Nadia Gross earned her Bachelor of Science in Media Design with a concentration in Photography, so she understands the power of a photo to capture a moment.
In the one taken as she crossed the stage at WilmU’s May 2019 commencement ceremonies, “my jaw was dropped. I had this gasp, this look of shock, in all the excitement,” says Gross, of New Castle. “That was such a great moment. I’m at a loss for words, even still.”
The emotional response was warranted. It took Gross five years of part-time schooling, balanced between part-time work and full-time parenting, to complete her degree — and also to become the first college graduate in the history of her family.
Higher education wasn’t always in the picture for Gross. The necessity of working for a living put college out of reach for her parents, and Gross herself dropped out of school in ninth grade for a “life on hold,” working unfulfilling jobs.
“The future was not looking too bright for me, and I had plenty of people telling me that,” she recalls, “but there was no one to push me to better myself.”
At age 17, Gross earned a GED through the Wilmington Job Corps. The organization offered financial assistance toward a college degree, but she’d already convinced herself that she lacked the mettle to take on that challenge.
“I saw everyone around me, my age group, going to school, getting jobs, finding success,” she says. “I was always stuck believing that I couldn’t, because that’s all I’d heard.”
A boyfriend who introduced her to his church and its congregation sparked a change. “There’s a phrase they used, ‘speaking life into a person,’” she says. “I began to see what I could do, instead of what I couldn’t.”
Gross enrolled in Wilmington University’s College of Technology at age 24, by which time she’d married the boyfriend and was raising three children. WilmU’s flexible course scheduling and online learning formats and her supportive audience at home were essential to her success, Gross says. “They’ve always been cheering me on,” she notes.
She also credits photography instructors Bradley Bower and Tim Shaffer with encouraging her confidence in herself and her abilities when working with others. “That’s important out in the field,” she says. “They were seeing skills in me that I didn’t even know were there.”
Since her Kodak moment at May’s commencement, Gross has been enjoying the new experience of career opportunity. A WilmU-coordinated internship at the Wilmington Public Library on Rodney Square led to the offer of a marketing assistant position. “I had a job before I even crossed the stage,” she says, and she’s considering other options as well. “I have a really good feeling about this.”