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Next Up: PR Spokesperson

“Tyler made me fall in love with learning and gave me the confidence that I could learn anything.”

At Tyler, returning student and single mom Elena Brancato gained the confidence to soak up the full college experience.

She did it all: studied in Greece, led Phi Theta Kappa honor society, managed public relations for the Rotaract Club, met state representatives at the Virginia State Capitol.

When she transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University, she was already ahead of the curve because she’d completed a real client project.

Here’s how she capitalized on her potential:

Define your own success

When Elena returned to college at 25, she pursued a nursing degree. As a single mom, she had worked various short-term jobs, from car sales to customer service, but she wanted a stable career.

“I felt like I could easily be replaced in my jobs,” Elena said. “I needed to do something different to improve my skillset and support my son.”

Once she got into nursing at Tyler, she discovered that it wasn’t a good fit.

“I didn’t feel ashamed when I decided nursing wasn’t going to be my thing,” Elena said. “I was very sad because that’s what I was set on. But people at Tyler were so supportive. I just felt loved.”

Because English is her third language, Elena focused on her writing and presentation skills, and then switched her major to mass communications.

“To be a more marketable person, I knew I needed to write well,” said Elena, who also speaks Spanish and Italian.

“When it comes to observing the world, this degree has completely changed the way I see things, and it’s making me a better person,” she continued.

Get the support to succeed

Starting college over was intimidating at first, she said. She had to retrain herself to be a student.

"I was coming from trying college right out of high school, failing miserably, and not retaining any information," Elena said. "My professors at Tyler believed in me before I even really believed in myself. They see your potential and try to draw that out of you."

One of her professors taught her a method for studying and comprehending material that she continues to use for all of her classes at VCU. And it's part of her secret for graduating from Tyler with a 4.0 GPA.

Open up to new opportunities

Outside of class, Elena organized blood drives and volunteer opportunities like cleaning up the river as Phi Theta Kappa president. She traveled with Tyler's president to meet with delegates at the Virginia State Capitol, where she advocated for more flexibility in transferring credits from community colleges to four-year universities. She managed social media handles for Phi Theta Kappa and the Rotaract Club. And she introduced new students to Tyler as a student ambassador.

"I learned that hard work pays off," Elena said. "When you apply yourself and care about your studies, people also care. Put yourself out there, and you'll get results."

As part of a summer course, she traveled to Greece for two weeks to study ancient Greek history and mythology.

"I wanted to see the sites for everything that we were reading about firsthand," Elena said. "I wanted to gain the wisdom and freedom of studying abroad."

From Santorini's black sand beaches to Mykonos' colorful sunsets, Elena soaked up the "larger-the-life" experience. For her class project, she researched the Acropolis of Athens before visiting, and seeing it in person brought all its symbols to life.

"I had never gone to a place and understood the meaning behind the art," she said. "It's just so different when you know what symbols mean."

Sharpen your competitive edge

At Tyler, her class developed a PR campaign for a real client. One of Tyler's librarians was launching a new project to connect students with open educational resource (OER) textbooks and needed to raise awareness with professors to get more OER textbooks available online for more courses.

Elena's team recommended tactics, events and a budget to build awareness with professors. Elena even enlisted her political science professor to star in a video for the campaign.

"We created a project that some do in a master's degree program," Elena said. "By the time I got to VCU, I had already done a campaign and had so much experience."

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