Photo of NHCC recent graduate and adult student, John Ross Black

John is an adult student who recently attended NHCC along with his wife, (and his daughter went to NHCC as well)! He graduated from NHCC in May with an Applied Associate of Science degree in Marketing, an Associate of Science Business Transfer Pathway degree, and an array of other accolades! John hopes to continue his studies further and in the meantime, loves sharing his NHCC experience with others, get to know him below!

How did your daughter end up going to NHCC?

My daughter and I moved to Maple Grove from El Paso, Texas. My daughter was 19 and wanted to go to school. She wanted the big university experience. I was 41 at the time, and I told her, “If I was the one going to school, I would choose a small school. Who wants to walk 10 miles to get to class, have it take two weeks to find my advisor and just be a number in a big school?” She still wanted all of that. But before we made any decisions, we looked around here first. We found North Hennepin and went to visit. She had a big university perception and didn’t like NHCC at first. On the tour, she met people, and everyone was really nice at NHCC. I wished I was in her spot. College never stuck for me. I went for a year at 18 and blew my opportunity. Fast forward, my daughter enrolled at NHCC. She had one teacher for two courses, named Margie. My daughter came home every day talking about her. She did expect a lot out of her students, but this was the real world, and she set students up for it. Margie was also there for my daughter after class, in emails, and in life situations that could affect school. Things happen, and Margie helped students overcome them to focus on their studies and get a great education.

How did you end up enrolling at NHCC?

It was 2020; COVID-19 hit, companies were laying off people and the world was a mess. Then of course, after 20 years in my career I was reevaluating my whole life. I looked at my sales and management job, which was in the food service distribution industry. I felt kind of capped off, because I wanted to go the executive route, but to do that a degree was required. I already accepted the fact that making below 6 figures was probably as good as I’d do, since I didn’t have a diploma. I did want to be an executive though and it not just for the money. I wanted to be able to lead further and challenge myself and as a person with a disability, that is a good thing to want. I was in an accident and unfortunately, I became disabled. When COVID came along, the first thing I thought was, ‘I’ve got to be productive in society.’  I can't just lay at home and do nothing while I'm supposedly getting better. I had four kids, a beautiful wife and 4 puppies. I was a 40-year-old adult. I didn’t think I had time for school. But, after sitting at home for a few weeks post-accident, with COVID-19 going on; I thought, 'That's it, I need to do something. I’ll give school a try.’ I did want a challenge in my career, and in my mind, there was no better challenge than going back to school at age 40. Through my disability, my responsibilities, and just at my age, I couldn't go sit in a classroom 3 times a week. But the pandemic made NHCC open online classes, and online classes opened me up to opportunities. I ended up earning 100 credits in two years. I went nonstop, there were even semesters when I took 7 courses. I had the luxury of treating it like a job. I’d be up at 5:30, drinking coffee, going online, and breaking for lunch. Every day I would do classwork until 6pm and take half a Saturday and Sunday off. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was doing it! I even took summer courses and got all A’s. Coming from an adult, I loved summer courses because they were online, and they were only eight weeks. A lot of adults have been in the working world, they want to get into school, and they want to get it done. Eight weeks is perfect for many adults.

What were classes like for you at NHCC?

At NHCC, I took two of Margie’s courses. She was very welcoming, and tough. I analyzed my own self and I thought more than I’ve ever thought in my life in her classes. I passed her class in my first semester, I took four more later and I got all A’s. As an adult, you don’t get fun accomplishments anymore. But suddenly, I was getting emails that said, ‘Congratulations, you’ve been invited to join PTK,’ or ‘Congratulations you’ve earned three certificates.’ Those messages make you feel good again!

How did your wife end up enrolling at NHCC?

