HCTC’s University Center of the Mountains Gets Perry Countian Heather Holliday into Classroom as Student and Teacher
Summertime; when the weather is hot, students are on break, and everyone is enjoying a little vacation time. Everyone, that is, except Perry County resident and newly instated elementary school teacher Heather Holliday.
“I’m looking forward to starting school! I know all these other teachers are ready for summer break to keep going, but I’m ready to get in the classroom,” Holliday says, a nervous laugh escaping as she talks.
Holliday will be part of the cohort of new teachers starting their career in the 2021-22 school year. Working as a fourth-grade science and social studies teacher—or as any kind of teacher, for that matter—has been a dream for most of her life. Unfortunately, circumstance and location were two huge barriers.
In 2006, Holliday enrolled in classes at Hazard Community and Technical College (HCTC) with intentions of going through the nursing program.
“I was in the CNA (certified nursing assistant) program to lead to the nursing program and that’s only because they didn’t have any other options for me to be a teacher, which was what I wanted to do,” she explains.
For the next two years, Holliday worked on expanding her education as well as her family, giving birth to her first two children.
“I ended up failing out (of the CNA program) because I had my son in the middle of the semester,” Holliday says.
Because Holliday was attending school using financial aid money, failing her semester meant she couldn’t receive more financial aid to have a redo.
“I couldn’t get financial aid anymore and so I couldn’t go to school because I couldn’t afford it as a single mom,” she adds, continuing to say that she felt she had to give up on her dream of furthering her education at that time to be able to work and support her family.
By the end of 2010, Holliday’s family expanded once more after marrying her current husband, who gave more support for her dreams than she could have ever hoped for.
“My husband talked me into saving up to pay off [what] I owed so I could go back,” she says. “It took me a really long time because we had two more kids after that together, but by 2018 I finally started back fulltime and just went from there.”
Holliday had never been truly interested in becoming a nurse, however, because she lived in Southeastern Kentucky she felt this career was the only option open to her. She couldn’t travel out of the area due to job and family responsibilities, so she thought she had no access to bachelor’s and master’s level degrees.
Luckily, Holliday had enrolled in classes during the Tuesday Night Live (TNL) program at HCTC, which was meant to give nontraditional students the opportunity to complete their classes in one evening, after work, along with activities for school-age children so she could bring her kids with her if she needed to.
“During the Tuesday Night Live program, they told me about the University Center of the Mountains (UCM). I had heard a little about it online, but I wasn’t sure what it was,” Holliday says.
The UCM, which opened its doors to students in January 2005, is a collaboration of partnering colleges and universities in the state designed to help students further their education once they have finished their program at HCTC. The UCM partners together offer 55 bachelors, 42 masters, and eight doctoral degree programs. In the 16 years it has been in operation, the UCM has been able to assist students in earning more than 1,500 degrees in fields as far ranging as teaching, nursing, medical laboratory sciences, and pharmacy.
Holliday scheduled an appointment with UCM Director Dr. Deronda Mobelini to figure out how she could best use the UCM to help get her teaching in a classroom.
“She walked me through the entire process. She got in touch with the transfer advisor at Morehead Stater University (MSU) and told me every single class I needed to take every semester,” she says. “It was a very smooth process because I was always in contact with someone from the UCM or MSU that told me everything that I needed to do.”
For the next two and a half years, Holliday worked a full-time job, took care of her family, and attended MSU fulltime through the UCM. She was also able to take HCTC classes, at reduced tuition cost, as an MSU student for her MSU education program. All that stress and responsibility didn’t stop her from wanting to go even further above and beyond. On her Fridays off, she began substitute teaching at West Perry Elementary in Hazard, Ky., to get her foot in the door.
In May 2021, Holliday graduated summa cum laude from MSU with a bachelor’s degree in middle grades education 5-9, quit her full-time job, and began working as a full-time sub. Within a month she had been hired as the new fourth-grade science and social studies teacher for the West Perry Elementary 2021-22 school year.
“If it wasn’t for the UCM, I would have never been able to pursue that degree because I still had to work fulltime and I couldn’t go away anywhere because I was married with my children,” Holliday adds. “I would have went back to school, but not got my teaching degree because it wasn’t offered anywhere that I could make it to.”
“I don’t really know what I would have done if I didn’t have the opportunity through the UCM,” she adds.
With years of crazy schedules, long nights, and sleep-deprived mornings under her belt, Holliday admits it’s been a little strange to have free time since she accepted the teaching position.
“I don’t know what to do with myself,” she jokes. “I’ve been working in my old job a little bit covering for them and just getting my classroom together.”
Holliday wants to make sure that anyone who is doubting their ability to go back to school or get an education brushes those feelings off and starts believing in themselves. Regardless of financial, situational, or time issues, HCTC and the UCM are excited to help get anyone on the right track to a career in a field they’ll love without feeling overwhelmed or unprepared.
“If I can do it, anybody can do it,” she adds.
If you’re interested in what the UCM has to offer you, go to hazardctc.com/ucm or call (606) 487-3182.