I find Colleen quietly leafing through the books in the Library at Northwest Community College, Houston Campus. I ask her if I can help her find anything but she informs me that she is just browsing. I sense that she is slightly annoyed by my presence but I know what she is up to. Colleen is seeking the subject for her next study project.
After achieving four qualifications including a diploma and certificates in Adult and Child Psychology, Counseling and Business, Colleen Ettinger, one might think, would have had enough.
“I just love learning,” says Colleen. “I find the process fascinating and I guess I just got carried away, and one course led to another. I had originally set out to study psychology and counselling because I enjoy exercising my brain, but I soon realized that there is a real need for professional counselling services in our community.”
I ask Colleen to expand on this.
”It could just be the simple act of listening as we navigate our way through the ups and downs of life,” says Colleen. “At other times it may be of a more serious nature as we find ourselves facing an unexpected personal crisis or perhaps getting to grips with a longer term issue. Whatever the reason, if my education can be of use to just one person then all my hours of study and endless tests and exams will have been worthwhile.”
It’s a typical response from Colleen whose passion for learning is superseded only by her love of Houston.
“I’ve lived here all of my life and feel totally connected to this community,” she says. “It’s true. I relish the opportunity to learn about the world but the more I learn the more I realize how important Houston has become for me. I am so lucky to be here and I want to help make it an even better place to live.”
I wander down the corridor to the CCP department to chat with Sandi Lavallie and find out more about Colleen.
“There is way more to Colleen than meets the eye,” says Sandi, a long time instructor for Northwest Community College who is as committed to the community of Houston as Colleen. “She may appear quiet, but she is one of the most resilient and hardworking people I know. We shouldn’t underestimate the level of fortitude required to undertake these qualifications through distance education, especially when one considers that Colleen was managing a full time job and a busy home life at the same time,” says Sandi. “Learning for learning’s sake is a wonderful thing but it’s the fact that Colleen has done this with her community in mind which makes her achievements so much more inspirational. We are all very proud of her.”
I take a few pictures of Colleen surrounded by her qualifications when Colleen quips that ‘we will need a bigger table next time.’
“Next time,” I reply.
“Yes, I still have loads to offer and subjects I want to study,” she says. “Plus I am running for council.”
NWCC Education Advisor