Elizabeth Connors, director of the Surgical Technician and Sterile Processing programs at WCC, delivers the faculty address at the 2019 commencement ceremony. (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

 

Elizabeth Connors become program director of the WCC Surgical Technology program in 2016 and two years later launched a new certification program that prepares students for an occupation in central processing and sterilization of hospital instrumentation – which happens to be the first job Connors held in the healthcare industry.

During her faculty address at the 2019 WCC commencement ceremony on May 18, Connors talked about how that job changed her life. She was a high school dropout and teenage mother working two or three dead-end jobs to try to make ends meet.

“You know how people say they live paycheck-to-paycheck?” Connors asked the audience at the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center. “Well, I was living from paycheck-to-Monday.”

Landing that job as a sterile processing technician at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital changed everything. Suddenly Connors had a job that offered paid training, a livable wage, health benefits and vacation time.

One problem: She had lied on her application and said she was a high school graduate. Human resources discovered the discrepancy and gave her nine months to complete a GED program.

The next day, she signed up for evening GED classes and continued to work hard to overcome the circumstances she found herself in because of some bad decisions when she was 16.

“I read the newspaper daily and watched CNN like people today watch reality shows,” she said. “I wanted to be in the know when in the presence of doctors and nurses and managers. I wanted to be able to hold a conversation of substance.”

She earned an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree while continuing to rise up the healthcare ladder as a sterile processing technician and certified surgical technologist before she “found her passion” in teaching by joining the WCC faculty in 2014.

While working as a part-time instructor, she completed a master’s degree in Educational/Instructional Technology from Central Michigan University, which led to her current roles at WCC.

“My goal today is to tell you to never give someone the opportunity to provide the narrative for who you are or the narrative for who you can become,” Connors told the graduates. “If it were left up to society, that African-American female who dropped out of high school and became a teenage mom … she would not have a master’s degree and be standing here today before 27 of her own students graduating.”

Since Connors took over the Surgical Technology and Sterile Processing programs, all of the programs’ graduates have passed the national certification examination on their first attempt and between 95 and 100 percent of program graduates gained employment within six months of graduation.

In October 2018, she won an Occupational Studies Outstanding Educator Award at the statewide Trends in Occupational Studies Conference.