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DSLCC BUSINESS program graduate Forest Kay (left) spent the spring semester completing an internship under the guidance of Kelly Dean Madsen at Racey and Dean, an insurance agency in Clifton Forge.

DSLCC Business Students Find Success, Despite Challenges

Clifton Forge, VA (June 16, 2022) - Business classes are dry and boring? Informative but not exactly scintillating?

Not so fast, say three students in the business program at Dabney S. Lancaster Community College.

Forest Kay of Clifton Forge, a young man with business in his blood; Freddie Tomlin of Buena Vista, an operations manager at a large facility; and Sondra Elliott of Covington, a budding entrepreneur, can all confirm that the business program can not only be foundational but challenging and exciting, too. And it can help launch a career or enhance skills.

“I am enthusiastic and optimistic about the future of our business program, as well as the individual futures of our students,” says Business Program Head Rachael Thompson. “Our program focuses on what business students truly need to be successful upon completion, centering on the most critical business skills. In addition, we offer small class sizes that allow for more individualized and customized instruction in a familial atmosphere.”

She continued: “Our flexibility enables students to choose if they would like to attend classes in person, via Zoom or perhaps on their own time; we understand that students have demanding work and family obligations, and we deliver our courses in a way that allows them to be successful in a familial atmosphere at a fraction of the cost of traditional four-year colleges. In many cases, DSLCC students receive scholarships and financial aid to completely cover the cost of tuition.

“Our students remain our priority and it shows in their accolades. I am truly proud of their diligence, perseverance and accomplishments,” she said.

DSLCC Business students may complete a two-year Business Management associate degree and leave prepared for the workforce, or earn a two-year associate degree in Business Administration and transfer to a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree in a business field. “Both programs are uniquely tailored with these needs in mind,” says Thompson.

These three DSLCC business program students are excellent examples of what can be accomplished:

Forest Kay

Nineteen-year-old Forest Kay learned first-hand about the insurance industry from one of the oldest insurance agencies in the Alleghany Highlands, Racey and Dean, in downtown Clifton Forge.

Kay worked two days a week as an intern at the office during the spring semester, under the supervision of Kelly Dean Madsen, president of the company and a licensed P&C, Life and Health Insurance Agent, while attending DSLCC fulltime. During the pandemic and after, he opted to take most of his classes online.

“Forest took on a variety of responsibilities,” says Madsen. “He took payments from insurance clients, rated insurance policies and assisted us with banking tasks and filing and scanning projects.”

Kay helped manage three special projects while at Racey and Dean, involving marketing, social media and insurance policy rating.

The marketing project included generating Excel spreadsheets, so that the agency can keep clients informed about new offerings or reminders, or to do something as simple as wish them a happy birthday via email. “Forest organized all the details, and we’re already getting positive feedback from a lot of our clients,” says Madsen.

This is the first time that the agency has employed a DSLCC intern, and the experience has been very positive, says Madsen. Kay has impressed them with his punctuality and willingness to learn firsthand about the ins and outs of running a business

Business entrepreneurship is in Kay’s blood. His mother, Twinkles Kay, runs H&R Block in Clifton Forge, and she also owns and operates Twink’s Diner in Iron Gate (which is in the process of relocating across the street on Route 220.) Other members of his extended family have operated a variety of businesses in the area.

“My whole family has been involved in business, and it’s always appealed to me,” he says.

Thompson sees the appeal as well. “Forest’s love and predisposition for business certainly show in his work, both in and out of the classroom. His intellect and talent are impressive, and I know he’ll go far.”

The 2020 James River High School graduate is keeping his options open – he earned his Associate of Arts and Science Degree in Business Administration in May -- but he hopes to eventually earn a bachelor’s degree, most likely with a business major.

“DSLCC is an asset to the Alleghany Highlands and the surrounding area,” says Madsen. “We’re fortunate to have a community college here and fortunate to have leaders like DSLCC President Dr. John Rainone, and Rachael Thompson, head of the DSLCC business program, who help students and area businesses connect.”

Freddie Tomlin

Tomlin, 42, has been a DSLCC student off and on for years, attending classes whenever he could, while holding down a fulltime job and raising three daughters with his wife, Chalona, a graduate of the DSLCC nursing program.

“I’ve been going to school, taking one or two classes periodically, most recently every semester for the past year and half to try and finish up what was once started,” says the 1997 Parry McCluer High School graduate. “I’ve taken classes at Dabney when it was in Lexington, and in Buena Vista and even on the main campus in Clifton Forge.” His goal: To complete his Associate in Applied Science degree in Business Management within the next few semesters.

Furthering his education is encouraged by his employer, Pro-Con Inc. (Progressive Converting), which provides a service - cutting huge rolls of stock paper to various specifications - for WestRock at a large facility in Raphine in Augusta County. Tomlin, who has been with the company since 2009, oversees about half a dozen employees as the Division Operations Manager. He very much enjoys the work and his enthusiasm shows.

Pro-Con is the largest independent paper converting company in the United States. In addition, Pro-Con offers an innovative “web-stocking program” designed to meet the critical demands of the printing industry.

Although he admits that he’s not the best math student, he says what he’s learned in class has been invaluable. “Whether it’s collecting data or working on spreadsheets, I use math every day on the job.” He’s also learned a lot about handling himself more professionally, and how ethics affect the workplace.

“Freddie is a dedicated student, always delivering despite his very busy work schedule,” says Thompson. “It’s a pleasure having him in my classes.”

