September 19, 2023
That post-Labor Day nip in the air, 85 degrees instead of 100, can mean only 1 thing. A new academic year.
“And Mom and Dad could hardly wait for school to start again.”
Late summer/fall is exciting on so many levels. A recent ceremony at The University of Kansas Health System took this excitement to a new level for 5 families recently. I witnessed it with my own moist eyes.
I was you, and I am you. And I have to tell you, this is just the beginning." Amber AdkissonHousekeeping Operations Manager at the Marillac campus
An extraordinary growth opportunity
In August, 5 health system employees received their diplomas after completing an at-work GED (general education degree) program. I’ve seen several presentations in the same auditorium where the graduation was held. This one’s unique. Executives and staff practically fight for a seat to watch the ceremony.
That’s how important this is to leadership around here. Imagine what it means to the graduates and their families.
“I was you, and I am you. And I have to tell you, this is just the beginning,” Amber Adkisson, Housekeeping Operations Manager at the Marillac campus, told the graduates.
She’s speaking firsthand.
Adkisson got her GED in 2021 and is one of many of the 27 grads who continue to work at the health system since the program began in 2018. She says she thinks about her accomplishment every day.
“For the first time in my life, I know I wanted more, and I deserved more.”
Behind the program
Her department head gets much of the credit, which has become a theme of this blog. Jeff Novorr, vice president of hospitality services, drove the project early on with a sincere desire to help those employees in his large department who, for whatever reason, never got a high school degree. Plenty of positions in dining, housekeeping and patient transportation don’t require a high school diploma. But Novorr knew plenty of his employees would get an equivalent if they could.
The health system worked with Kansas City Kansas Community College to sponsor the classes on site at our 39th and Rainbow location, and the employees take required course hours while getting paid during their shifts.
“This is another one of those great examples of a ‘win-win,’” said Bob Page, health system president and CEO, in his short address to graduates. “I think it’s a win for you. You have persevered, and you are going to do great things. It’s also a win for the health system. This is a chance for us to develop our own pipelines and grow our own leaders.”
He can say that again. And he did, in effect, to all 5 graduates who came to the ceremony with different stories:
- Lizbeth Pena, sterile processing
- Briannna Johnson, dining services
- Julio Mendoza, housekeeping services
- Ricky Ramirez, dining services
- Arianna Richardson, admitting
Impossible as it is to pick the most inspiring story, Ricky’s journey is tough to beat. During the portion of the ceremony when the graduates said their thanks, Ricky recalled the life shock that derailed his plans. He contracted leukemia in 2012 and spent the next year and a half in a wheelchair. Doctors told him 4 years later he was in remission.
He remains forever grateful The University of Kansas Health System gave him this chance at a degree many years later. You see, he was treated at our cancer center well before he came to work here and received his diploma this summer.
Why we do it
We should say something about the teachers in this program – Chris Bosserman, Pam Lefeber, Joel English (who, ironically, teaches math) and Meghann Patrick. At a photo session after the ceremony concluded, it was clear, if pressed, none of them could pick their favorite students.
“We have the absolute best teachers in our program,” Novorr said.
Why would they work so hard for these employees? Why would Tammy Peterman, president of our Kansas City Division, tell every executive she knows they should host and fund a GED program at their location?
The University of Kansas Health System’s program goes by a specific name and answers that question. It’s called the Because We Care GED Program.