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Love of tech leads to RCC

Jan 5, 2024

WENTWORTH – While growing up, Karen Chacon always helped her parents with technology.

“I was born into the boom you can say. It was the early 1990s when there were VCRs, search engines and DVDs,” she said. “I pretty much just started helping a lot of people. I used to build computers in high school, just as a side gig to make extra cash, but I always had a passion for technology, seeing it advance and change throughout the years.”

Where she lived in Utah, parents expected children to go straight to work after high school, she said, so Chacon did data entry and worked in manufacturing.

“I had jobs here and there, but I just was not finding my passion,” Chacon said. “I moved to North Carolina five years ago, and started going to RCC to pursue my dream. I’m pretty sure I can find a job when I finish college. When you make connections with people at school, that’s what builds you up, and you can trust them.”

She enrolled at Rockingham Community College in Fall 2021, following a break from school of about 10 years. She’s working toward her Associate in Science in Information Technology.

Chacon’s favorite classes at RCC have been the ones with hands-on components.

“The online classes are fine, but to be honest, I like to be more personal. I like to interact with other people and use a lot of teamwork – it’s like a collective mind where everyone either thinks alike or has different viewpoints. I like solving problems together.”

It’s difficult for Chacon to choose a favorite instructor. She enjoyed Karen Astuto’s math class, but since she could pick just one, it’s Information Technology Faculty Thomas Knight

“I’ve enjoyed all of my teachers, but Mr. Knight is my top choice because he’s my primary teacher for everything,” she said. “Mr. Knight always responds to emails, and if you have any questions, he makes you feel confident in what you’re learning. He wants you to succeed.”

Chacon advises anyone interested in technology to enroll at RCC.

“You learn so much new stuff, and things you thought you knew might not be true. Coming to RCC definitely opens your mind to more possibilities, because I think when people think of technology, they just think of a computer,” she said. “But it goes beyond that. There’s your cell phone, the internet, tablets, even Bluetooth devices. And there are so many career options than computers. You could be an engineer… you can expand anywhere, really.”

Chacon’s experience at RCC has been very positive.

“I was nervous about coming to college because I’d been out of school for so long, so coming back I felt like I didn’t belong here because I might be too old,” she said. “But I’m here for me, right? I’m here to learn, to advance my life. Once you overcome that feeling of being older, you’ll feel like you belong. The teachers are so welcoming, and everybody is kind and nice. There’s a lot of encouragement.”

And class time topics sometimes extend beyond the subject matter at hand. For instance, Chacon learned that integrity, communication, trust and honesty are important skills in landing a job – lessons straight from RCC’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) that is being established to teach students skills that employers seek.

Knight encouraged his students to attend a QEP panel in September, featuring employers talking about coveted job skills.

Chacon showed up early, and panelist JR Cecil of Liberty Tax initiated a conversation with her.

“I said I’m in IT and I’m looking for part-time work that fits in my schedule because I’m a full-time student. It’s hard to find a job when you have another responsibility that is important to you,” she said. “I told him I’d been out of work five years and I’ve been struggling to find work, so my work history has a big gap.”

Cecil asked for her resume, and hired her shortly thereafter.

“It’s been a wild journey,” she said.

Juggling the school and work load is new for Chacon.

“I try do my assignments a day or two ahead. JR has been really flexible with my schedule, and after work I start doing homework. I try to save some assignments for the weekend, so I can take a breather every once in a while, because it does get overwhelming,” she said.

If she has trouble with classwork, she looks for YouTube videos that give more in-depth explanations.

“I also love to read, it’s one of my hobbies. The school gives us a book, but I like to take it a step further and ask if there’s another book recommendation that I should read for more information,” she said. “I love to learn. Currently I’m learning languages on the side.”

And Chacon was excited this semester when Knight had his students try LinkedIn Learning, which offers thousands of online seminars. “Having that in school is really cool,” she said, adding that there is a wide variety of topics outside of technology. “It’s the stuff employers want to see that you know, so I’m expanding the database of my brain.”

Chacon advises anyone considering RCC to just come, “even if you feel like you don’t have the money … go to a financial advisor. If you feel like you don’t know what you want to do, go see a counselor and you’ll find your path. All you have to do is start. I waited, but I’m here now.

“I’m glad that I have the opportunity to come here. I don’t know if I will advance my schooling because I really just want to go straight to work, of course. But I feel like this gave me good step, a good foundation to pursue something higher,” she said.

~By Gerri Hunt, RCC Director of Public Information


Rockingham Community College
PO Box 38
215 Wrenn Memorial Rd.
Wentworth, NC 27375


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