Going back to school two decades after earning her first college degree really agrees with Mary Hess.
While she was earning her bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia, Hess thought she would become a history professor. Instead, she and her husband, Brian, spent 13 years traveling the world with the U.S. Department of State. She worked for the Foreign Service while he was with the Department of Diplomatic Security.
“I never anticipated that being a part of my life,” said Hess. “I’ve been able to travel all over the world, being the face of diplomacy, really understanding what it means to be an American in a very different way.”
After leaving the Foreign Service, Hess did diversity, equity and inclusion work at The Citadel in South Carolina. She, her husband, and their sons, Brian and Rutledge, moved to Virginia in 2018.
“While driving to visit my brother in North Carolina, we would pass Laurel Ridge Community College in Warrenton,” Hess said. “Every time I would say, ‘That looks like a great campus, what a great-looking community college.’ It got me thinking I would like to go back to college.”
Not feeling ready to jump into a master’s degree program, she made an online inquiry at Laurel Ridge.
“Somebody immediately reached out to me,” Hess said.
Coming back to school as an adult with children, she wondered if she would fit in, but decided there must be other students like her. Hess, who is a Cub Scout leader, recalled the great time she had participating in Student Life’s Laurel Ridge Survivor. That led to her being asked to become a Student Ambassador.
“I thought, I’m going to do this experience, I’m going to really embrace being a student at Laurel Ridge and taking opportunities,” she said. “I’m going to see how I can make a difference on campus. It was fun. I’ve competed in trivia contests online and heard concerts, just fun things.”
In addition to her Student Ambassador service, Hess served with the Student Government Association and was in Phi Theta Kappa. She said she was more involved with college the second time around.
“Because I care about this school and the school has been such a positive influence in my life,” Hess explained. “I have relationships with my professors, with faculty, with staff. So, I made a choice to get involved here on campus because I want to give back, because I love being a student here. It’s just been the most unexpected, joyful thing in my life.
“It really has been beautiful to see my own children see Mommy go back to school. We do homework together. My children have seen me succeed in school – I’m on the dean’s list. I want them to know I’m proud because I did work for this. I have received such a great education.”
Her favorite professor has been Larry Friedenberg, who teaches sociology and human services classes.
“He has provided so many opportunities to his human services students,” Hess said.
Not only did Hess complete an internship in the TRIO office, she received TRIO services as a first-generation college student and as a student with a disability. TRIO provides additional services and counseling to students who are first-generation students, have a disability or are low-income.
“TRIO Director Vivi Meder has just really been a very positive person for me,” said Hess, who was named the 2022 TRIO Graduate of the Year. “It’s just been one of those things in my adult life where I’m in this place, I’m getting my education, and it’s been such a beautiful experience for me. I feel so empowered. I feel very proud of myself. I feel proud I’m able to contribute to TRIO.”
She helped to increase the stock of the Middletown Campus food pantry, getting gift cards from Martins’s which she used to purchase food, donations from Petco and gift cards for personal care items from CVS.
“I’m so passionate about the food pantry because I feel it’s for everybody,” Hess said. “It’s for our students and their pets and their families.”
In May, she earned her associate degree in human services with a focus on counseling, and has applied for master’s degree in counseling programs at William and Mary, Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia. She hopes to go into higher education, working in a counseling center, such as TRIO.
“I’m really, really excited about my next steps,” Hess said. “It just has been the best gift of my life coming back for my education. I have loved it here. I have always felt important, I have always felt like my needs were met. Professors were willing to help me or point in the right direction to get tutoring or other help.”
Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.