Twenty years is a long time to work in an industry, only to have it pulled from under you and sent out of country. But that’s exactly what happened to Diane Owl, when Levi-Straus closed its Murphy assembly plant in 1999, and lit out south of the border down Mexico way.
Owl, the Financial Aid Director at Tri-County Community College (TCCC) and recent recipient of the 2015 Excellence Award for Staff, spoke of those difficult times.
“A lot of us were in the same boat,” said Owl. “We were jobless, with no skills other than making jeans.”
Fortunately, because Levi-Straus moved to Mexico, help for its former employees was available under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Programs were already in place to re-educate a workforce that had lost their jobs due to moves by companies taking advantage of the agreement. TCCC was ready and able to help.
Owl, who had dropped out of Murphy High School to go to work, had already earned her High School Equivalency Diploma through TCCC while employed at the Levi-Straus factory.
“They were a good company in that regard,” said Owl. “If you spent an hour of your own time during the week to work on getting your diploma, Levi-Straus would give you a matching hour, and pay you for it, and provide people from the College to help you.”
She had also taken TCCC Saturday Continuing Education classes in computer technologies before the plant closed, so she was familiar with the campus and felt comfortable starting over at TCCC when Levi-Straus left.
By 2001, she had earned her 2-year degree in Office Systems Technologies from the College, and had been hired part-time to work in the Financial Aid department. She immediately began working towards a College Transfer Associate of Arts degree, and shifted to a full-time position with Financial Aid in 2002.
During that period she also took on the responsibility of Coordinator for the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification for the College. It was important for TCCC, and for its students, that the Automotive Technologies Program receive an ASE certification.
Owl spent a year and a half visiting all of the auto dealerships in the area and filling out the mountain of paperwork needed, including inventorying every nut, bolt, and piece of equipment in the College’s automotive facility. Under her stewardship, the TCCC program received its ASE certification.
In 2005, the Financial Aid Director’s position opened up, and Owl applied for, and landed the job. In spite of the vastly increased duties and responsibilities that the new position carried with it, Owl found the time to begin working on yet another degree.
She set her sights on a Bachelors degree in Business Administration offered in a joint program by TCCC and Montreat College, held at TCCC’s main campus in Peachtree. Course schedules were geared towards individuals with full-time jobs, with each new class held every six weeks. Owl received her BBA in 2008.
“It wasn’t always easy,” admitted Owl, who had to raise a granddaughter while working full-time and going to school. “There were challenges. But it was worth it, and I received so much help and support along the way.”
Now she spends her time helping TCCC students get what they need to accomplish their goals.
“I love my work,” said Owl. “I get to help students the way I was helped. Besides, I know what its like to lose a job. I’ve been there. I can answer questions sometimes that they don’t even know to ask.”
Congratulations to Diane Owl, Director of Financial Aid, and well-deserved recipient of the 2015 TCCC Excellence Award for Staff.
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