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Walker committed to making community connections at ECC

Rebecca Walker

Rebecca Walker, Senior Director of the Education and Work Center

Rebecca Walker never knew about the value of community colleges, or even the words, until it was time for her to attend college. But once she moved to the Elgin area, she became a quick study of the value of Elgin Community College.

“While working in a program funded through the Illinois Community College Board, I began to learn about the many opportunities that ECC has to offer district residents,” Walker said. “I also had several colleagues who spoke very highly of ECC as an employer.”

At that time, her contact with ECC was at the old Fountain Square Campus in downtown Elgin. She would often work with staff in ECC's Adult Basic Education Center to help transfer and refer students appropriately. That collaboration continued in 2009 when the college began the “Achieving the Dream” initiative and she was asked to be part of the committee.

“That was my first `on campus' experience, and I was very impressed with the initiative and the open conversations that were directed toward improving success for every student,” she said.

In 2014 she began work on another ECC campus, the Hanover Park Education and Work Center, where she is the center's senior director. The center-a cooperative effort by ECC, Harper College, the Village of Hanover Park, and other organizations-offers free employment service and adult education classes to residents of Hanover Park and the surrounding areas.

We caught up with Walker to ask some questions about herself and ECC. Here's what she said.

In your words, what do you do at ECC?

I help multiple partners facilitate free classes and employment services to residents of Hanover Park and surrounding areas. We assist adults 16 and older who have less than a High School Education or those lacking English skills to acquire the basic skills that they need in order to:

  • Obtain their High School Equivalency and continue their education at ECC, Harper or other trusted institutions.
  • Get a job, keep a job, or obtain a better job.
  • Improve English skills that help adults become involved and contributing citizens in our communities.

What is your greatest accomplishment since you've been here?

I am proud that I've been part of the true partnership that has helped so many students at the Hanover Park Education and Work Center in the first year and a half. We had more than 600 students enrolled in classes the first year we opened, despite many unexpected challenges, and those students continue referring their friends and family.

We also have built trust within a new community, and I believe we've been able to break down barriers to education and employment that many of our students have carried for years. So many people come in our facility feeling extremely nervous and intimidated to enter school again, but we have had the privilege of seeing those barriers melt away as people begin to see their former dreams start to become possible again.

My favorite moments are sharing high-fives with students who pass a GED exam, or tell us they've gotten a job that they never would have had the courage to apply for before classes here. The students' accomplishments are our greatest accomplishments, and these moments make the job very rewarding.

What would you do if you were ECC president for a day?

I'd give a special prize to every employee who was wearing their name tag. Since I'm at an off-campus site, I communicate regularly with people via email and phone who I might rarely see. On the occasions that I am on the main campus, I want to be able to say “hello” if I happen to see them walking down the hall, but I don't always recognize people.

If there was a movie about your life, who would you want to play you?

Let's see. If I'm dreaming, I would pick Meg Ryan (from back in the “You've Got Mail” days.) She seems to play characters that are able to maintain a lighthearted, cheerful attitude in the midst of life's problems. I try to strive for that. Plus she sings beautifully (which I do not), and who wouldn't want to have their imaginary self-sing like a Disney character?

What's on your “bucket list?”

I would love to live on every continent (except Antarctica) for at least a year.

What's one fact we should know about you?

I enjoy adventures, learning new things and meeting people. I have taken every opportunity I could to travel, and I taught at a university in Southeast Asia for two years before moving to Illinois. The diversity that I get to experience at the EWC among our student population is a treat to me. We have more than 20 different nationalities represented among out student body, and I really enjoy learning about our students' cultures, food, languages, etc.

What's something about your job that others should know?

The EWC is a pilot program and it's been a continual adventure-and things have not yet totally normalized. We are working hard to develop and improve processes, procedures and forms, but we are still learning. While we strive to maintain consistency and integrity of processes, part of the pilot period includes experimenting with different processes in order to establish some best practices that will function well in the long-term. I really appreciate that our partners, and folks on the main campus of ECC and Harper have been understanding and supportive of this and are willing to have the challenging conversations that lead to true collaborative solutions.

What was your favorite class in school?

My favorite classes in school were any kind of art class. I was an art major in college as well, and my favorite course in that program was printmaking - where you create pieces using an old-school printing press and ink/paint on wood blocks, linoleum or chemically etched tiles. The process itself involves many steps, and I've always enjoyed the process as much as the product.

What was your first job out of school?

The day after I graduated from college, I took a long flight to begin an internship in Mali, West Africa. I worked with missionaries and helped to illustrate health-related brochures for the maternity hospitals in the bush, where people not only lacked literacy, but also the visual literacy of symbols we commonly use in western culture.

They needed realistic images of themselves and common activities, as well as life-size, realistic renderings of foods, bugs, etc. to use for educational purposes. For example, I was asked to illustrate a series of images that demonstrated activities pregnant women should avoid, such as carrying older children on their backs while pounding grain, or eating food that had been sitting out with flies on it-things that we take for granted as common sense.

Complete this sentence: “I enjoy working at ECC because … “

I feel part of a team that genuinely cares for our community. Because of the nature of the Hanover Park project, I've worked with nearly every department of the college, and it seems to me that everyone considers what's best for students, and everyone works hard to do what they do.   

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Related Link: Hanover Park Education and Work Center

 
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