SPCC Celebrates Students Who Completed The Associate In Arts In A Year Program

AAy graduates

The decision to attend college is a daunting choice that so many people face; this decision is even more difficult for adults who have not attended school in many years. Four SPCC students faced that challenge and started their college journey in January 2021. They graduated with a degree after completing the Associate In Arts In A year (AAY) program a year later.

“We are proud of where you are and what you’ve done,” said Dr. Maria Pharr, president at SPCC, during a celebration event last week. “This might have been a tough journey, but completing an entire degree program in a year is a feat worth celebrating. Your time here will open doors and illuminate many paths forward.”

Meet The AAY Graduate: Richard Baker

Richard Baker family AAY

SPCC AAY Graduate Richard Baker (center) is seen with his family during the celebration ceremony in January 2022.

Before starting the program, Richard Baker hadn’t attended school in 20 years; but he jumped in headfirst. Richard and his wife began a new non-profit organization, Serve Unity Outreach, in January 2021 as well as starting the AAY program. The non-profit finds ways to serve the community, such as providing snacks and meals to schools and shelters.

“We couldn’t have piled more onto our plates,” Ulunda Baker, Richard’s wife, said.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic added another challenge for the Baker family when Richard tested positive for COVID-19 in August; Richard got sick and was hospitalized for 19 days.

“We didn’t think he was going to make it,” Ulunda Baker said.

During recovery, the faculty rallied behind Richard to help him keep on pace and finish his courses. Ulunda wanted her husband to succeed, especially since he had sacrificed college 20 years ago to help support her and her siblings.

Going to college 20 years ago wouldn’t have prepared Richard for today’s world, according to Ulunda. She believes that earning his degree now was perfect timing.

Meet The AAY Graduate: Lasheika Coleman

Coleman AAY

SPCC Graduate Lasheika Coleman (left), pictured with her husband, completed the program after leaving her job.

Lasheika Coleman felt like the time was right to earn her degree. After leaving her job, she looked for new opportunities and decided that finally earning her associate degree would help her get a management role.

“I want to be a leader and have what I need to lead people,” Coleman said.

Her husband said he’s proud of his wife and the hard work needed to earn her degree. He recalled her countless late nights working on homework and shared that he might have learned Spanish just from her studying.

“You have to sacrifice to get what you want,” Lasheika’s husband said.

Lasheika plans to transfer to Wingate University through the Road2Wingate partnership and earn her bachelor’s degree in communication and management.

Meet the AAY Graduate: Tia Dispennette


SPCC Graduate Tia Dispennette finished her AAY program and is interested in entrepreneurship.

Tia Dispennette also hopes her new degree will help her achieve her dreams: she hopes to launch her own business one day.

Like so many Americans, Tia’s job was impacted by the pandemic and she struggled to make ends meet. Tia turned to SPCC for her degree but found a community of support as well. She shared that the college’s support systems, such as the SPCC Food Pantry and family-like atmosphere, helped her reach her goal of graduation.

“I started a new job and I liked that classes were available online, so it didn’t disrupt my work schedule,” said Tia.

With her hands full at school, working full-time and being a full-time mom, Tia needed focus to complete her program. Now that she has graduated, she looks to continue taking business classes to pursue her dream of owning her own business. Her biggest motivator is her four-year-old son, Manny, who helps her focus on a better future.

Meet the AAY Graduate: Samantha Maki

Samantha AAY

SPCC Graduate Samantha Maki (center) is pictured here with her children.

Samantha Maki’s journey to graduation involved her being both a student and teacher. As a stay-at-home mom, Samantha started her days homeschooling her 9-year-old daughter and ended them with her schoolwork, all while caring for her 18-month-old son.

“I was unsure about my next steps but felt like this was something I needed to do,” Maki said. “Being in this program helped me to get back in the swing of things and learn about myself.”

Not having attended school in a while, Samantha looked to build her confidence and prove that she could complete the program. She learned that she could and that she has a passion for history. Samantha also learned about the medical sonography program, which she intends to pursue as a career. Samantha is currently enrolled in courses for medical sonography, armed with the confidence she needs to achieve her goals.

According to the AAY Program Director Ryan Brown,14 students have completed the year-long program since its inception in the Fall of 2020. Forty-two students have enrolled in the program.

To learn more, visit https://spcc.edu/associate-in-a-year/.

Written by Misty McMillan

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