Brandy Der Kacy was ready for a career change when she enrolled at Joliet Junior College in May 2016. Three years later, the Mokena resident is on a promising path thanks to her experience in the Cisco program, and by taking advantage of several JJC services that are specifically designed to guide students in their academic journeys.
Derkacy was 28 when she started at JJC, and the first in her family to attend college. She had spent the previous 13 years since high school working various office management and restaurant server jobs, but wanted more stability.
“One emergency hits and you’re playing catchup for the next six months of your life,” she said. “Life challenges happened and I got fed up with the way things were going and I realized there was a discord with my education and wanting to become a successful person in life. “So I decided that I would make the changes I needed to do in order to get myself into school.”
Soon after enrolling at JJC, doors began to open for Der Kacy. Placement test scores earned her a spot in JJC’s Honors Program.
“Brandy came to our program as a returning adult learner, interested in the opportunity to challenge herself more and get involved,” said Al Golden, Honors Program coordinator.
Der Kacy not only took Honors Program courses, but completed mentored research to earn honors credit in two of her major courses. Along the way, she was elected vice president of service for the college’s Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society chapter.
“Brandy was the kind of JJC student who wanted to take advantage of every opportunity presented, which made her an ideal member of our program,” said Golden.
A desire to make the most of her experience even led Der Kacy to a new career path. Initially, the plan was to upgrade her understanding of the business world in which she had worked, but her experience in a lifestyle planning course gave Der Kacy a new way of looking at things.
“That’s when I thought ‘I came to JJC to change my life, maybe I should change the course of the subject I’m getting into. Instead of sticking with business, let’s see what else I have an aptitude for.’”
Turns out, she had a talent for technology. Specifically, JJC’s Cisco program, which educates students across a broad section of computer and network security subjects. Cisco Coordinator Joe Sullivan said Der Kacy served as a role model for other students.
“She took the time to help other students and was always energetic and prepared for class,” Sullivan said. “Her ability to learn complex topics has provided her a strong technical foundation and she demonstrated this by developing a secure internet work system that our current students use to this day.”
Der Kacy’s strength in the classroom was aided in part by a willingness to seek help when needed. Just because her grades were strong, she said, didn’t mean the curriculum came easy.
“But I went out and I took advantage of the resources that JJC had, and I showed up, I put in my time, my effort, my work, and I took advantage of the help that was being given.”
So she sought out the Tutoring and Learning Center for assistance in math, and recalls fondly her time with Tutor Jean Gould.
“That woman is a godsend to me, honestly,” said Der Kacy.
She also credits JJC’s Disability Services team, and its former coordinator Mindy Diaz, who helped Der Kacy stay on track while managing a chronic neurological disorder.
“When I was going to JJC my disability wasn’t a big thing but the resource of having them there was a big thing. Because of the resource, my disability wasn’t a big hindrance in my life while at JJC.”
Not even did a neurological attack at her home set her back in the classroom. It happened on a Friday, and led to an emergency room visit and 17 stitches in her hand. But three days later she was back on campus thanks to help from Diaz.
“I actually did not have an aid for me while I was going to classes at that point because it wasn’t needed. But by Monday Mindy had an aid for me there, and had an aid for me every class up until I was healed. She went above and beyond. Did backflips for me,” she said.
Der Kacy graduated from JJC in May, and is now continuing her academic journey at Governor’s State University, having utilized the Dual Degree Program that ensured a seamless transfer. She’s seeking a bachelor’s in computer networking and security, and said encouragement from JJC officials like Diaz has motivated her to obtain a master’s degree.
But Der Kacy’s time at JJC may not be finished. There are some elective courses she didn’t have a chance to take, so if her schedule allows in the future Der Kacy may return to campus. She not only thinks fondly of JJC for the classroom and student service experience, but what the college did for her as a person and where it is taking her professionally.
“I’ve found a place and an opportunity to where I can have growth as a human being and in my career. And JJC helped me get that,” she said.
Der Kacy said since returning to the classroom in 2016 after over a decade away she’s found herself helping others, and can envision becoming a professor.
“I would love to be part of the higher education system because of my experience, and I feel I could give back a lot more on an academic level,” she said. “One of the things about JJC and me wanting to become a professor is I see President Dr. Judy Mitchell, and she came back. And I see a lot of professors that come back. And it’s all about giving back. If I didn’t have people giving to me when I first came here I wouldn’t have made it as far as I did. And I feel a personal responsibility to help other people with the knowledge that I’ve been given.”
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