Gaston College alumnus Joie Da Cruz brings her paralegal skills and a multi-cultural perspective to serve as a law firm Case Manager
Joie M. Da Cruz, a graduate of the Paralegal Technology program at Gaston College, was hired as a Personal Injury Case Manager with King Law Office in Charlotte, N.C., in January 2021. She earned her Associate of Applied Science degree in May 2020, and she credits the training she received at Gaston College for her successful entry into her chosen career as a paralegal.
A native of Namibia in southern Africa, Da Cruz was raised in the capital city of Windhoek. She had her first exposure to the legal system when, at age 18, she was hired as a typist for court proceedings in the Katutura Magistrate Court House. She networked with several attorneys and court reporters who encouraged her to study to be a paralegal.
Da Cruz came to the U.S. in 2016 and settled in North Carolina to enroll in the Paralegal Technology program at Gaston College. “I chose Gaston College because of the affordable tuition and great support staff,” she said. “That choice has allowed me to be free from student debt and to pursue my career and future with financial liberty. This career matches perfectly with my character and personality. I thrive best in a work environment where I can work in a separate space yet lean on my co-workers for assistance.”
“Joie was a conscientious and curious paralegal student,” said Lisa Albright-Jurs, Dean of Career and Technical Education. “It was not enough for her to do well; she wanted to truly understand the concepts we studied. Joie also brought a unique, international perspective to the classroom. She will be an excellent paralegal because she has a calm demeanor and values listening to and understanding others.” Da Cruz speaks English, French, Portuguese, Afrikaans, Lingala, and Nama-Damara. In addition to Namibia and the United States, she has been to seven other countries and hopes to travel more.
The Work Study program at Gaston College gave Da Cruz the opportunity to work in an administrative role at WSGE, the non-commercial radio station at the College. She also participated in the Gaston College internship program where she got more legal job experience as an administrative assistant in the Public Defender’s Office at the Gaston County Court House.
“The Paralegal Technology program from start to finish was very educative,” said Da Cruz. “Ms. Lisa Jurs and all the classes she taught, especially the Research class, have helped me a lot in my daily job. She emphasized the importance of proof-reading. When I began working at King Law Offices, I quickly picked up that I would be doing a lot of these two things. I also appreciate the Work Study program. Because of this program, I began my career in administration at WSGE. The experience I gained there helped me tremendously in the job market. Ms. Cathis Hall, Station Manager and Program Director, Ms. Barbara Gordon, Administrative Assistant, and Mr. Tim Green, Assistant Program Director and Music Director, are great people at WSGE and they helped me start my career on the best foot possible.
“The internship program allowed me to gain job experience at the Gaston County Court House, where Ms. Elizabeth Lutz, Ms. Shana Withers, and Ms. Jaclyn Mauney were all so kind and helped me understand the legal work to advance my career and my life.”
Da Cruz graduated from Gaston College when the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to have a major impact. “It was during a time when quarantining and social distancing took over the world,” she said. “So, unfortunately, I did not experience the graduation ceremony, but nevertheless I still thank God for this achievement.”
The pandemic also affected Da Cruz’s job search efforts. “Because I am a foreigner,” she said, “I had to go through a process with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which usually takes a minimum of three months. Due to the pandemic, it took approximately six months. I could not apply for jobs until this visa was approved, and that was a brutal and draining process. Ultimately my patience paid off and it all worked out.”
The Professional Development class that is part of the Paralegal Technology program helped prepare Da Cruz in her job search. “The class, taught by Ms. Karen Duncan, gave me the interview skills I needed to tackle the initial interview for the job at King Law Offices. I was confident in it and I was mentally prepared for all the questions, as well as how to maneuver through them with my presentation, speech, and overall conduct. From my dress code to simple daily conversation with coworkers and clients, the class prepared me for the corporate world and how to thrive in it.”
“Every now and then you have that student who holds a special place in your heart and Joie is one of those women for me,” said Karen Duncan, Instructional Technology Specialist and adjunct faculty member. “She was an amazing student in my class, Professional Development. She was meticulous in her work and brought a multi-cultural perspective that allowed her classmates to share in her life experiences. After graduation she continued to work at the College while seeking full-time employment in her major. I tell students, even though our class may be over, I am still here to help you in your career goals and Joie took me up on that offer. She would come to see me, and we would tweak her cover letter, resume and interview techniques whenever an opportunity arose. Joie would go above and beyond, researching the company, preparing for and asking interview questions, inquiring about what to wear, mapping the route to the interview to make sure she knew how to get there and would be on time. We would focus on marketing her strengths, her ability to speak multiple languages, her work ethic. We spent so much time ‘practicing’ it made her confidence soar and allowed her to be comfortable and poised. I shouted with joy when she told me she got the job! I am so proud of this young woman and excited that she will be able to grow in her career at King Law.”
Due to the pandemic, Da Cruz was first interviewed by King Law Offices via Zoom and she had her second interview in person, with all parties wearing masks. The firm has several locations across North Carolina and South Carolina. She received onboard training at the firm’s headquarters in Forest City, N.C., and then in Shelby, N.C., and is now primarily stationed in Charlotte.
Client meetings are also impacted by COVID safety measures. The meetings, by appointment only, are scheduled at least 10 minutes apart and clients and staff must wear masks. When possible, meetings are handled via phone call, and mediations and litigations are via Zoom. After in-person meetings, office surfaces are disinfected, and all CDC guidelines are followed.
Da Cruz intends to stay with King Law Offices and gain more experience but has no plans to seek a law degree. “It simply does not fit with my personality,” she said. “I am, however, on a continuous self-betterment journey with books I read daily and podcasts I listen to in the car.” She is thinking of taking courses in business professionalism, psychology, accounting and finance.
She is pleased with her current status, personally and career-wise. “Firstly, I must thank God for taking care of me so far away from home and for just being good to me and giving me peace in all the challenges I have faced,” she said. “Secondly, I must thank my amazing parents, J.P. and Rina Da Cruz. They have set me up to succeed, to be the best I can be and to go beyond what they have achieved in their own lives. My parents walked so I can run. They have given me a college debt-free life, and I appreciate them for that.”
Da Cruz is grateful for others who supported and encouraged her. “I would like to thank Mr. Brian Robinson and his family for their friendship and the mental and emotional support that helped me complete my college degree. Brian was always there for me in time of need and I am grateful beyond what words could express,” she said. “I want to thank Ms. Jenell Barnett, Admissions Advisor at Gaston College, for guiding me through every step of college, first when I was a student immigrant and now as I am a legal work immigrant. She thoroughly understands the process and the stresses I experience in and out of college. She stood by me and is a shoulder to lean on in everything. Finally, I want to thank Ms. Rashea Baker for being a sister and friend since I first set foot in the United States five years ago. I am so grateful.”
About the Program
The Gaston College Paralegal Technology program offers an Associate of Applied Science degree and a Paralegal Office Administration Certificate. For more information, visit www.gaston.edu/business-information-technology/paralegal-technology.