by Neree Aron-Sando
Leah Rosenthal came to Montgomery County Community College for college degree. Along with the degree, she found something more: bigger dreams and goals for herself.
“I guess you could say Montgomery County Community College chose me,” said Rosenthal, 33. “I was living in South Carolina when the economy began to tank. I lost my job and then my house.”
Her mother lived in Montgomery County, so she sold or gave away everything she owned, packed up her Nissan Altima and moved home.
“I knew I wanted a community college because it was cheaper. I figured that given my past education experience, I would need a lot of help.”
Rosenthal wrestled with attention deficit disorder to graduate from high school with a grade point average of 1.8, she wrote in her MCCC graduating scholarship essay. “I always felt as if I was not smart enough to go to college,” she wrote.
“The best experience and most important in my college career came my first semester,” Rosenthal said in an interview. “I was scared to death of my classes and assignments. I went to the tutorial center and asked for help because I had no idea what I was doing. They directed me to Dr. Hal Halbert.”
Dr. Halbert read through a first draft of an assignment that Rosenthal wrote, which she described as “awful,” without saying a word, she said.
“I wanted to run screaming from the building. He looked up and said to me, ‘I really enjoyed that.’ He had given me the confidence I needed. I have always told Dr. Halbert that if it weren’t for him, I would not have been the student I turned out to be. He made me feel as if I was smart and capable, two things I never felt before.”
The student Rosenthal turned out to be was awarded the Wanda Campbell Memorial Award at MCCC’s student awards banquet in May. The award recognizes a graduating student who has “displayed a compassionate and caring manner toward others.” It was created in memory of former College employee Wanda Campbell.
Rosenthal said that while she devoted most of her time to studying and doing homework, she also volunteered for two years with the College’s Writers Conference and was a student greeter at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year.
“The first year I attended MCCC I had to pay for everything out of pocket, because grants were based on what I had made the previous year, when I was collecting unemployment and only had odd jobs. But my second year I was Pell-grant eligible, thank goodness. I received enough to cover my classes and most of my textbooks. The affordability and proximity from home was the number one factor in choosing this school,” she said.
After graduating on May 17 from the Montgomery County Community College Human Services Program, Rosenthal will enroll in the social work program at Centenary College in New Jersey with $20,000 in scholarships and grants mostly due to her performance at MCCC. Ultimately, she hopes to start a foundation to help people who are homeless or underemployed receive job training and the skills necessary to succeed in life.
“When I first started here at Montgomery County Community College three years ago, I simply wanted to get my degree and get out and back to work,” Rosenthal wrote in her graduating essay. “It is because of the encouragement of many of the wonderful people I have encountered throughout this process that I have bigger dreams and goals for myself.”