It wasn't a downturn in the textile industry that sent Sally Sanders back to school in the early 1990s after 22 years in that field. At the time, textiles were still on top. Instead, it was a desire to further her education that led Sanders to enroll in Greenville Technical College's Surgical Technology program.
Sanders was 42 years old and 25 years out of high school when she came to Greenville Technical College. A mother with grown children, she enjoyed meeting new, younger friends and said the atmosphere in the classroom was like one big, happy family.
"We didn't look at age," she said of her classmates who ranged from teens up. "We looked at a common goal."
When she graduated, it wasn't just the school family she celebrated with but her own family, including a daughter who'd recently celebrated a graduation of her own - from Winthrop University.
"It was like everything turned upside down," Sanders said. "Children don't expect to go to mama's graduation."
Following her graduation, Sanders became certified as a surgical technologist and not only had a job waiting with the Greenville Hospital System, but also received letters from hospitals as far away as Hawaii, encouraging her to apply. Today, she said, as many industries fail, the health care field is even more inviting. "I think nowadays, with the uncertainty of jobs, health care would be a very wise choice," she said.
Sanders, a member of the Surgical Technology advisory board at Greenville Technical College, loves her operating room job at the Greenville Hospital System because it keeps her on her toes.
"Every patient is different," she said. "You're constantly learning. My training at Greenville Tech and Memorial Hospital prepared me to reach the highest attainable level for the surgical technologist - a level III. I enjoy teaching new students and new employees."
Mae Hunter knows her way around a Greenville Technical College graduation ceremony. She first enrolled at the college in the early 1980s after holding jobs as diverse as switchboard operator and construction worker for the Oconee Nuclear Station.
The Surgical Technology degree she earned in 1983 served her well as she went to work for Bon Secours-St. Francis, enjoying the operating room, with its emphasis on providing optimum care, one patient at a time.
Nearly 10 years later, Mae returned to Greenville Technical College, this time to add a nursing degree to her resume. Things were a little different as Mae, now married and the mother of a toddler, struggled to balance her full-time job with school and home responsibilities. Her goal was to finish by the time her daughter entered school, and right on schedule, she graduated from Greenville Technical College as her daughter's academic career began.
Having both degrees has allowed Mae to grow in her career. "I started as a surgical technologist in 1983 and today, I'm the interim director of Upstate Surgery Center," she said. "Going back to school to become a nurse placed me in a position for this opportunity. The leadership skills I learned in the nursing program have helped."
Mae said that given the chance, she'd do it all again. "I am thankful that Greenville Tech was there," she said. "If we didn't have a local college that has a flexible schedule, a lot of educational opportunities would be missed. I know from my experience that Greenville Tech develops high-quality graduates."