Sharon Hill & Toni Jones

Toni Jones (left) and her mother, Sharon Hill will both earn college degrees this Saturday.
Toni Jones (left) and her mother, Sharon Hill will both earn college degrees this Saturday.

They are the ultimate teammates. Both are totally committed to each other’s success and willing to do what is needed to make sure each other achieves her goals. On May 14 they’ll cross the finish line together when this mother and daughter duo earn their college degrees.

Sharon Hill is the 58-year-old mom. She worked as an insurance specialist for 16 years when her employer relocated operations. This was the third time she’d been laid off.  Sharon was obsessed with finding a new job when her daughter, 36-year-old Toni Jones spoke up. “She told me, ‘Mom why do you want to rush back to work?  This is the time to pursue something you’ve always wanted.’”

Thanks to the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program Sharon was able to come to OCC. TAA assists workers who have lost their job as a result of foreign trade.  Sharon started taking classes in August 2014 and pursued a degree in Human Services. “Before I started coming here I was concerned about how someone my age would fit into a college setting as a non-traditional student,” she said. “Thanks to encouragement from my professors and academic adviser I became comfortable right away. I love it here!”

After Sharon’s first semester, she was faced with the challenge of maintaining her student status while becoming the sole guardian of her granddaughter, now age 4.  She heard about a child care facility on campus, the Children’s Learning Center, and found she was eligible to receive financial assistance. “I couldn’t have done this without the Children’s Learning Center’s help,” she said.

Sharon and Toni regularly help each other with child care. They share a two-family home in Syracuse.  Sharon lives with her granddaughter and Toni lives with her 12-year-old son. Toni is a 1998 graduate of Corcoran high school who will leave OCC with degrees in both Communication Studies, Humanities + Social Sciences and an Honors minor. Toni is a member of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa, a 2016 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence winner and a two-time winner of the OCC Trustee Award in the team category. She came here as a shy student who kept to herself. Once she joined the History Club everything changed. “When I was younger I wasn’t involved in school outside of class and it’s one of the things I regretted most. Once I had the opportunity here to get involved it led to other things. It helped me with my public speaking. I realized I have a voice and I can be an advocate.” Her affiliation with the History Club inspired her to take multiple study abroad trips.

Where do they go from here? Sharon wants to earn a master’s in social work. Toni would like to earn a master’s degree in education and possibly become a high school history teacher.  Both agree they’re excited to see each other graduate and plan to keep working together. “We’re each other’s support,” said Sharon. “We know that.”