Student Stories

Explore our Student Stories to discover the unique and inspiring journeys of Central Piedmont Community College students. Each narrative showcases how individuals have overcome challenges and achieved success.

Shania Johnson

Shania Johnson, a first-generation college student from Charlotte, NC, embodies resilience.  

After graduating from Garinger High School in 2020, she initially attended UNC Greensboro. Despite an impressive start, she faced significant challenges, including mental health struggles and the unexpected passing of her father.  

Much self-reflection led her to conclude that while she wanted to return to the community of friends she had developed at UNC Greensboro, that choice would not allow her to strive for excellence. Instead, she returned to her hometown of Charlotte and enrolled at Central Piedmont in Spring 2023. 

At Central Piedmont, Shania thrived. She initially intended to stay for just one semester before transferring to UNC Charlotte. However, she fell in love with the campus and developed a strong connection with the institution.  

Her role as a Peer Mentor in TRIO Student Support Services (TRIO-SSS) allowed her to build meaningful relationships and grow personally. TRIO-SSS is a college retention and degree completion program centered on academic, personal, social, and career support for under-resourced college students. It specializes in academic coaching, tutoring, and academic counseling. 

Shaina graduated with her Associate in Arts degree in psychology just a year after she started at Central Piedmont. Her passion for psychology stems from a desire to eliminate negative stigmas surrounding mental health therapy in minority communities. Shaina’s goal is to provide access to mental health resources for minorities and low-income families. 

Attending Central Piedmont helped me understand that everyone’s path is different, and that doesn’t lessen your personal accomplishments

Reflecting on the Journey

Reflecting on her journey, Shania credits Central Piedmont with teaching her the importance of perseverance. “I struggled and kept going but still felt defeated,” she said. “Attending Central Piedmont helped me understand that everyone’s path is different, and that doesn’t lessen your personal accomplishments.” She advises future students to engage with the diverse clubs, organizations, and communities at the college.  

Shania’s story is a testament to the power of determination and the transformative impact of finding the right support system. She will begin pursuing a degree in social work at UNC Charlotte this fall. 

More Student Stories

  • Bri Duncan

    Bri Duncan's journey at Central Piedmont Community College is a compelling testament to resilience and dedication. Coming from Wirtz, Virginia, Bri balanced the challenges of being a single mother and an adult learner to achieve dual degrees in Nursing and Fine Arts. Her academic excellence earned her membership in the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and, crucially, scholarships such as the Cato Future Nurse Scholar award, enabling her to graduate debt-free.

    Motivated by her son’s serious health challenges and the impactful care they received, Bri was inspired to pursue a career in critical care nursing. She has accepted a position at Atrium Health’s Carolina Medical Center in the Medical ICU, where she is eager to provide compassionate support to patients during critical times.

    Central Piedmont was instrumental in supporting Bri through significant personal challenges, including her son's recovery from a stroke and their recovery from a home flood. The college provided crucial support, including a semester of compassionate withdrawal, allowing her to focus on her son's immediate needs without derailing her educational goals.

    As the second speaker at her graduation, Bri shared her inspiring story with fellow graduates, underscoring the power of persistence and community support in overcoming life's hurdles. Her message to current and prospective students is clear: leverage every available resource, embrace every challenge as a learning opportunity, and remain steadfast in the pursuit of your dreams.

    Bri's story is not just about personal success; it's about how a supportive educational environment and community can help transform challenges into opportunities for growth and achievement.

  • Ndianor Gbandala

    Meet Ndianor Gbandala, an international student from Monrovia, Liberia. Not only is she a Central Piedmont Medical Laboratory student; she is also one of your May’24 graduation speakers. She chose Central Piedmont because of its welcoming atmosphere and convenient downtown Charlotte location. This provides easy access to essential services and fosters a supportive community for international students to thrive and feel at home.

    Influenced early on by her father's pharmacy career, Ndianor's interest in the sciences was ignited further by a microbiology class at Central Piedmont, guiding her toward a degree in Medical Laboratory Technology. "The role of laboratory professionals in healthcare drew me in; I saw a way to directly impact patient outcomes through science," she notes.

    Ndianor's time at Central Piedmont has been transformative. She treasures the supportive learning environment, the mentorship from dedicated faculty, and the friendships that have nurtured her personally and professionally. "The combination of a supportive community, enriching experiences, and quality education has made my time at Central Piedmont truly rewarding," she shares.

