Student Success Story: Hamdalatu’s Journey
September 1, 2020
by Jane Hess Collins
Hamdalatu Abdul-Samii worked entry-level jobs even after earning a bachelors’ degree. Then she discovered Computer CORE.
“At least I don’t have to changes buses,” Hamdalatu Abdul-Samii thought. Taking the bus from her apartment in Alexandria to the local Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) campus was the most economical way for her to get to class. She owned a car, but parking fees and gas were expensive. And the straight-shot bus ride saved her precious time.
Hamdalatu’s life had been good back in Tamale, Ghana. Although she and her sister were raised solely by their mother until she remarried and had two more children with her husband, they lived with her grandmother, cousins, aunties, and uncles in a 12-room family compound with separate verandas and bathrooms. Her mother came from a wealthy family and was determined that her daughters receive a good education. She worked hard as a seamstress, a construction business owner, and in retail so Hamdalatu and her sister could attend the best girls-only schools in the country.
Hamdalatu married in 2002 and emigrated to the United States. She and her husband moved into an apartment in Alexandria, Virginia, and she started working at the local Home Depot. In 2004 she gave birth to her first daughter. Hamdalatu enrolled in NVCC to study psychology. Seven years, a job, and two more daughters later, she earned her associate degree and enrolled at George Mason University.
Throughout this time Hamdalatu continued to work at Home Depot, shifting to part-time to have more flexibility in her schedule although she still worked nearly 40 hours a week. One day she was assigned as the cashier and the next day she would stock shelves.
It was hard. Hamdalatu came close to quitting school several times. Her work hours were long, the classes were challenging, and she and her husband were raising three daughters.
Hamdalatu also needed a functioning computer. Hers was old and virus-ridden. She had just enough skills to complete her coursework, but spent too much time away from her family using the computers in the campus library.
“Computers are my curse,” she thought at the time.
Hamdalatu graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in December of 2014. However, her lack of computer knowledge kept her from applying for more professional jobs at Home Depot. For the next four years she continued to work entry level jobs until a friend told her about Computer CORE in 2019. Hamdalatu jumped at the chance to learn Microsoft Word and Excel. Finally she could move up the career ladder!
It was love at first sight. “Everyone was like me,” she recalled. Most of her classmates were female, immigrant, eager to learn, and working. Her volunteer instructors were supportive and patient. Sharron Bell, a Computer CORE career development volunteer, encouraged Hamdalatu to apply for more professional work.
“I like to get my Computer CORE students to think outside of their box and see their self-worth,” Sharron said. “I thought that it was so profound that Hamdalatu had a bachelor’s degree. So to me it was a no brainer. I always want to see my students change the dynamics for themselves and for their families.”
Hamdalatu took Sharron’s advice and applied for as many Home Depot jobs as she could. Finally, 17 years after her first day of work, she was hired in March 2020 as the Associate Support Department Supervisor to coordinate all the human relations issues throughout the store. And while the job required more computer skills than Hamdalatu possessed at the time, she assured them that through Computer CORE, she would attain those skills. And she has.
“Hamdalatu’s attitude is fantastic. The software she uses is not simple and many people are afraid of it, but Hamdalatu always wants to be challenged,” said Sarah Nichols, Hamdalatu’s supervisor. “She gets better and better at using it. She is inspirational to me. I see great things for her future.”
Today Hamdalatu loves her job and her daily interactions (now virtual) with all of the store employees. She is confident of her computer skills, thanks to her Computer CORE training, and uses Microsoft Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and email. Her salary increased and she is thrilled with her responsibilities.
“I’ve had so much fun!” she exclaimed.
Hamdalatu knows that she would have never received a management position without Computer CORE’s training, support, and guidance, and she remains grateful to them.
“I would recommend Computer CORE to anyone who is struggling like I did,” said Hamdalatu. “I’m thankful that Computer CORE gave me the push that I needed.”
Author Jane Hess Collins is the founder and executive director of Heard. She is a communications consultant and coach with a master’s degree in public relations and corporate communications from Georgetown University, and a retired colonel, United States Air Force. Jane founded the Alexandria nonprofit to offer a platform for both artists and the area’s adults in need to be heard. heardnova.org