“I’ve consulted with my former boss and my current boss, and they’ve always supported me,” he says. “I’ve learned skills in school, that if I didn’t have them, I wouldn’t have succeeded.”

Education is front and center with the Tomlin family, which includes three daughters: Alyssa, 20, a student at James Madison University; Kaley, 16; and Alexis, 11. There are evenings, says Tomlin, when both he and Chalona, who is employed full-time as a nurse and is working on a double masters degree, have their laptops out, doing homework. It’s important for the three Tomlin girls to see that their parents’ hard work pays off, says Tomlin.

Tomlin credits an earlier connection with DSLCC for helping him land the job at Pro-Con. He had recently completed the Pulp and Paper class at DSLCC – it was a pre-employment class hosted by DSLCC for WestRock (formerly Westvaco) – and he believes the knowledge he had gained about the industry as a result of that class gave him a leg up.

“Dabney has helped me grow as an individual as well as growing with the company,” he says.

Sondra Elliott

Sondra Elliott has had her share of obstacles to overcome over the years: She’s suffered a couple of mini-strokes, endured the death of a beloved grandmother, and has held a variety of jobs, all while raising three daughters with her husband, Jason.

In May, the first-generation 41-year-old college student walked across the stage at commencement exercises and received her Associate in Applied Science in Business Management degree, with the words: “I’m; Possible” sketched on the cap she was wearing.

With graduation looming a few days away, Elliott, who is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the academic honor society, was sitting on a 3.8 GPA, and had just earned a 103 grade on a difficult accounting exam. Not bad for a young woman who earned a GED many years ago.

Elliott has big plans to put her business education to the test, and she has an innovative proposal she hopes to implement sometime in the future. “My idea would be so amazing,” she says excitedly. “I have in mind a one-stop family-oriented entertainment center where the whole family can enjoy an arcade or rides or music, a variety of activities. It would give the kids something to do that’s fun and safe.”

Without revealing much more, “Elliott’s Playhouse” might be a few more years in the making, but Elliott is nothing if not determined. Learning the foundations of business in her DSLCC classes, she says, has given her the tools to put that idea in motion.

She’s worked at WalMart and in an office, served as a nurse aide, and she’s even worked in a warehouse. “I’ve got lots of different skills under my belt,” she laughs.

“I’ve been impressed with Sondra’s work ethic,” says Thompson. “She’s overcome so many obstacles, and she has been truly dedicated to her studies. It’s been a joy watching her develop her natural talents.”

Elliott’s three daughters – Tina Elliott, a manager at Dominos; DeeDee Harless, a DSLCC graduate who will be attending Virginia Commonwealth University in the fall; and Katrina Elliott, who will be applying to VCU soon – are understandably proud of their mom. “When my daughter was at Dabney,” says Elliott, “I saw how much the professors would go above and beyond to help her succeed, and I thought, ‘I can do this, too.’”

Elliott also credits her mother, Drema Saunders; her father, Earl Jones; and stepmother Darlene Jones with supporting her educational goals.

Elliott says she continues to be a work in progress. She’ll be back at DSLCC in the fall to earn a second associate degree, this time in General Studies. She has plans to go to Old Dominion University to study child psychology.

Elliott is fond of encouraging quotes, and one of them she found— believe it or not – on the inside of a wrapper around a piece of Dove chocolate. She keeps the wrapper tacked to a bulletin board in her home.

“It says: ‘Don’t stop until you’re proud’. I felt like my granny was telling me that. It sounds like something she would have said.”

New Adjunct Instructor Joins Business Program

In addition to highlighting some of DSLCC’s best business students and graduates Thompson recently announced that Gezime Christian is joining the DSLCC Business Program as an adjunct instructor. She is a former student of St. Petersburg College through the Early College Program where she was actively involved in SGA, served as President of Phi Theta Kappa, and was awarded Student of the Year in 2009. Mrs. Christian transferred to The University of Tampa for her Bachelor’s degree which she obtained in both Business Economics and Mathematics in 2012 and was awarded Outstanding Student in Economics. Subsequently, she studied at Yale University where she earned her Master’s degree in International and Development Economics in 2013.

“I am delighted to announce Gezmine’s appointment to teach both Macroeconomics and Microeconomics at DSLCC,” said Thompson. “Her incredibly impressive background, education and community college experience make her the ideal instructor. We feel very fortunate to have her join our ranks. I am eager to see her engage with the students this fall.”

While living and working full-time in Washington, D.C., she has been teaching part-time as an Adjunct Faculty for St. Petersburg College since 2013. Most recently, she worked at The White House Office of Management and Budget where she was awarded a Presidential Management Fellowship and served as a Program Examiner during both the Obama and Trump administrations. Previously, she was an Analyst at the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which followed her role as a Consultant at The World Bank.

“I am excited to serve as an Economics Instructor at DSLCC,” says Christian. “I look forward to showing students how an understanding of economics can help them understand how the economy works and how it impacts our lives.”

For more information about the DSLCC Business Program, contact Thompson at (540) 863-2890 or email rthompson@dslcc.edu. Also, please note that as of July 1, the College name will change to Mountain Gateway Community College, and the new website will be www.mgcc.edu.
DSLCC Business student Freddie Tomlin of Buena Vista attends classes while working as a full-time manager at Pro-Con in Raphine. Tomlin is working toward an Associate’s Degree.

DSLCC Business graduate and budding entrepreneur Sondra Elliott (right) of Covington, discusses plans to use her education and skills toward a unique busienss idea with Business Program Head Rachael Thompson.

Gezime Christian

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