    With her degree, Ndianor aims to become a Medical Laboratory Technician within a hospital setting, contributing to diagnosing and treating diseases. She is also set on furthering her education and advancing in her field. Her advice to future students? "Embrace every learning opportunity, seek help when needed, and always be open to new experiences. Central Piedmont provides a platform for growth and self-discovery; use it well."

    As Ndianor prepares to address her peers as the 10 am graduation speaker, she reflects on her academic and personal growth at Central Piedmont: "This college has not only helped me fine-tune my career path but also equipped me with the confidence to face future challenges in healthcare." Her narrative underscores the transformative impact of dedicated educational pursuits and active community engagement.

  • Rachael Helms

    At 38, Rachael Helms has transitioned from a career in performing arts to pursuing Fire Protection at Central Piedmont Community College. With a previous degree in Exercise Science from UNC Charlotte, Rachael was drawn to Central Piedmont for its unique Fire and Social Behavior class, aligning with her interests in disaster psychology and public safety.

    Her journey into the world of emergency services marks a significant pivot from her earlier career in the performing arts, where she excelled in gymnastics, cheerleading, aerial arts, and even circus arts. Her background has undoubtedly prepared her for the physical demands of fire service. “If you need someone to scale a wall, suspend like Spider-Man for a high angle rescue, or fit into small spaces, I'm your girl,” says Rachael! 

    Rachael appreciates the real-world experience her professors bring to the classroom, blending technical and social insights that enhance her effectiveness in crisis situations. Her ambition is to excel as a Fire Engineer, leveraging her diverse skills to serve and protect the community.

    She encourages other Central Piedmont students to pursue their highest ambitions fearlessly. "Set lofty goals, surround yourself with knowledgeable peers, and dive into learning experiences," advises Rachael. Her journey illustrates how continuous learning and adaptability are key in transforming personal strengths into professional excellence.

  • Monisha Pirela

    Monisha Pirela,a 34-year-old student at Central Piedmont Community College from New Bern, NC, is pursuing an Associate in Arts degree. She chose Central Piedmont for its proximity, easing her commute and allowing her to balance school with other commitments. Monisha is an active participant in campus life, having served on the Student Equity Council, NC Global Scholars of Distinction, and Phi Theta Kappa. She is also the recipient of several scholarships, including the 2023 Charlotte Pride Champion of Pride, Benjamin A. Gilman, Truist Honors, and Levine Scholarship.

    Her academic focus combines architecture with political science, aiming to impact societal structures both locally and globally. Monisha aspires to work for the U.S. State Department and to consult on sustainable housing projects internationally. Central Piedmont has played an important role in her education, particularly through possibilities such as studying abroad, which Monisha did not think was an option for non-traditional community college students. "Thanks to the unwavering support of the Global Learning Department, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to study abroad at the University of Roehampton in London this year," she said.

    Additionally, Monisha is a recognized poet and spoken word artist and interns with the U.S. Department of State, enhancing her understanding of cultural diplomacy. Recently, she was named a semifinalist for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, and has been accepted to UNC Charlotte’s Honors Art+Architecture program. Monisha’s journey reflects her dedication to education and her commitment to making a meaningful societal impact.

  • Will Thames

    Will Thames, a 22-year-old from Charlotte, NC, shares his inspiring journey at Central Piedmont! Will highlights his aspirations and the role Central Piedmont has played in his educational and personal growth. As a Myers Park High School graduate, Will chose Central Piedmont to pave his path toward a future in radio broadcasting and music, drawn by the college's diverse course offerings and the prospect of transferring to Appalachian State University.

    Will's passion for music, particularly piano, has been a guiding light in his life since the age of 5. Inspired by legends like Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, he dreams of carving out a career in radio broadcasting and becoming a professional musician. "What I want to do with my degree is pursue a career in radio broadcasting," Will shares.

    Despite not yet being involved in clubs or organizations at Central Piedmont, Will's dedication to his studies and music speaks volumes. His advice to future students is profound yet simple: "Come with an open mind and to learn new and exciting things. It will go a long way toward your future." He believes firmly that the foundation for a bright future starts with the opportunities grasped today.

    Will's encounter with Stevie Wonder nine years ago in Charlotte remains a pivotal moment in his life, fueling his ambition to follow in the footsteps of his idols. His admiration for other blind musicians, especially Matthew Whitaker, underscores a deep connection to artists who've navigated similar challenges, highlighting the unique and shared experiences that bind them.