Heather Rix McKenzie’s journey to a career started with the premature birth of her daughter. In 2015 her daughter was born three months early and spent 52 days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Crouse Hospital. “When I was spending time in the NICU I was thinking ‘this would be a cool thing to do.’ It was miraculous what they did there.”
She spent the next year at home with her daughter. During that time she made the decision to come to Onondaga Community College. “Nursing was my original plan. I took a couple of classes that introduced me to Human Services and Sociology, fell in love with it and found my calling.”
Taking classes full time while raising a family presented Rix McKenzie with financial obstacles. OCC’s Foundation stepped in and presented her with the Community Scholars Scholarship for the 2018-19 academic year. “It was really appreciated. It’s less loans to take out. We take out loans to pay for child care. Every little bit really helps.” You can learn more about supporting students like Heather Rix McKenzie through our Believe In Better fundraising campaign here.
Today Rix McKenzie is a Human Services major and a new inductee into the College’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. “It was a big deal for me. I wasn’t the kid who did well in high school. I was the one who teachers said, ‘if you just apply yourself…’ My parents came to the ceremony. I said to them, ‘it took 40 years but I finally got a good report card for you!’”
Rix McKenzie’s daughter is now 3 years old. She’s happy, healthy and doing well in preschool. Her mother has never forgotten the people in Crouse’s NICU and how wonderful they were in the first two months of her daughter’s life. She’s become a volunteer peer mentor with Hand to Hold, an organization which pairs up former NICU parents with parents who currently have a child or children there. “It’s been such a rewarding experience to give back and help parents through a tough time that I understand from personal experience. It has also reinforced that Human Services is my calling and passion.”
Rix McKenzie will earn her degree next May. She plans to transfer and earn her master’s in Social Work. “I love OCC. If I could stay here forever and get my master’s I would. It’s such a supportive place. I have spectacular professors who I’ve learned a lot from academically and personally. They’re as good as any you’ll find at four-year schools. I’ve met so many cool people from so many age groups and walks of life. I tell everybody ‘if you’re thinking about coming back to school come here.’”