May 11, 2005
For the first time in its 40-year history, HACC will hold spring commencement at the Equine Arena of the Farm Show Complex, Saturday, May 14, at 10 a.m. Due to the steadily growing student population at its campuses in Harrisburg, Lebanon, Lancaster and Gettysburg and center in York, the college moved the ceremony to a larger facility.

Susquehanna Township native The Honorable Jeffrey E. Piccola, 15th Senatorial District, Dauphin and York Counties, will address the 1100 students from all of HACC's locations who will receive their associate's degrees.

Senator Piccola serves as Majority Whip, the third ranking member of the Senate Republican Leadership Team. A member of the Education Committee, among others, he has been a champion for improving public education and has been a leader in creating the South Central Pennsylvania Educational Improvement Program, Inc., a scholarship organization that provides tuition assistance to needy families in the region.

HACC's student population continues to grow, and in January the college held its first mid-year graduation. Previously, those finishing their studies mid-year were included in the spring commencement.

"Considering both ceremonies, this is our largest graduating class to date," said HACC President Dr. Edna V. Baehre. "Many are nontraditional students, generally older students going to college for the first time, continuing studies often started years earlier, or retraining for new careers.

"The average age of our students is 28, many are older. They are balancing families, studies and jobs, making huge personal and financial sacrifices. We take immense pride in our ability to provide a high quality, affordable education for many of these students who otherwise would not be able to go to college," said Baehre.

A good number of such students are members of the class of 2005- nontraditional students who, at first, considered college unrealistic.

Tim Coomer, 39, of Richland on the edge of Lebanon County, will receive an associate's degree in elementary education. He also is a recipient of an All Pennsylvania Academic Team Scholarship, which provides free tuition at any of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools for his junior and senior year. Coomer will attend Millersville University.

Coomer had been working at Lantern Lodge Motor Inn & Conference Center, Myerstown, as property manager. "I worked weekends and holidays, and I wasn't spending enough time with my family," said Coomer, who has a wife and three children ages 11, 5 and 2.

His 11-year-old daughter has a learning disability and mild mental retardation. "She has been my inspiration. I watched her struggle so much in school. I thought that I could make a difference and felt myself being pulled into the classroom," he says.

Coomer didn't take college prep courses in high school, had no plans or direction after high school. "It wasn't until I had a family that I realized I needed a career. The Lebanon Campus of HACC was perfect, an ideal fit. Cost played a major role. It fit into our budget.

"I quit my job. It was a real leap of faith," he said. "But being out of school for so long, I was frightened about going back. The thought of going to a school with a smaller campus and classes was appealing. I knew I wouldn't just be a number. I felt I would be able to make the connection I needed to be successful."

Coomer recalls a memorable moment when he first registered. "I was sharing with my advisor how scared I was, afraid that I would fail. I'd quit my job and now I'd fail," he said. "She encouraged me to just aim for a C average. The first semester, I got a 4.0. That was a pretty good feeling to achieve that in my first semester. Then the 4.0 became something I would shoot for. And I carried it through until last semester when I got my first B."

Coomer served with the English 051 class, which included helping other students structure sentences. He also volunteered in the campus learning center, helping student learn better study habits, and ran workshops to help students overcome their fears.

"I met some incredible people at HACC. I worked hard, took my schooling very seriously, studied very seriously. I was determined to do well, but my goal wasn't to win a scholarship or graduate with a 4.0 GPA. My goal was just to survive. I was a frightened freshman. Things kind of evolved, and through hard work and determination I was able to achieve more than I thought I would ever be able to," said Coomer.

"I think that the professors at HACC are more empathetic to non-traditional students. They understand some of the obstacles we have to overcome to achieve success in a college environment. They also see a more responsible student, more committed to learning," he said. "If you're a teacher, you like the student who is inspired to learn."

One math professor, in particular- Richard Stick- gave Coomer tremendous support. "Algebra was new to me. It was horrible. I didn't think I could do it. When I doubted myself, he kept telling me I could do it. I remember the day when I actually got it- I called him at home, and he was so proud of me. We still keep in touch," said Coomer.

He also singles out Judy Kay Bard, the librarian at the Lebanon Campus of HACC, -an angel in disguise who was there as a librarian, friend, counselor. Words fail me," he says. "She has been such an inspiration in my life. I don't know if I would have been able to do it without her support and encouragement. Bard is retiring this year.

"She has a passion for learning and research and student success. She has a gentle spirit, and her passion is contagious. Her passion would drive me to want to be a better student. I looked at her as a mentor, the person I looked up to when I needed help with school, with research. And it wasn't just me. She would do it for anyone who walked in those doors."

HACC offers more than 120 different certificate, diploma and associate degree options. Its open enrollment policy ensures that any student over 18 with a high school diploma or GED can enroll in classes.

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