Forging Adversity into Opportunity:
MIRIAM CRAIG-VENTI MAKES AN INVESTMENT IN HER FUTURE AT RCSJ
Miriam Craig-Venti had accomplished much in the decades following her high school graduation. The West Deptford resident had trained in opera at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and founded her own entertainment company before transitioning to a career in accounting. But in 2018, her employer announced that they would be outsourcing positions within a year's time and her job security evaporated in an instant.
Craig-Venti had years of experience in accounting – both in a corporate setting and for the company she had founded. She impressed interviewer after interviewer with her professional demeanor, skill set and talent for organization. In fact, it seemed like there was only one thing that she was missing to be the perfect job candidate.
“People really wanted to hire me, but they were looking for someone with a degree and I just didn't qualify in that department," Craig-Venti recalled. “I realized to move forward and get back into a career in the field of accounting or finance, I really did need to have those credentials."
Craig-Venti had thought many times about going back to college, but the timing was always off. As the countdown to unemployment progressed, she discovered the circumstances of her layoff meant she was eligible for tuition assistance through the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, a federal program established under the Trade Adjustment Assistance Reauthorization Act of 2015. It was a huge opportunity, but it came with an equally large catch – Craig-Venti had only 130 weeks to earn her four-year degree, so she headed straight to Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ).
“I decided to fast-track my way through an associate degree at RCSJ because it had a program where I could transfer into Wilmington University, which has a location on RCSJ's campus," she explained. “A lot of the things that were offered to me at a four-year university are offered at RCSJ. The College has grown so much that doesn't feel like a stereotypical community college."
Craig-Venti enrolled at RCSJ in January of 2020 as a student in the College's nationally ranked online Human Resource Management program. She worked with advisors from the College and from Wilmington University's on-site partnership office to create an intense but effective academic plan that utilized accelerated course formats, online academic delivery methods and overlapping class schedules to help Craig-Venti meet her 130-week, bachelor's degree deadline.
“It was a challenge because I wasn't your typical student coming in for the two-year college experience. I relied on a lot of people," admitted Craig-Venti. “But just because it's difficult, doesn't mean it can't be done. I'm proof it can be done and I'm doing it with honors."
Earning academic honors had never factored into Craig-Venti's original goals, but she found that her experience in the field translated to the classroom. By the close of her first semester, her single-minded dedication had earned Craig-Venti a spot on the Dean's List and invitations to join two prestigious academic honor societies – Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) and Alpha Beta Gamma (ABG).
“The honor societies gave me so many opportunities to share my knowledge, be creative and have some interaction with my fellow students so that I didn't feel so alone," she recalled. “The more people you talk to and the more groups you get involved with, the better. You get involved in one thing and it opens up doors, which open up more doors."
Her honor society involvement did open another door, when ABG advisor and assistant professor of Business Studies, Danielle Morganti, encouraged Craig-Venti to consider joining the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). As the world's largest member association representing the accounting profession, the AICPA offered a wealth of networking, professional development and scholarship opportunities.
“Joining the AICPA gave me access to scholarships I had never even heard of," Craig-Venti explained. “College students have to pay for their school, but they also have to pay for books and supplies. I need childcare sometimes. The expenses add up and these scholarships help. Some of them I can even use to pay for things outside the College, like my CPA exam, which is expensive to take. There are expenses like that which people who aren't in college currently don't think about."
Craig-Venti was interested in the AICPA's Two-Year Transfer Scholarship, which could help pay for aspects of her education that the TAA program did not. She crossed her fingers and applied, armed with an impressive resume of academic accomplishments and glowing letters of recommendation from Professor Morganti and Dr. Patricia Claghorn, dean of Business Studies. A week before her graduation from RCSJ this May, Craig-Venti received the good news – along with $5,000 towards her Wilmington University degree.
“I was thrilled when Miriam told me she had received the AICPA scholarship, but not surprised," confessed a smiling Professor Morganti. “I've worked with Miriam in the classroom and as her advisor for the ABG national business honor society. It's impossible not to be impressed with her drive, her support of fellow students and how she has excelled in her studies and extracurriculars, while juggling personal responsibilities, parenthood and community volunteer activities."
The scholarship gave Craig-Venti and her family an extra reason to celebrate on May 13, 2021, as they arrived at RCSJ for her long-awaited Commencement ceremony. Her name was called; she crossed the stage to accept her A.S. in Human Resource Management and certificate in Finance, brimming with pride in her accomplishments. As the crowd cheered, Craig-Venti's eyes went to her six-year-old daughter, Tatum, gleefully clapping along in the audience.
“Going back to college meant I was able to set an example for my daughter, which was extremely important to me," she shared. “Tatum is in my graduation pictures. It will be a memory for her, and I hope she realizes that even though I didn't finish college out of high school, I did go back. I did earn a degree. I finally reached one of my own personal goals and it was really important for her to see that doesn't matter when you do it as long as you get it done."
For Craig-Venti, graduation did not slow her pace. As a Wilmington University student, she is using her summer to make progress towards her bachelor's degree in Finance and a certificate in accounting and is on-track for her May 2022 graduation deadline. She has future plans to sit for her CPA exam and is looking forward to returning to the job hunt – this time, with her degree in-hand.
“I almost don't want to leave school – I'm so into it now – but I do need to find a job. I would like to land a position in finance such as controller and maybe eventually a CFO," Craig-Venti confided. “I'm not quite there yet, but now I have both the experience and the education to back it up. I'll finally have what I need to receive a job offer instead of an apologetic explanation about degree requirements."
Discover degree programs that will help you find your fit in the world of business and technology at RCSJ.edu/Business.