Mother and Daughter, Business Alumni Share Successes and Lessons

 

Two women standing in front of the Academic Commons
Tammy Andrews and Courtney Williams

Like mother, like daughter—or so the saying goes. For Tammy Andrews and Courtney Williams, mother and daughter, their bonds also include a shared workplace and a role as alumnae at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton.

Both attended UACCM in different eras and under different circumstances. Tammy enrolled at two separate stints, first as a high school graduate and then some years later as a non-traditional student and a mother of two. Courtney attended after high school in what can be called the typical college experience.

They attended the college in distinctive eras—when the school had different names and buildings. The business department’s curriculum differed as technology and business practices rapidly evolved; however, their benefit of attending a college near home remained the same. It meant staying close to family and finding the means to pay for school. 

Today they work together at Koontz Electric, a company based in Morrilton, and put good use of their business degrees.

 

Petit Jean Technical College alumni finds career pathway, professional development

Drawn to enter the workforce, Tammy attended UACCM—then called Petit Jean Vo Tech—after high school with a private scholarship from a local automotive business. She earned a nine-month certificate in the business department, a program designed to get graduates trained and into the job market. She got her wish: Levi Strauss hired her as a clerk in one of its offices, then located in Arkansas.

Then in March 1999, Levi Strauss closed its Arkansas office and laid off its workforce. When the company offered to pay expenses for its workers to return to school, she decided to go back to her alma mater, which had changed its name to Petit Jean Technical College.

The college’s mission had evolved since Tammy first attended. With other technical schools across Arkansas, Petit Jean now offered two-year degrees, thus changing the college’s identity. Students now could gain a degree and transfer to a university. The college introduced new workforce development and adult education opportunities. Technical and professional programs, such as the business department, also added degrees to obtain better career options.

Returning to her alma mater had benefits. She already had credit hours from her certificate, so she only needed three more semesters to graduate. Despite her earlier certificate, she wasn’t sure about her path in the business field.

“But I knew that Petit Jean College had this business degree that would give me great skills to allow me to do anything that I wanted to. I felt like I could use all of the skills I learned from the public speaking and computer classes,” she said.

She chose an Associate of Applied Science in Business with an emphasis in business office technology. Many of her classmates were her co-workers from Levi, including some women in their sixties who took advantage of Levi’s tuition assistance for professional development. Their familiar presence enriched the classroom.

“Of course they brought cookies to class,” she reflects with humor.

As a cohort they supported each other as non-traditional students who had to manage their classes and home life. Tammy remembered that her older former coworkers would share heartfelt stories in their public speaking class. One woman experienced chest pains due to the stress of the course load.

Soon after enrolling, Tammy needed to find a routine to help her get through college while juggling the daily stresses of life, classes, and childcare.

“Courtney was 11 and my son was 8 at the time,” she said. “They were going to school. I wasn’t working. They would do the cheerleading, baseball, and football. So I wouldn’t do my homework until I put them to bed at night. I did homework from 10 to midnight or later.”

After she graduated in 2001, she gained employment at Winrock International until the organization moved from its Winrock Farms headquarters at Petit Jean Mountain to Little Rock. Then in 2006, she moved to Koontz Electric in the human resources and payroll area of the business.

 

Two women standing in a hallway

“The classes made me confident in myself.”

In 2007, Courtney Williams followed in her mother’s footsteps by enrolling at UACCM—now a member of the University of Arkansas System. Among her top reasons for enrolling at UACCM was the Morrilton native's desire to be close to home. Since the college was a five-minute drive from her house, she appreciated the chance to save money and graduate debt-free thanks to those savings, scholarships, and a part-time job at Koontz Electric.

She felt drawn to the school for the same reasons as her mother years ago. “I saw the skills she had, and she loved her job,” Courtney said. “Of course, you want to follow in your parents' footsteps.”

The smaller class sizes and campus services also played a part, she said, including helpful tutors in the Academic Commons.

When it was time to decide on her career plans, Courtney wanted to be a nurse and took those classes during her first year at UACCM. Although it felt great to have a plan for her life, she sensed that something was missing.

“I wasn’t happy with nursing,” she said. “I didn’t think that was what I wanted. So I changed to business because if anything I felt that those skills would help me with whatever field that I would choose.”

Despite her pragmatic reasoning, her move proved fortuitous as she soon discovered a newfound strength in herself with the change of programs. What started as a course load of practical skills sprouted into a passion for business.

“The classes made me confident in myself. Even if I didn’t know what I was doing at first in class, I still felt confident,” she said.   

The flicker of inspiration reinforced her decision to work towards an Associate of Applied Science in Business and to seek a job in an office. Seeing how her mother prospered in the field helped influence her. While Williams studied an updated curriculum, she learned some of the same skills as her mother—timeless tasks in a business or any organization, such as planning an itinerary for a meeting, developing a resume, or public speaking. Both mother and daughter could commiserate over similar homework assignments, such as lessons on business etiquette and oral presentations, and the overall college experience. Both even shared some of the same instructors, such as Linda Zambrano and Cindy Thompson, who currently teach in the business department.

Courtney found, during job interviews, that her classes taught her specific skills that were desired by companies.

She graduated and worked as an insurance agent with the Hawkins Insurance Agency, a company she had a familiarity with from her part-time work at Koontz. In her role, she served as the prime contact for their clients—her mother, included—who would call with questions about policies.

Courtney and Tammy now work at Koontz together, separated by a wall and collaborating at times to conduct the company’s financial business. They often use their educational knowledge to do their work. Technology has changed some, Tammy said, but she still pulls valuable practices from her business communication course. Using what she learned from the business program, including a valuable accounting course, Courtney works in accounts payable. She looks back at her time at UACCM and sums up her education succinctly.

“Those classes helped me get my foot in the door,” she said.

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