New Opportunities for Appalachian Women
Nine Bluefield College students participated in a graduation ceremony on campus, Saturday, June 1, but the students were not typical BC students, and the ceremony not your typical pomp and circumstance.
June 4, 2013
Brandie Mullens of Castlewood, Virginia, works on her resume during a job skills workshop in the New Opportunity School at Bluefield College.
Victoria Dallas of Tazewell, Virginia, works on her job search skills during a New Opportunity School seminar.
New Opportunity School for Women participants pose for a glamour shot after a makeover, part of the personal development activities in the NOSW.
The nine BC grads in this celebration were students in the first ever Bluefield College New Opportunity School for Women, celebrating not only an historic moment for the college, but also a milestone moment for a group of disadvantaged, yet determined women who completed a near-month of intense professional and personal development designed to prepare them for a new life and new opportunities.
Bluefield College announced the creation of its New Opportunity School for Women (NOSW) in January of 2013. Founded by Jane B. Stephenson in 1987 at Berea College in Kentucky, out of an urgent need to help women in Appalachia become better educated and employed, the NOSW is designed to improve the educational, financial and personal circumstances of low-income, under-educated, middle-aged women in the Appalachian region.
The NOSW expanded to a second site at Lees-McCrae College in North Carolina in 2005, and now into the Appalachian regions of Virginia and West Virginia through the establishment of the third location at Bluefield College in southwest Virginia this year.
“From the first step I took onto the Bluefield College campus I knew I had come to a loving, caring place,” said Stephenson about the creation of a NOSW site in Bluefield. “Every person I met was concerned about others and wanted to help people become better educated and have a fulfilling life. Statistically, we knew that West Virginia and certain parts of Virginia had many people that were low income, especially many women. So, Bluefield seemed an ideal place for an expansion site for the New Opportunity School for Women.”
The nine Appalachian women, ages 30-55, who enrolled in the first ever NOSW session at BC took part in a variety of personal, career, educational and cultural development activities during the three-week residential program. With a sincere interest to learn and improve their lives, despite past failures and hardships and current difficult circumstances, the ladies spent 50 hours per week in workshops, classes, internships and study trips, all for the purpose of becoming more self-sufficient.
“These women have some amazing stories to tell about the lives they’ve come from and the experiences they’ve had,” said Cheryl Shippey, director of the BC New Opportunity School. “It’s great to see them grow in this program and develop the self confidence they need to begin to improve their lives.”
For professional development, the ladies attended workshops on computer basics, grammar, punctuation, and basic math. They also took part in seminars on “Developing Leadership Skills,” “Career Assessment,” and “Speak Up and Be Heard.”
“I loved this program,” said Victoria Dallas of Tazewell, Virginia. “It helped me a lot. I learned so much -- correct grammar, how to find work, leadership skills, and how to love myself. Plus, it’s giving me spiritual development, and we (other participants) have just become such a close-knit family.”
As part of the professional development, the women also completed a series of job skills courses where they learned how to develop a resume and write a cover letter. In addition, they participated in mock interviews and work internships at Bluefield College and in the community.
“I haven’t had much success getting a job in this area,” said Brandie Mullens of Castlewood, Virginia, who interned in the BC Advancement Office. “So when I heard about this program, I thought it would be great to help me learn how to prepare myself and to apply for a job.”
For personal development, the ladies examined women’s health issues, legal issues for women, and violence associated with women.
“I enjoyed the different studies,” said Penny Britt of Bluefield, Virginia. “It’s been enlightening for all the ladies here, and we’re making history at Bluefield College as the first ever class in the New Opportunity School. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
They also attended seminars on “Finding Your Style,” “Fashion Fun and Beauty Tips,” “Exploring Your Interest Inventory,” and “Achieving Self Esteem.” In fact, the personal development activities included makeovers, physical exams, health screenings, and individual private counseling sessions.
“I have a really low self esteem,” said Mullens, “and I thought this program would help with that. It’s given me a lot of confidence and made me realize that I am as important as anyone else.”
Off campus, the New Opportunity School featured cultural development activities for the ladies, focusing on Appalachian Literature, creative writing, art for self-expression, and quilting. The women also attended “Les Miserables” at the Barter Theatre in historic Abingdon, Virginia, toured historic Bramwell, West Virginia, and visited the Copper Crest Farm in Wytheville, Virginia.
“This has been a blessing to me,” said Dr. Carolyn Lewis, dean of BC’s School of Nursing, who taught a self-esteem course in the NOSW. “It’s been extremely enriching to be with these ladies. Our hope is that they leave with the tools and the resources they need to enhance their lives.”