It was second-semester freshman year, and Corissa Farley was ruing the day she registered for a public speaking course. She got jitters just thinking about making a speech, yet here she was, in front of an entire class, trying to command attention.
Somehow she got through that oration, and all the others that semester. And a funny thing happened during the course she once dreaded. She came up with a plan for her future.
“I knew I wanted a career in criminal justice, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity,” she recalls. “Then for a speech assignment I had to interview different professionals. I spoke with a cop, whose job sounded pretty interesting, but I thought being in the State Police would be even more interesting.”
Corissa is now on her way to realizing her dream, as she nears the finish line for her undergraduate degree, which will open the door for her to attend the State Police Academy in Pennsylvania or New Jersey.
And behind the assignment that gave Corissa the focus she needed? A Northampton Area Community College public speaking professor who became Corissa’s BEST mentor. Cathie Grozier helped Corissa develop an education plan at the community college, from which Corissa earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice. Cathie then helped Corissa get on track at New Jersey City University, where she’s now finishing her junior year.
“We’re still very close,” Corissa says of her BEST mentor. “Cathie’s helped me choose classes, she checks on my grades. Until I came to Jersey City, I didn’t appreciate all she had done for me at Northampton. It’s much harder now because I don’t have someone like her here.”
Except she does. Cathie’s just more of a digital pen pal than a physical presence in the classroom.
“She’s a dean and has plenty of work to do herself, but whenever I am writing a paper, she helps me with corrections and improvement,” Corissa says. “She did that at NACC, but it’s especially helpful now that I am so far away.”
Also helpful were the lessons Cathie imparted during that once-dreaded speech class, lessons that shaped a meek student into a confident young woman.
“I hated speech!” Corissa says. “But I don’t mind public speaking now. Cathie helped me understand the communication process between people. I feel more comfortable and speak up now, whereas I’d be in the background before. I’m more a leader; before I was a follower.”
Today, the 21-year-old is secretary of a campus art therapy club that helps students relieve stress as they create with different media. “Every other week we have meetings and do a different form of art therapy,” she explains. “It’s very relaxing.”
Relaxing is a good thing for Corissa, who has worked 40 hours a week at Dairy Queen since age 16, when she was attending Phillipsburg High School. She continued her fulltime job while taking five and six college classes a semester at NACC. All so she could get a degree after her mother lost her job of 15 years right as Corissa was getting ready for college.
“The BEST scholarship really makes a difference because it means I have fewer federal loans to repay with interest,” Corissa says. “When I graduated from high school, BEST was the only scholarship that continues through college. I had five different scholarships that only lasted one semester. With BEST, I know they’ll still be there each year, and they are a great support system.”
Corissa is scheduled to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2016, after which she plans to enter either the Pennsylvania or New Jersey State Police Academy.
“My life would be very different if I has not been a part of BEST,” Corissa says. “Without BEST I may not have even been able to attend college at all. Also without BEST I would have not met my mentor, Cathie, and would not have had all her help and support.”
Paying it forward, even as she struggles to pay for tuition and books, Corissa contributes to BEST fundraisers and confidently works at public events such as the annual tricky tray. She attributes much of that confidence to her mentor, the same woman who made shy Corissa stand up in front of a class and give a speech.
“Cathie has played an important role in my life,” Corissa says. “She helped me throughout my community college career and still continues to help me even though I have transferred away. We have gotten very close over the past three years and have formed a great friendship that I am sure will last a lifetime.