Linda Barrett-Ray celebrates her journey from student to a 30-year career at Gaston College
Each year, employees who have reached milestone years of service are recognized at the Gaston College Employee Appreciation Luncheon. On February 7, 2020, Linda Barrett-Ray was honored for her 30 years on the Gaston College staff.
A native of Gastonia, Barrett-Ray is the youngest of 11 children. She joined the workforce without finishing high school and she had gotten jobs that paid fairly well, but she always thought she could do better. An ad in the Gaston Gazette about earning a GED from Gaston College in eight weeks caught her eye, and, with the encouragement of her husband, she made an appointment to take the placement test and subsequently enrolled in the GED program. She began taking classes in the summer of 1989 – after having been out of school for 18 years.
The classes Barrett-Ray took were taught by Joyce Dale, Melva Huffstetler and Gwen Feemster. “They were the driving force and always encouraged their students to do their best,” said Barrett-Ray. “I was encouraged by these ladies to finish the classes early and enroll in some college classes that fall semester. They saw potential in me.” Barrett-Ray was also recommended to be a work-study student in the Receiving Department at the College and, although she felt out of her comfort zone, she decided to give it her best try.
For her first quarter as a college student, Barrett-Ray was enrolled in Business Math, Keyboarding, and Shorthand. She passed all her classes but wasn’t sure if college was right for her. “My husband encouraged me to continue,” she said. “I told him I would, if he would continue the classes he had started at Gaston College many years earlier.” Her husband agreed to go back to school and the couple, who had been married only one year, began a “very long, stressful but fulfilling journey.” Both worked during the day and took classes four nights a week, and they urged each other to stay focused and on track with their classes.
Barrett-Ray is grateful for the support of the teachers who helped make her education journey complete. Jimmy Warren, Instructor of Information Technology, assigned her to give an oral presentation, which she was reluctant to do. “I was not a public speaker,” Barrett-Ray said. “I had a solid A in his class and when I asked him how that grade would be affected if I didn’t do the presentation, he said I would get a B. I told him he could not have my A. I made the presentation.”
Dr. Mark Shellman, now the Chair of the Information Technology Department, came to Barrett-Ray’s assistance when he saw that she was struggling with an advanced programming class. Her counselor had enrolled her mistakenly in the advanced rather than the basic level course and Dr. Shellman interceded to get her into the right class.
A Medical Transcription class that Barrett-Ray needed to graduate was available only during the day, which would have required her to miss work. Although Barrett-Ray was not her student, Lynn Nichols, who is now the Associate Dean of Health and Human Services, arranged for her to take the class as an independent study.
“I am proud to say that all the hard work and persistence paid off,” said Barrett-Ray. “I received my Associate of Applied Science degree in Administrative Office Technology in 1994. I’m even more proud to say that not only did I also receive my AAS in Medical Office Technology, my husband earned the diploma he had started years earlier. We both walked across the stage in 1995. My parents were there to see us graduate. And our marriage survived—we celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary in January 2020.”
Barrett-Ray was the second in her family to earn a GED, and the first to go to college. She is now the Coordinator of Shipping and Receiving, the department where she started as a work-study student in 1989.
Linda is also very active in supporting various student and campus activities including the Student Government Association, TRiO Support Services Program, Gaston LINKS, and the college’s radio station WSGE 91.7 FM.
“Every journey begins with one step,” she said. “That one step I took completely changed my life. Someone saw potential in me and encouraged me to tap into that potential. I am still continuing that journey and I recently celebrated my 30th anniversary at Gaston College. I am truly #GCPROUD.”