Ruth Atchley, Ogeechee Technical College’s 2019 GOAL winner, turned a painful medical condition that left her unable to have biological children of her own into motivation for a career teaching young children.
Atchley, from Sylvania where she graduated from Screven County High School, is working toward her associate degree in Early Childhood Care and Education and is on track to receive it in May 2020. She was 17 when she was diagnosed with endometriosis, which has led to eight surgeries, including a hysterectomy, by age 24.
“I decided a long time ago from a hospital bed here in Statesboro that I wanted to enter the field of early childhood education,” Atchley said during Thursday evening’s GOAL reception on the OTC main campus. “It was the famous country singer, and my fellow endometriosis survivor, Dolly Parton who once said, ‘God has a plan for everything.’ I think it probably was his plan for me not to have children so that everyone’s children may be my own.”
The OTC Foundation and the Student Leadership Council joined the college in saluting its 14 Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership nominees and presenting cash prizes to the four finalists, three of whom attended and shared the brief speeches they had previously given for the judges. Atchley, as the college’s overall winner, received a $250 prize and will now represent Ogeechee Tech in regional and potentially in statewide competition. The state GOAL winner receives a new automobile and serves as a spokesperson for the opportunities available through the Technical College System of Georgia.
Choosing a winner the first time she recommended a student for GOAL, Early Childhood Care and Education instructor Paula Clifton received the $100 nominating instructor’s prize. But having a student like Atchley is her real reward, Clifton said.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” she said of Atchley’s making the final four. “I mean, I think she has a lot to offer the school, the community, the state, and then when she won today, it’s just icing on the cake.”
Atchley serves as the OTC National Technical Honor Society chapter’s reporter and historian and is applying a for an NTHS state position. Clifton has also recommended her for Skills USA competition.
“She wants to be very involved in the school, the community,” Clifton added. “She does a lot of community service with the nursing homes and food banks. … She’s going to be a wonderful advocate not only for Ogeechee Technical College but for children as well.”
The Associate of Applied Science, a two-year degree, is the most advanced of the five programs Ogeechee Tech offers in Early Childhood Care and Education, which also include shorter-term diplomas. Many of the students hope to direct or own day care centers. But after getting her associate degree, Atchley plans to work as a classroom paraprofessional while taking university courses for a four-year degree and then become an elementary school teacher.
“After researching different campuses across Georgia and speaking with alumni members of technical colleges, I saw that technical education was a powerful stepping stone into the world that I wanted to be in,” Atchley told the crowd.
In addition to her ordeal with endometriosis, Atchley survived what she described as a head-on collision with a drunk driver last July. She has since recovered, but requiring a wheelchair for a time, she was able to continue in school with the help of her sisters, Virginia and Jaimie, her brother, Jerry, and especially their father, Jerry Atchley Sr., she said.
“So I would not be in this school without my family,” she said, and added similar words of appreciation for Clifton.
The other finalists were Diagnostic Medical Sonography student Deb Deal, who was nominated by instructor Tina Welch; Radiologic Technology student Chandler Owens, nominated by instructor Jan Martin; and Information Technology Professional student Joshua Torres, nominated by instructor Terry Hand. The OTC Foundation and the Student Leadership Council provided a $50 cash prize for each of these finalists, in addition to the prices to Atchley and Clifton.
Nominated students gave speeches and answered questions for a screening committee of five OTC staff members. Then the finalists repeated the process for a selection committee of five people from outside the college.
In the past 11 years, Ogeechee Tech has fielded three statewide GOAL winners and two statewide first runners-up.
“You may not recognize it, but you’re among good company,” OTC President Lori Durden told this year’s finalists.
Atchley will compete against GOAL winners from six other colleges in regional Feb. 21 in regional competition in Tifton, where finalists will be chosen to compete at the state level. Then all college winners can also attend the April 22-25 statewide event in Atlanta, explained Cindy Phillips, Ogeechee Tech’s GOAL coordinator.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.