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Success Stories

Roya Adnani Salehi's Story to Success 

Roya Adnani Salehi was a certified midwife in her home country of Iran. She came to the U.S. in 2012 with her husband and two daughters. She began at Hawkeye Community College's Metro Center as a student in the English Language Learning (ELL) program. Roya remembers, "When I came to Metro, I couldn't speak or write English well." After one year in the ELL program at Metro, Roya moved into the High School Completion (HSC) program, unsure of what to expect but determined to succeed. Roya worked hard in her classes and studied every day at home after school, especially for reading and writing.

At first, Roya's oldest daughter thought that Roya did not need to go to school in the U.S. Then, as Roya began to pass HiSET tests, Roya's success motivated her daughter. "I became her role model," Roya explains, "and now she's a student at the University of Northern Iowa and wants to attend dental school at the University of Iowa." Roya plans to attend college to become a dental assistant and then hopefully open a dental clinic with her daughter in the future. Roya attended HSC classes at Metro for two years and graduated in May 2016. Roya beams, "The classes at Metro helped me improve my English. I never thought that I could get my high school diploma in the U.S., but I did."


Brieanna Ganzel's Story to Success

I came to Northeast Iowa Community College to achieve a simple goal that would help open many doors, such as attending college, job opportunities, and being able to provide for my daughter. I had several challenges in obtaining my HSED, but with the help and support of all my teachers, friends, and family I was able to achieve this goal. There were times when I wanted to give up when things became difficult, but I never gave up and I think that was my true strength. 

A great friend of mine gave me some advice that suck with me and helped me through the hardships. That advice was, “Sometimes our challenges keep coming back to teach us perseverance. Keep on trying; diligence can bring rewards, but it will test your mettle before it pays off.” With that advice and my teachers’ support, I overcame my obstacles and obtained my HSED. This opened all sorts of new opportunities and goals for the future. I am not sure where I’m going from here, but that’s the exciting part. It is a brand new adventure that starts now with new goals.


Debra LaFollette's Story to Success 

My name is Debra LaFollette. I quit school my senior year of high school. I would have graduated in 1981. I am now 53 years old and I finally decided to get my high school equivalency diploma. My mom passed away 18 years ago. This is one of the things I promised her I would do, and I have done it. Another factor was that my daughter will graduate high school in 2017. I felt that I needed to set an example that it’s never too late to reach your goals.

A quote that I find very true is, “Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.” I believe that is something we all should realize. Now, I am going to take a couple college classes and just keep learning. I always told my mom that she was “the wind beneath my wings,” but I read somewhere, “Sometimes you have to be the wind beneath your own wings.” This is so true. My family is so proud of me. As I continue my journey in learning I know my mom will be there with me every step of the way, along with my daughter and husband. A special thank you to my HiSET instructor, Kathy Walker, who believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. 


Daniel Sutherland's Story to Success

My name is Daniel R. Sutherland. I believe the story of my struggle will help others. My learning disabilities made school work a challenge. The end result was me leaving school at 17 years old. For the next five years, I floated through life doing nothing with purpose, fearing the future, and regretting the past. I feared failing if I ever went back. I felt like I might not be good enough or smart enough to make it.

The day came when I found enough courage to make another attempt at obtaining my high school diploma. Upon arriving at Iowa Lakes Community College in Spirit Lake, I found the campus environment to be welcoming and the staff friendly. I worked with my instructor day by day, one on one until the concepts started to make sense. Over the course of several months, my hours in boot camp (a week-long 44-hour class focusing on math and writing) and in the success centers started to pay off.

After submitting the necessary documentation for accommodations to HiSET, I received approval for the accommodations I needed to be successful through the HiSET testing phase. Knowing that I would have accommodations in place to help me pass the practice and official tests boosted my self-confidence. After I passed the first test with a score that indicated college readiness, I actually started believing in myself and my ability to finish the program.

Finally, after months of pretests, practice tests, studying and official HiSET tests, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief when I was told I had passed all of the HiSET tests and would be graduating with my high school equivalency diploma. My instructor asked me to speak at the graduation ceremony and tell the story of my journey through the HiSET program at Iowa Lakes Community College. This was a life-changing moment for me.

The doors of life are now wide open for me. I believe I can go anywhere I set my mind to, because I have the determination to succeed and do the work that is required. The sky is the limit; never again will I let my fear of failing stop my success.


Rosa Elivar's Story to Success

Rosa Azucena Elivar is a prime example of persistence. She came to Iowa 20 years ago from Mexico but only had a sixth grade education. Rosa initially began the program to prove to herself that she could do it and to be a good example to her children. As her children grew older, Rosa realized how little she could help them with their homework and saw the need to further her education: “I wanted to show them — if I can do it, you can do it, too!”

She began in North Iowa Area Community College’s AEL program as a pre-HSED student, finally earning her HiSET™ diploma in January 2016. She also experienced the transition from GED® to HiSET like a number of other students. Rosa attended the HiSET™ preparation class in Hampton, Iowa. Her instructor, Deb Noelting, said, “Rosa was always upbeat and ready to learn all she could. She would ask for what she could study at home. Even when nervous about taking tests she would have a positive attitude and do her best. I am very proud of Rosa and her hard work.” Rosa also spoke highly of both instructors who helped her reach her goal. Regarding Deb Noelting, who has worked with Rosa from the beginning, Rosa had this to say: “If I don’t understand something, she always tries to explain in other ways. I am so grateful for her help.”


