Georgia Piedmont Technical College student vows to change future, wins award
If someone had asked Sonya Bingham five years ago where she thought she would be today, completing an associate’s degree program at Georgia Piedmont Technical College (GPTC) would not have been an answer.
“For 13 years, I was stuck in an endless repetition of menial, dead-end jobs with mediocre pay,” Bingham said. “I had not completed my higher education. I was broke, undereducated, unhappy … and thus began the cycle of dead-end jobs.”
Bingham started her higher education at a large private university based in Atlanta by way of Effingham County, Ga., in 2001.
Because of expenses, Bingham spent more time working than she did in the classroom or studying. Most of her time was spent answering phones at call centers instead of studying or completing assignments.
“It was expensive—I needed to work, I had to work,” Bingham said. “One by one, things started to fizzle out. School got fizzled out.”
Bingham decided to return to school in 2014 after her husband observed how dissatisfied she was. She decided on GPTC for its price and scheduling.
“When I began researching for my return to college, my biggest concerns were price and scheduling,” Bingham said. “Much to my surprise, due to the reasonable tuition rates that I could handle, I was able to fund my entire first year at Georgia Piedmont Technical College without any loans. I started as a paralegal major.”
Knowledge gained from GPTC opened new doors. Her skills landed her a job at a family-owned law firm. The work, however, did not speak to her soul.
“Working at the law firm, I realized I didn’t love it,” Bingham said. “The main reason I went back to school was to get into a career field, not just a job—I wanted to enjoy it. So I looked back at previous jobs and looked at what I loved doing; I love numbers and I love figuring things out when it comes to money.”
Bingham decided that a future in accounting was right for her, especially considering the options available upon completion of an associate’s degree.
Just over two years later, Bingham is set to graduate with that degree. She has also been selected as GPTC’s Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership (GOAL) award winner. The award is a statewide program of the Technical College System of Georgia, which recognizes students who excel in the classroom and provide leadership to fellow students.
“[Being recognized] is almost indescribable,” Bingham said about the award. “Out of 4,000 students—who all work hard—there were 29 nominees. To think I competed against the best of the best and won is a huge accomplishment.”
Bingham said the award process—which involves one round of speaking in front of GPTC directors, teachers and administrators and one round of speaking in front of DeKalb County community leaders—is intense and borderline stressful.
“During the first round, you realize that these are the people you’re representing, who work at the school and that your excellence or lack of excellence is going to be reflected on what they do on a daily basis,” Bingham said. “The second round wasn’t as hard for me, but it was still very nerve wracking.”
Bingham said she was not sure what set her apart from other GOAL nominees and left that opinion to the judges.
“I have met with and talked to the other top four finalists—they were amazing,” Bingham said. “I’m not sure if I have anything that’s better. I know I have a strong passion to help the college succeed and students succeed. I know [the other finalists] have the same passion I do.”
Bingham said she could not have completed her associate’s degree or won the award without GPTC’s exceptional environment and support. She specifically mentioned her mentor, Tomeika Williams, as a source of inspiration.
“I have dubbed my teachers the ‘accounting dream team,’” Bingham said. “They are superheroes who are just determined to make their students succeed. This school has a vast appreciation for students and wanting us to be successful in our community.”
Bingham encourages those interested in continuing their education to look into options at technical colleges and to never give up.
“I have a saying—no matter what, focus on success,” Bingham said. “However you get there, however long it takes. It may take a little longer than usual, but that’s the way life works. Let success always be in your thoughts somewhere—write it on the mirror, put it on the fridge. Give technical education a chance—it’s good enough and you’re good enough.”
As GTPC’s goal winner, she will compete in a regional completion Feb. 28 and, if successful, a state competition April 13.
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