Brenda Ellis of Durham, a student in the Criminal Justice Technology program at Vance-Granville Community College, was recently selected as the college’s nominee for the North Carolina Community College System’s Dallas Herring Achievement Award.
The award was established by the system in 2010 to honor the late Dr. Dallas Herring, the longtime State Board of Education chairman and one of the state's earliest advocates of community colleges. Each year, the award recognizes a current or former community college student who best embodies Herring's philosophy of "taking people where they are and carrying them as far as they can go."
Ellis (pictured above) said that she started her higher education later in life than most, after becoming a mother and a grandmother. She worked in the health care field for many years and developed a passion for working with homeless veterans as a volunteer.
“I grew up in the era of the Vietnam War,” Ellis recalled. “Many of my peers fought in that war, and I witnessed the hostility that soldiers suffered upon their return and the terrible toll that hostility took on them. Moreover, the experiences took a toll on the soldiers’ lives. Many Vietnam veterans became homeless as a result of the war. This is one of the reasons I chose to work with the homeless veteran population for the past 25 years.” She said that most veterans are homeless because of issues related to substance abuse, mental health, or criminal justice involvement. To study those issues and to gain skills to help veterans, she first enrolled in the VGCC Human Services Technology program, completed that degree, and moved into Criminal Justice.
Ellis noted that she turned her attention to getting a college education after going through a divorce and losing her parents to illness. “It was scary to start back to school as an older student,” she said, but she excelled in the classroom. She has served as a student ambassador, a graduation marshal and as president of the college’s chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, while also receiving several endowed scholarships from VGCC. “Life has taught me that age should not determine where you go in life — it should just give you the opportunity to get there,” Ellis said.
“Brenda’s commitment and perseverance serve as an inspiring example for all students,” said Dr. Levy Brown, VGCC’s vice president of academic affairs. “She has been an excellent student leader on campus, and we know that, with the education she has received here at Vance-Granville, she will continue in the path of service and leadership.”