Carlos Gonzalez's Story to Success

My name is Carlos and I am from Guatemala, “the land of eternal spring." My family and I came to the United States around 2010 for political asylum. I had an important goal, to succeed. It took me five years to decide to take the HiSED because I was busy working. I never realized how important it was to have a high school diploma until the plant where I was working closed their doors in fall of 2015.

Every single job where I was applying required a high school diploma, and I might have qualified for the job but not without the diploma. It was then that I decided to attend Iowa Valley Continuing Education Classes at Ellsworth Community College to obtain the diploma. After a couple months of hard work and persistence, I am able to say that I feel proud to have obtained my diploma. I want to encourage anyone that doesn't have this diploma to consider getting it. Make the decision, don’t wait too long!


Mary Campbell's Story to Success

I was born in Lafayette County, Mississippi, to Everline and William Couch; I have 13 brothers and sisters. My mother and father were sharecroppers and had limited educations, but they wanted their children to have MORE education. Because the farm work supported the family, it had the top priority over school. Therefore, we went to school only when we couldn’t work the fields due to poor weather. I remember plowing with mules at the age of 11 while my younger siblings were in school. By this time my older brother was grown and had left home.

I went to a four-room school until sixth grade. This was an all-black school with mainly other farm children. I enjoyed school, when I could go; my favorite class was spelling.

I intended to finish school but got pregnant at 13, and pregnant girls were NOT allowed to attend school. So by age 14, I had a husband and a baby boy and still a dream of getting my education.

My husband and I tried farming, but it did not work out. In November of 1960, we moved to Davenport with my brother and his family. While my husband was able to get a job, I was considered too young to work. By 1962, I was old enough to work but had three children, and in those days daycare was not readily available. When my second daughter turned 6 weeks old, I was able to arrange childcare and got a job at the Blackhawk Hotel for 75 cents an hour. I worked there for several months and then I moved up to work at Roger’s Car Wash for $1.25 per hour! I stayed there for 12 years.

By 1972, I had a total of five children. I got hired at Caterpillar in Mt. Joy. I was the first black female to work on the yards and drive a forklift. This was also my first union job. They encouraged me to go back to school, but with five children and a full-time job, I was not able to do so. However, I still wanted to go get my education. During the 16 years I was at Caterpillar, I learned how to operate a number of machines in different departments. Even though I was not in school, I was still learning. I had a good-paying job at Caterpillar, but when I got laid off with no high school diploma, it was impossible to get another good-paying job. After Caterpillar, I worked for temp services and other jobs, but none paid like Caterpillar had.

My children were very young when I lost my husband. My main goal was to get them through high school. They were not pushed to get jobs during their school years, but they were pushed to graduate. Trying to help my children in school was hard, but we got through it by teaching each other what we knew and learning how to do the math and writing the way the teachers wanted it done. I am very proud of all of my children and what they’ve accomplished.

Now let me tell you about my attempts to finish this program. There were a LOT of obstacles! Some of them are the same ones YOU are letting get in your way!

The first time I tried to come back, I got in my own way by saying, “I can’t do it.” I got so nervous when I got to the Career Center I could not even spell my own name and left crying and embarrassed.

It took over 25 years to come back and try again! By then other people were telling me I was too old, I had been out of school too long, and I wasn’t going to do anything when I got my GED anyways. I wanted to prove these negative people wrong and finish what I started.

To top it off, I had three of the GED tests done in December 2013 when my brother passed away unexpectedly. His passing caused distress in my family and an end to finishing the other two tests before the end of 2013. In January 2014, Iowa started using the HiSet tests, and I had to start all over again!

During this time, there were people in my corner cheering me on: my big brother, Albert, my children, my church family, my fellow students and teachers and even an 8-year-old who helped me with algebra! I also spent a lot of time crying, talking to myself and praying. Sometimes, I would wake up and realize I’d been spelling words in my sleep like I-S-O-S-C-E-L-E-S and pronouncing PA-THA-GOR-EEE-AN.

When I went in to start taking the HiSET tests, the tester gave me the test sheet and said to take the booth in the corner so that I could read aloud. I sat down there and cried like a baby, but took the test and did not run away!

After the tears, I was on a roll. I took the social studies and math tests the same day and passed them both! Success!! WOO HOO!!! This gave me the confidence to keep testing, and here I am.

It took a long time for me to get here. I left school in 1959 and finished in 2015. I was as stubborn as the two mules I used to plow with, Ada and Gray, neither of which liked for the other to get in front. Every time one of my classmates would finish his or her GED testing, I would feel just like that mule that had the other one get in front of her. It inspired me to keep going forward, have faith and stop telling myself that I cannot do it.

Even though some of you may have made mistakes in your life, you can start now, change and get your education. Don’t talk yourself out of this. You are never too old (or too young) to have dreams and goals. GO FOR IT!!!!