Posted on Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Dontra Penn is in the process of transforming his life. Expected to graduate in May with an associate’s degree in industrial electronics from Patrick Henry Community College and begin a job in the high-demand field of mechatronics, Penn’s sole focus is on providing a secure future for his family.

Penn will tell you that his path towards a bright future has not always been easy. Released from high school his senior year after getting into trouble, Penn’s academics had taken a backseat to a self-indulgent lifestyle.

Dontra_Penn“I was living two different lives and was about to have a son. I wanted to get my GED before he came. I wanted to change for him. I didn’t want to force him to go to school if I had never been to school. Now he will do it because I did.”

Penn and a friend happened upon Patrick Henry Community College one day by chance.

“My friend and I were looking for a job and he mentioned the school. We rode up there and I let them know I hadn’t finished high school. They wanted to see me do better in life. The next day I started working on my GED and have been there ever since.”

Penn completed PHCC’s Middle College and received his GED. He was able to utilize Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative funds to help make his transition to college possible.

“From books to paying for the OSHA certificate class I am taking, the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative is helping me do more in college. I am able to take a noncredit course that doesn’t go towards my degree but will benefit me.”

You can feel the excitement in Penn’s voice when he talks about the courses he is taking.

“At first it was kind of rocky because I have never done anything like it before. I am taking the Siemens Mechatronic Level 1 right now and it’s a really big deal. I’ll end up with a degree and at least two industry credentials.”

With the confidence of having his life together, Penn says he’s ready to begin paying it forward.

“Around here, there is nothing to do but get in trouble. I want to try to help someone who has problems like I did and do the things like I am doing now. Influence them to go do right and leave the other stuff alone.”

Penn credits his success to the motivation his wife provided.

“She was a big part of all this. She was the one to push me and keep me out trouble. She was there when no one else was.”

He also thanks Patrick Henry Community College and everyone who helped him there.

“I can’t even think about not being in school because I don’t know how my life would have turned out. My experience at Patrick Henry Community College has been life-changing.”'

Amanda Christopher

Amanda Christopher is a graduate of Hollins University and Virginia Commonwealth University. A native of the DC metro area, Amanda worked in public relations for the American Red Cross before joining the Virginia Community College System as the Workforce Communications Coordinator.

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