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OCCC graduate, professor honored at Making It Work Day

Katherine Looper, OCCC graduate and Melissa Leon Guerrero, OCCC Professor of Business

    (Published: 04-03-21)

OCCC Campus

An Oklahoma City Community College graduate and an OCCC professor were both honored recently by the Oklahoma Career and Technical Education Equity Council.

Katherine Looper, an OCCC graduate, received the Outstanding Student/Graduate Award, and Melissa Leon Guerrero, a professor of business, received the Outstanding Instructor of Non-Traditional Students Award.

They were among 12 Oklahomans honored, along with four businesses and organizations, at the 27th annual Making It Work Day at the Capitol in a virtual ceremony April 30. Making It Work Day recognizes individuals who are committed to removing barriers to success for single-parent families by providing educational experiences for students beyond the classroom. The ceremony also recognized nontraditional students.

Looper entered OCCC’s Career Transitions program determined that her past would not ruin her future or that of her children, said Julie Johnson, OCCC Career Transitions employment coach, who nominated Looper for the award.

Looper maintained a 3.5-plus GPA and qualified for Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society while earning her certificate in medical office administration and adding a major in respiratory care therapy, Johnson said. She began tutoring others as a federal work study assistant in the OCCC Biological Science Center and continued tutoring while doing clinical classes and rotations in hospitals, Johnson said.

Looper earned an associate degree in December 2019 and passed her licensure exams in January 2020. She obtained a job with one of the hospitals where she had done a student rotation.

“Anyone with family members who are working in health care knows the combination of pride and worry that sometimes feels overwhelming,” Johnson said. “We are so proud of Katie’s willingness to step up and help those battling for their lives. Her first year as a professional has truly been a baptism by fire.

“She is still working COVID-19 under very stressful conditions. She continues to push through as a single parent and as a professional.”

Leon Guerrero has been a professor at OCCC for 10 years. She is the lead business communication instructor and teaches other business courses as well. When she began teaching the Employment Transitions course, she updated the curriculum to better help the students in the Career Transitions Program, said Johnson, who nominated Leon Guerrero for the award.

All Career Transitions students are required to take the course, which is also open to other OCCC students. When Leon Guerrero began teaching the course, she took time to learn about the program and the students, Johnson said.

“This, and her many years of higher education and teaching experience, helped her understand exactly what would best help our diverse population of single parent students who are living on a shoestring and working hard to gain education and training that will improve their lives and the lives of future generations,” Johnson said.

She added that Leon Guerrero’s class includes up-to-date information about job searching, networking, writing effective resumes and cover letters and interviewing. She gives the students practice in interviewing and talks to them about negotiating salary and benefits when they receive job offers.

“Because she poured a considerable amount of herself, her time, her energy and her expertise into what she did with the class, Professor Leon Guerrero ensured that each and every student knew that she cared about them as individuals and that their success -- in college and in the world of work -- mattered to her,” Johnson said.

OkCTEEC is affiliated with the administrative division of the Oklahoma Association of Career and Technology Education. The council advocates for students pursuing nontraditional careers and for resources for educating single parents.

“The Making It Work Day ceremony is such an important part of OkCTEEC as it publicly acknowledges those students, programs and business partners that have done an outstanding job meeting their career goals,” said KayTee Niquette, Work Prep and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families coordinator at the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education. “The event this year is even more important, as we have persevered through a pandemic and still have individuals who have excelled.”

She serves as an adviser for OkCTEEC, along with Lisa French of the Department of Human Services and Gina McPherson of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.

The COVID-19 pandemic created challenges, said Lisa D. Brown, OkCTEEC president and director for career transitions at Oklahoma City Community College, but students, faculty, staff and community partners met the challenges head-on, redesigning traditional methods of assistance and education.

“These students have persevered through the many changes in their pursuit of their goals and even some events in their own families,” she said. “In addition to their academic success, they have strengthened even more skills in communication, collaboration, adaptation and endurance that will be of great benefit as valuable life skills they will never forget they developed or discovered they had.”

OkCTEEC’s purposes include promoting and supporting career and technology education, increasing its effectiveness, promoting research in the field and in educational equity, developing leadership and advocating for equity and diversity.

For more information about OkCTEEC, visit https://www.cteec.org/okcteec. For more information about the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, visit www.okcareertech.org.