When Dawn Marie Helms-Wright graduated from high school 20 years ago, the prospect of earning a college degree did not seem realistic, for various reasons. But there came a time, back in 2014, when Dawn decided that she needed to shift gears in her life and begin working toward a new career.
Western was recommended to Dawn in 2014 by the Wyoming Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. She qualified for assistance with her education due to a learning disability, and DVR officials told her that Western could provide her with the necessary assistance to succeed in the classroom and complete her Associate of Applied Arts degree. So Dawn enrolled in the Electrical Instrumentation program in Western’s Technology & Industry division; she graduates in May 2016.
“When I think about it, there is not one person up there who did not help me through at one point or another,” Dawn said of the faculty and staff at Western, and, in particular, of the campus’s Support, Disability and Counseling Center. “Everybody has their place, and they do it really well here. And they work together really well. Everybody was really helpful.”
Dawn said that she has always had an interest in electrical systems, and she recalled winning a science fair in fourth grade with a project about continuity in electrical circuits. The Electrical Instrumentation program at Western is of high academic quality and is highly regarded by employers, so that seemed like a good fit for her.
“It wasn’t my first choice, but it was the best choice that was here,” Dawn said. “My first choice might have been land surveying or something like that, but I would have had to go to Laramie, and I wasn’t going to do that. It was just the best option for me.”
Dawn said she had no problem obtaining learning accommodations when she needed them at Western.
“It was great. They were there for me when I really wanted to use them and I needed them,” she said. “There were extra (study) rooms that were quieter, and I didn’t have to worry about being cold. They provided me with a key if I needed in. That was a really big issue – it was freezing in one of the classrooms, where I couldn’t think right. But the accommodations were great, and they worked for me.”
Dawn praised the staff in Western’s Support, Disability and Counseling Center for their assistance and encouragement. They, along with her faculty instructors and even her division chair, helped her to remain positive and focused when things became difficult.
“There was a rough time where we went through changing teachers, and my advisor left,” she recalled. “It was kind of a shock to all of us. We had to get new teachers in just to finish up the courses. But the new teachers who came in were awesome – I learned a lot from them, and I pushed on through. I had to go and speak with (Technology & Industry division chair) Paul Johnson, and he helped a lot, too, just to get things worked out. And I kind of jumped back in there.
“It’s actually been rough for other, personal (reasons), as well, to get through this,” she added. “But throw anything at me, and I jump over it or go through it. And the school here has really helped a lot – a lot – with support and counseling and anything else that I needed.”
Dawn also found value in her extracurricular activities at the college. She is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools, and, in 2015, she became president of the Association of Non-Traditional Students (A.N.T.S.) Club, which is very active with fundraisers and volunteerism both on campus and in the community.
“It’s been the greatest. It’s been a wonderful experience,” she said. “I would not have wanted to do (college) without it. I maybe didn’t feel that way at first, but it’s all grown on me. Going up to the Associated Student Government meetings and being part of all that, it’s been a really great learning experience that I didn’t expect. I was really glad to be a part of that and be involved, more than just going to class and doing you work, just being involved a little bit more. Communicating with both the traditional and non-traditional students just made it that much more enjoyable all the way around.”
Dawn will graduate in May 2016, and she hopes to find a job in her chosen field and eventually continue her education at the university level.
“There are other things that have me grounded here (in Rock Springs) for the moment, so I will have to stay here and get a job in my field,” she said. “But eventually, that is what my plans are, to move closer to a four-year college and continue on."