At first, my wife gave me a hard time and she'd look at my wall of certificates and say, ‘Look at you go, show-off!’ She made jokes, but I know she really did admire it.  My wife is 30 and I’m 42, and as I was going through school, I said, ‘You can do this too! I know you want to do this.’ She wanted to try but was worried about the remedial courses she’d have to take. Opportunities for college early on didn’t happen for her. It's been a while since she’s been in school and her first language is Spanish, but she went for it! She took those extra courses and got up to speed. When it came to school, her self-esteem wasn’t the highest, but then her professors started telling her what a great job she was doing. I could see her self-esteem rising, and I saw the difference in her. We took courses together in the summer, and it was a wonderful family experience. My wife got invited to join PTK and she also has a 4.0 GPA. Great things are happening, and this is our story. I think she will eventually have a career in health services. She loves helping people, and there's so many things she could do. Even if she doesn’t end up working in health services, it helps a lot to just have an associate degree too. You don't always have to apply your degree to a certain career area. Her confidence is built up now, and I know she's going to be successful. NHCC helped her to leave her comfort zone, and that's a wonderful thing!

Did you graduate in May 2022?

Yes, I got two degrees from NHCC in May. One in business marketing and the other in business management. I’ll be moving on, probably to St. Cloud State in the fall, and I'm planning to take the summer off. My wife has another year, or a year and a half to go at NHCC. She's pacing herself and enjoying school at her own pace

How were your NHCC professors?

Another great teacher I had at NHCC was Dr. Todd Johnson. Todd Johnson’s the most incredible man I've ever met. Todd doesn't believe in just opening the book, taking the test, and getting a grade. Todd wants you to come out of his class knowing exactly what that subject is all about, and he wants you to retain it and use it in the real world. At the end of the semester he says, ‘Let’s talk! What did you learn? How are you going to use it in a real world?’ Todd’s end goal is learning, and it was very beneficial. I never would have passed statistics with the brain injury I have now. But Todd made these wonderful videos with examples. I feel honored to know Todd and to have taken his courses. Todd, and Margie taught us how to think for ourselves. To not just go with the flow, but to be a thinker. To be an individual, to believe in yourself. Those are things you can't get out of a book. Todd and Margie made that impact on a lot of students, and they're just wonderful!  The last NHCC professor I'll bring up is Brady Prenzlow. When you’re talking about online courses, Brady set the bar. If NHCC ever comes out and says, ‘Some majors will permanently be taught completely online,’ they need to follow his lead! Brady's an incredible marketer, and when you watch his lectures it's like you're watching a live television show! He has a very good camera. Students usually fall asleep in lectures, but Brady’s lectures are like watching KARE11 news. He has music at the beginning of class and then dives in. Brady is so intelligent, and great, that it doesn't just draw me in, but my little ones in the house look at me with these faces like, ‘Oh, what's dad watching?’ The lectures are just so entertaining, so productive, and effective. I retained so much of it and that's all during an online class! Online classes are becoming very popular, and if it must be done, in my opinion, this is the way to do it! I told my dean, ‘Ma'am, I want to call out Mr. Prenzlow, because he’s great, and you really need to look at how he’s doing things. This should be the only way online classes are taught.’

Did you like the campus life at NHCC?

NHCC has a lot of activities. They have Student Senate, and it was amazing. They have activities that go on. If you go to a university, you might have a financial hardship and they’d say, ‘Well, good luck.’ NHCC would say, ‘Here you go, why don’t you apply for a scholarship. You know what, we have money funded by the government. How can we help you? Do you need food?’ At NHCC, there was financial help, there were laptops, you name it. There’s no reason you can’t succeed at NHCC. My wife is Hispanic, and I'm white. I've met wonderful people through on-campus groups, and Student Senate. I attended Spanish Club, where Hispanic students (and non-Hispanic students) get together to talk. I also sat in on an LGBTQ+ club meeting. I met people, and I heard their stories. It was a breath of fresh air to see different people from diverse backgrounds, just another thing NHCC offers. It wasn’t financial assistance, or food, or tutors, or even great professors. But they offered student groups for connection. If you needed, or wanted to express yourself, if you felt like you weren’t being heard, you could join a group, on Zoom or in-person. They just had this vibe, like, ‘It’s ok, come on in, let's talk about it.’ The question really is, what kind of support doesn't NHCC offer? What do they lack to help you get your degree, to help you become a better person and to help you grow? They really do it all. I loved my time at NHCC. It changed my life.

