Collegiate High School at NWFSC29th Season

Vanessa Payne meets all challenges to reach goal of bachelor's degree


Keeping your eyes on the prize; putting blinders on and not looking to the left or the right in reach of the goal set before you. That seems plausible to some of us, but what about when you have a husband, three kids, two grandkids, and a full-time job? Is it so plausible then? Vanessa Payne thought it was. With a college degree as her goal, she hitched up her pants, squared her shoulders, looked life right in the eye and kept on keepin' on. When Vanessa graduated from Northwest Florida State College on May 9 with her bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education, she reached her goal and realized her dream, despite the roadblocks and trials of living everyday life.

Vanessa PayneVanessa was born into a military family and married into one, so she has traveled and seen the world. It was during a tour in Misawa, Japan, that she decided to look for work. Her daughter was 2 years old and Vanessa knew she could be a wife and mother and also hold down a job outside the home. She thought she would like to be a secretary, but was picked to work in the base's childcare center and that was it! The deal was struck and she knew she had found her niche. Kids are her "thing" and she loves being around them and working with them.

Currently, Vanessa works at the Emerald Coast Autism Center in Valparaiso as a Behavior Therapist. She delights in working with autistic children and seeing their progression. "Looking at a child when he or she first comes to the center, tracking them as they learn different behaviors and seeing them grow and progress is amazing to me," she says. Working with children with this disability sort of comes naturally to Vanessa, since her son is a "highly functioning" autistic child.

Vanessa has praise for NWF State College and the faculty members who have had a special influence on her. "I love this school and like the smaller class sizes that lead to more individual attention from the instructors, and I've had some great instructors," she notes. Bev Sandlin, director of Teacher Education, and Dr. Kenya Wolff, assistant professor in Early Childhood Education, hold special places in her heart. "Ms. Sandlin and Dr. Wolff always believed in me and pushed me to excel and to do my best to make my dream a reality. I will always appreciate them for the part they played in my education." Because of her active life, Vanessa also took advantage of the online classes offered at NWF State College, which seem perfect for a very busy woman whose life is always running in two or three directions simultaneously.

When those rare down times come, Vanessa likes to listen to jazz, enjoys reading and has been active in the college's Early Childhood Student Association as well as the National Technical Honor Society, into which she was inducted in Fall 2014. Additionally, when she walked across the stage, she wasn't the only Payne graduating - her husband, Jeffrey, crossed the stage, too, to receive his BAS degree in Project Management.

So what's in store for Vanessa now? "I'm really not sure at this point," she says. "My husband is from Georgia and we would like to go back there. Perhaps a small business is somewhere in our future, but for right now, I just want to enjoy the quiet," she laughed. But whatever lies ahead, Vanessa will face down her challenges, continue walking forward and keep her eyes on the prize.

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