), American Democracy and Citizenship (PLS 101), Medical Billing and Coding I (HIT 110), Health Systems (HIT 115), and Beginning Algebra (MTH 30). He hopes to graduate in summer 2017.
"Once I complete my degree, I would like to get into a doctor's office to do medical billing and coding," he said. "I like the idea that I can take my degree and go anywhere in the United States and find a job once I'm certified." Eventually, he added, he would like to work out of his home.
Howell is grateful that he has been given this opportunity to turn devastating news for him and his family into a positive transition to a new and better life. "It's amazing how the state of Missouri looks after its displaced workers, and I'm thrilled they've extended these benefits to my fellow workers at Robertshaw. My wife, Cynthia, works there, as well, and she's planning to come to college, too, after she receives her notice," he said.
He's also pleased with the educational opportunities he found through Missouri State-West Plains. "I hadn't been in a classroom since 1987, and I was really nervous, being 46 and going to college for the first time. But I saw students my own age, and the teachers really made me feel comfortable in my classes. It was a long process to be admitted and enrolled, but it was worth the wait."
As for advice to others who may soon find themselves going through a similar experience, Howell said, "explore all of your options, listen to what the counselors at the Missouri Job Center have to say. The opportunity to have a free education and go anywhere in the U.S. is priceless."
For more information about the TAA Program and its benefits, contact the Missouri Job Center in West Plains at (417) 256-3158. For more information about the educational opportunities available through Missouri State-West Plains, call (417) 255-7955. To learn how you can help support students like Joseph Howell, call the Missouri State-West Plains development office at (417) 255-7240.