When Priscilla Conlon got laid off from her job — as an estimator for a heating-and air-conditioning supplier — she did what most Americans did during the depths of the Great Recession: She began sending out resumes for as many job postings as she could find.
But Conlon, who’d spent more than 15 years doing clerical work for AT&T and then another two years working in the construction field, couldn’t get a nibble. Frustrated, she began calling the companies about the positions she’d applied for. She posed the obvious question: What was wrong with my resume?
The answer came quickly: You don’t have a college degree.
So in 2009, in her mid-40s, Conlon began her journey to college — an adventure that started at Valencia’s West Campus and has taken her to the top of the graduating class at the University of Central Florida.
On Saturday, Aug. 3, Conlon will graduate from UCF summa cum laude — one of a handful of students who’ve been selected to receive the Honor Medallion for Top Honors and sit onstage with UCF President John Hitt.
It’s an accolade she never dreamed of achieving, certainly when she couldn’t get a job as a receptionist four years ago.
“I am absolutely gobsmacked about receiving the Honor Medallion,” says Conlon.
She invited her mentor and advisor, Charles “Chaz” Davis, to attend the commencement ceremony as one of her guests.
“He believed in me when I didn’t believe in me,” says Conlon. “When you get laid off, your self-esteem evaporates. But if I was as worthless as I was made to feel, I wouldn’t be graduating with a 3.93 GPA.”
Chaz Davis, who serves as a career program advisor for Valencia’s engineering and architecture students and an instructor, first encountered Conlon when she was taking his construction materials class and studying for an Associate in Science in building construction technology. Like many nontraditional students, Conlon “was eager to learn,” says Davis. “She was very competitive in terms of her grades, she wanted to earn As.”
When she took a CAD (computer-aided drafting) class and loved it, Conlon decided to get another A.S. degree — this one in drafting and design technology.
Through it all, she excelled in the classroom.
“There’s not a lot of females in this program, but she made the guys look bad,” says Davis, laughing. “They would seek Priscilla out for study groups… She loves to form groups to study.”
At UCF, Conlon earned a Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Administration, a business management degree. Now UCF plans to use her in its B.A.S. Youtube video, to illustrate how working adults with A.S. degrees can go back to college and earn a bachelor’s degree through UCF’s B.A.S. program.
But Conlon, who wants to work in the field of quality control, isn’t ready for her most excellent educational journey to end.
She’s heading back to UCF in the fall — to start her master’s degree in industrial engineering.
But before she leaves Valencia’s West Campus — which has been her home campus for most of her Valencia and UCF classes — she wants to thank the many Valencia instructors and staffers who helped and encouraged her, including Davis, advisor Beverly Johnson, professors Don McCrumb, Dennis O’Lenick, April Emigh, Steven Twigg, Shannon Hellard, Daniela Johnson, Domenic Carcia, Dr. Karen Rumbley, Dr. Diane Ashe and Dr. Stan Melnick.
“They all saw something in me and encouraged me when I didn’t believe in myself,” she says. “To say that I’m working toward a master’s degree in anything is amazing.”