Young woman in a graduate cap and gown

Family and faculty support make graduation a reality for Brevard native

By Rob Rhodes
Photo courtesy of Jamie Warren

Blue Ridge Community College student Jessica Chandler’s journey to graduation was often fraught with obstacles and barriers, but in the end, with the help of tutors, scheduling changes, and a mother who supported her every step of the way, she successfully overcame them.
Part of her journey culminated May 8 when she earned an Associate in Arts college transfer degree during the College’s spring commencement ceremony.
This momentous occasion obviously meant a lot to Chandler, but the most important aspect is the ability to take care of her daughter. When considering college as a new parent, Chandler thought, “I can’t go through life and have zero degrees and, you know, just work part-time retail, that’s not my goal.”
Chandler had her daughter Kinslee, now seven years old, when she was a senior in high school. While this may have derailed some people’s desire for a degree, it made Chandler even more resilient, “I’ve overcome many obstacles with her and it’s taking me a while to obtain my associate’s, but I’d like to think that’s just helped me become a stronger person.”

It wasn’t easy at the beginning though. Chandler had to acclimate to the new structure of college while also taking care of her daughter. She details her first experience, “I signed up for way more classes than I should have in the beginning and realized that I wasn’t going to get my degree in two years.” But like many students in similar situations, Chandler adjusted her schedule, reset her graduation timeline, and enrolled in night classes so her mom could babysit her daughter.

Chandler explains, “My number one biggest supporter has been my Mom, who helped through probably two years of me having to take night classes. My mom sacrificed a lot for me to be able to do schoolwork.”

Like a lot of students at Blue Ridge, Chandler worked many hours while taking classes. Presently, she’s employed at Lowe’s part-time on weekends. She has worked up to 35 hours a week in the past, but realizes it won’t be possible this fall when she becomes a full-time student majoring in social work at Liberty University.

Chandler explains her decision on becoming a social worker comes from her desire to work with disadvantaged populations, “I mostly want to work with kids, but I’d like to work with the elderly and people out of work.”

There was a time when Chandler needed academic assistance. After struggling in math, a subject that always gave her problems in high school, she decided to get a tutor through Blue Ridge’s Student Success Center. “It’s going to make it a lot easier than trying to figure it out myself. My time is so precious because I always have somewhere to be or something to do. I needed to just go ahead and ask for help.”

Michele Handy, Librarian and Student Success Coordinator, recalls Chandler’s strong study habits, “I remember Jessica would drop off her child at school and come to the library every day at 8 in the morning.”

Handy connected Chandler to Susan Jaisler, a retired math teacher, and Gayle Snyder, a former instructor at the College, for tutoring in math. The results were dramatic for Chandler, “I made an A in Quantitative Literacy. I never even had an A in high school math. All I could ever get was a strong B, but it was never an A.”

When asked what advice she would give to new students, Chandler offered these words, “Be consistent. Make sure you reach your goals. Sometimes it means less time with friends, fewer vacations. A lot of students have to get part-time jobs and work through school, so just stay focused on your responsibilities.”

On the decision to start at a community college, Chandler stated, “The best thing about Blue Ridge would be the helpful faculty and staff. Everyone wants you to succeed. They want you to graduate. They’ll help you if you need to come early or stay late and provide help with tutors. Everyone here wants to get you to graduation.”

Blue Ridge Community College is registering students for Summer and Fall courses. Visit or call 883-2520 for more information.