Are there any NHCC staff members who you want to give a shout-out to?

There was an amazing lady named Virginia, who I worked with in advising. Virginia looked at me for who I am, and didn’t just treat me like every other student, which I really appreciated. Advisors get calls coming in all the time. From my experience, they always made the time to just laugh a little. They made students feel comfortable. They saw situations individually and guided us in the right way. I know that's huge for students who are new to North America too. That's all you can really ask for. They were truly so helpful to me. At North Hennepin, they always have answers and if they don’t know right away, they always call you back. They’re there to guide you. NHCC just fits everyone. It fits older adults, and it fits the youth. I also love having Dr. Garcia at NHCC. There's so many wonderful people, I could go on and on. I haven't even met 80% of these people face to face, but to know that I built relationships with all of them online, just says a lot. I met Troy Nellis in-person for the first time in February. Troy was incredible in helping me find disability resources. He always said, ‘We can help, we have scholarships, the money is there.’ I took him up on his offer and I applied for some scholarships. I got my first Presidential scholarship and that money really helped. So, I applied again later, and got another Presidential scholarship! It worked out amazingly! Additionally, a very, very important part of my time at NHCC, was spent in the Access Services department with Tom Lynch and Jessica. I would have never gotten A's if it weren’t for them. I came into NHCC with a disability, with a brain injury and orthopedic issues. There was a time when I was worried and really struggling. Margie told me to reach out to Tom in Access Services. I didn’t know what Access Services was and she explained that they help students who have disabilities. Tom was so compassionate. He didn’t just help me and move on; he stayed in contact. The Access Services department makes you feel like you’re not disabled. They made me feel like everybody else, but I just needed a little help in some areas. They were the best thing that happened to me academically at NHCC. Along with being helpful in class, they also attend job fairs on-campus and will point out accommodating employers. They made me realize there’s nothing wrong with me, I just have different needs. I felt so much more positive about everything after speaking with them. Tom is the best of the best. The main point I’d like to emphasize is that the staff at NHCC really work to meet everyone's needs.

Do you think the weekend college program we’re launching this fall will positively impact adult learners?

 Yes, I think that would be highly successful with adult learners for certain courses. I don't think, adults taking only weekend classes would be as successful to get a degree though. Reason being is, you can only give up so many weekends when you have a family. But I’ll throw out this positive adult learner weekend college example. I cannot do algebra, even in high school, it just blew my mind away, and I was not able to do it. After high school, I didn't pursue it and it still intimidates me online. I took statistics with Todd, but I only passed because Todd taught it a certain way. What I'm getting at is, if science, statistics, algebra, calculus would have been offered on the weekends, that could have been huge for me. Then I wouldn’t have needed to grasp those challenging concepts over a screen! I could have been in a classroom learning firsthand. If you lose a couple of weekends of your life, it’s not a big deal. You're gaining credits and knowledge, compared to having to doing it on your own all the time. Without a doubt the flexibility of weekend college will be nice for adults. I think if they start off small, it will be a hit. There are people who want to go to school and if they want it bad enough, they will go on the weekends. This will not consume your entire day. You can go to work, spend time with your family and still pursue your degree at an accredited, affordable college. I think this will be huge with adult learning. The obstacles in our mind tell us, ‘I don’t have the time,’ ‘I can’t afford it,’ ‘It’s too far out of my way and too many years,’ but none of that is true. Credits add up quick and before you know it, you’ll have an associate degree and an opportunity for advancement.

Bonus tip: I also think North Hennepin should advertise their certificate offerings more as well. I’ve found, when it comes to work, a certificate can be just as effective as getting an associate degree. If I wanted to apply for a senior management job, they would say I needed an associate’s degree. But if you said, ‘I didn't go to college, but I got a certificate in marketing and let me tell you how I can do this job better than anyone else. I can do a great job, and I was just trained in marketing tactics of the world today.” I didn’t earn a marketing degree 20 years ago. I learned today, through digital marketing. Employers want to know, what can you do for me now? What can you bring into my company today? They don't want to talk about school. So, I told them, ‘Not only can I bring in my experience, but these certificates upgraded my skills. The way things were done before is different than today. You can’t just keep doing things the way we’ve always done them. You’ve got to be up to date. People change, trends change, industries change. We're in a new world. We're in a digital platform, and these certificates helped me to get there. They show that I'm ready to change it up and get with the modern times.’ Certificates are highly impressive, and they are beneficial for everybody. All companies are looking for someone new to bring in fresh ideas. That's where the certificates that professors are teaching you come into play.

