Sharline Collins is proof that you don’t have to be a recent high school graduate to pursue your college dreams. She enrolled in TCC’s Substance Abuse Counseling certificate program at age 66, even after suffering a serious health setback—and she’s now working toward her degree. At a time that many people are thinking about retirement, Collins is gearing up for all that lies ahead. As she said, “I have no plans of slowing down!” Here is her story.
“I grew up in Fort Worth and attended Dunbar High School. During those years, I faced many challenges and was not able to graduate. I was determined to not be a statistic, so I worked and received my GED in 1972, when I turned 18 years old. The next chapter of my life began as I went on for my nursing assistant certification through Dunbar. I remained determined to move higher in my education, so at this point, I applied to nursing school to achieve my license as a vocational nurse. I was accepted by all the Fort Worth hospitals with programs at that time, and I chose to enroll at All Saints.
“By that time, I was the single parent of five tender-aged children, four girls and one boy. Being a mother was rewarding—but the circumstances were obviously challenging, and I was forced to drop out of the LVN program. I had to put my desire to achieve a higher education on hold because of my responsibilities to provide for my family. I entered the mental health care field, working as a coordinator and supervisor for more than three decades. I enjoyed my work but never lost my desire to earn a college degree.
“Finally, after years of seeing clients struggle with various mental health issues, I decided to return to school. I just felt there was more I could do to help. Then I had another setback. I suffered a blood clot in my brain. In January 2014, I was admitted into the hospital for observation. I was soon airlifted to Harris Methodist downtown for immediate surgery.
“I was hospitalized for a month after the surgery, then started therapy. I had to learn how to walk, eat, control my emotions and take care of myself again. I had to regain my cognition. It was a long road, but with God and my family I was able to get stronger and become independent and live by myself.
“As soon as I could, I put my plans for college back into motion. You might think I’d been through enough at that point, but I wanted to continue. I’d always had a desire to be a college graduate. I wanted to stay in a ‘helping profession’—I feel called to help and give back—so I started the Substance Abuse Counseling certificate program at Tarrant County College. I wanted to better understand how to help those facing substance abuse issues.
“I was 66 years old when I began classes at TCC Northeast. I was welcomed and encouraged to work hard and succeed. Being on campus was very refreshing, and I found that all my life experiences up to that point were helpful. And after many years of supporting my children through all their school and activities, they were now cheering me on. When they were growing up, I did my best to encourage my children to work hard and believe in themselves. Education was emphasized and encouraged. I am proud of all my children and was so grateful for their love and support as I became a student again.
“I had great support on campus, too. All my instructors have been so encouraging. My advisor, Adam Baugh, has been tremendous; with his help, I was able to effectively manage my school schedule. He goes above and beyond. I feel blessed to be a part of this kind of environment.
“In August 2020, I finished my certificate. It was such a proud moment for me. But I still wasn’t done. In spring 2021, I’m continuing my studies in order to earn my Associate of Applied Science in Mental Health Substance Abuse Counseling. The degree will allow me to better support others with their journey and future endeavors to live a life free of substance abuse. I plan to graduate in the fall of 2023 with my associate degree and then continue on to receive a bachelor’s degree.
“Being a licensed chemical dependency counselor will allow me the opportunity to fulfill my life’s purpose. To anyone who is aspiring to further their education, at whatever age, I would say be open and prepared to work hard. Hard work and determination bring success!”