When UAB Hospital administrators announced in 2011 that a new GED program was going to be offered to employees who wanted to pursue a high school equivalence degree, Vanessa Avery made a promise.
It was a promise to Edward Crump, director of Environmental Services, and Jordan DeMoss, assistant vice president of UAB Hospital. Most important of all, it was a promise to herself.
“I told Mr. Crump and Mr. DeMoss that I wanted everybody who decided to take the classes to pass, but that I was going to be the first graduate,” Avery says.
And in August, Avery, a specialist in Environmental Services (EVS) in UAB Hospital, lived up to her word. She became the first graduate from a new employee GED program created in a joint effort by UAB, UAB Medicine and Jefferson State Community College.
The program enables any employee without a high school diploma to attend up to six hours per week of GED prep classes on work time.
Crump and Charlotte Beeker, administrative director of Food, Nutrition and Guest Services, presented the initial idea to implement the program to UAB Medicine leadership, and the program immediately took off.
“We did this first and foremost because it’s the right thing to do,” Crump says. “We have employees who don’t have high school diplomas, and we wanted to implement this GED program to support the organization’s mission of education so that our employees can achieve their career goals.
“Second, the work environment has evolved so much with changes over to digital equipment in all facets of the hospital,” he says. “Everything is paperless and computerized. We wanted to do this to enable our staff to have the tools to work in our complex healthcare setting.”
Avery is the perfect example. In the old days, hospital bed tracking was done with paper and pen. Now she uses a computer to manage workflow for the EVS department.
“UAB invests many resources into the professional development of its staff during work hours, which helps them do their jobs better,” Crump says. “This type of training is really paying off for Vanessa. Hopefully she and future graduates will be able take other steps in the organization and make career moves if they so desire.”
Environmental Services and Food, Nutrition & Guest Services are two of the departments on campus that don’t require a high school diploma or GED for entry-level employment. Crump says any UAB employee without a high school diploma or GED is eligible for the program.
|Environmental Services and Food, Nutrition & Guest Services are two of the departments on campus that don’t require a high school diploma or GED for entry-level employment. Crump says any UAB employee without a high school diploma or GED is eligible for the program.|
Practice what you preach
Dropping out of high school was never Avery’s intention. But life’s difficulties got in the way, and she did not finish her senior year.
“I always regretted never finishing, and I always wanted to go back to school,” Avery says. “It was always a goal of mine to finish.”
Avery made an attempt to get her GED a few years ago and fell just 50 points short of attaining it. She wanted to go back and try again, but with a family and full-time job, it just became too much.
Instead, she focused on her work and on her son, DeMarcus. Avery encouraged her son to not follow her path and to get his high school degree. When DeMarcus graduated from Parker High School in 2011, Avery decided it was time for her to follow through.
“They always say to practice what you preach,” Avery says. “I was going to go back, and then UAB announced they were doing this program, and it was just such a blessing. The timing was perfect.”
More than 20 employees have been working toward earning their GED since August 2011. Melissa McLemore, a GED instructor at Jeff State, meets with participants every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. in a classroom created especially for the program on the seventh floor of Jefferson Tower. Employees who participate must attend six of those 12 hours each week, and their shift work is covered during their classroom time.
Employees have the benefit of using laptops provided by UAB Health System Information Services and online resources from Jeff State. UAB also has enlisted the help of The Literacy Council, a non-profit organization serving Central Alabama, to aid employees learning to read.
Avery says she knows there are some employees who feel ashamed that they don’t have a high school degree and also have a sense of embarrassment or fear of pursuing a GED. She says those reasons aren’t good enough to deprive yourself the chance of receiving an education.
“This is a great opportunity for employees,” Avery says. “You’re getting assistance that is ultimately going to help you succeed. And it’s a great feeling when you do. Ms. McLemore is a wonderful teacher, and it feels so good that everybody is so proud of me. My mom was proud of me. I’m proud of myself because I worked so hard at it.”
Crump is especially fond of the opportunity the GED course can provide because he’s experienced its benefits firsthand; he, too, is a GED recipient. Once he attained that, he decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree, which he received in 1974.
“That’s how I got my break, with a GED,” Crump says. “And I know achieving that gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment, but I also hope it demonstrates to our employees that we care about them. We care about their well-being, and we want to invest in it. We want them to be a better person in life. We want them to get their GED and go beyond that if they choose.”