In your opinion, what should be offered to NHCC students that isn’t currently offered now?  

Brooklyn Park is home to a lot of families. There are many young mothers who don’t have adequate childcare. Many people dream of coming to this country and going to school. And those mothers might say, ‘I can't go to school, because I have no one to watch the kids.’ It would be phenomenal if childcare didn’t have to be something for young mothers and students to take into consideration. Another idea could be similar to airport shuttles. The shuttles would hit different areas and help NHCC students of all ages get to class. I think transportation would be extremely helpful. Something else came to mind and, this is by no means meant to point anything negative against someone. It actually would be more of an honor! I would love to be able to see, or maybe get to know Dr. Garcia a little more. I mean, we get the weekly emails, which are really nice. But, as the head of the school, it would be really cool if during the year people had different opportunities to shake his hand, or say hello, or things like that. My wife even said, “It is a big deal to us. He is so humble, and people might just say, ‘Oh, he’s the president.’ But to a lot of students they might say, ‘Wow, I got to meet the president! He knows who I am.’ It does feel really good.” To be able to have his presence out there, and I'm sure he's slammed with work. But it would be cool if there were events where we could get to meet him. It makes you feel good that he knows who you are. He does a wonderful job. My wife just one day asked me, ‘How was he?’ And it's just a cool thing to say, ‘the president of the school, he knows who I am.’ It makes you feel good about where you go to school. It makes you want to do more. It makes you feel important. And, like I said, I can only imagine all the work he does, everyone at the school has been busy. So, I realize that. But if there was any time in his schedule, even if he’s walking down the halls and just waving to people, saying, ‘Hey, this is who I am,’ it could go a long way. He is a good man. He is wonderful to know, and I think people would love it.

Did you have any idea when you started college that you’d get all A’s, and be this successful?

I had no idea! I graduated with a 4.0. I never thought I’d do that. Making PTK was a surprise; I didn’t even know what it was at first. I expected to be lost, and I expected it to be harder to remember things from high school 20 years ago. But it wasn’t like that. To answer your question, I had no idea what was going to happen, or how college would work out. I was very intimidated. I had a successful career in sales and management, but this was an unknown territory.

What’s next for you, John?

I'm in the application process to get my bachelor’s degree at St. Cloud State, and I would like a master’s degree after that. All in business. I love Minnesota state programs, and I love D2L. I want to stick to that platform, because it worked well for me, and I felt comfortable. Honestly, I don't know what's next for me. I don't know if I want to continue working in sales. I've always had a dream of working at the Target Corporate Office. But on a different note, some of my teachers and professors here have really inspired me. Sometimes I think, ‘I wonder what I would need to be able to teach at North Hennepin?’ At first, I probably wouldn’t want it to be fulltime if I did it. I would just want to get my foot in the door. That would be so cool to be able to inspire youth and adults and give back to students. Also, since I recently went through the process of being a student, I’d have more experience of what they are facing. That career path has really been on my mind.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

For me talking about NHCC comes naturally, and I had a wonderful experience there. I am going to start my own scholarship at the school; after I get back to work and graduate with my masters. I don't want to start something until I know once it’s started it's going to be for life. My goal is to start out with like $2,000 a year. Then, after a year bump it up to maybe $4,000 or $5,000. I want to give back to every student in the way that I received those Presidential scholarships. It was important to me to give back for life. Because I believe I'm paying it forward and I want to give that to everyone else. I look at everything as a giant blessing. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. You live, you learn. North Hennepin Community College really gives it their all. To not just helping us as students, but as people. Adult students are helped, and so are those younger students that might not have parental figures. If you feel hurt, or lost, or alone, NHCC welcomes everyone. That’s the absolute truth.

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