Ruth Oldja

Ruth Oldja challenged herself to step out of her comfort zone and onto LCCC’s campus to pursue a career in computer programming

Ruth Oldja challenged herself to step out of her comfort zone and onto LCCC’s campus to pursue a career in computer programming

When Ruth Oldja began attending LCCC in the summer of 2016, it was the first time she had ever sat in a classroom with other students or taken notes while an instructor stood in front of her. She’d been homeschooled her entire life, and the college experience presented many new challenges.

“The biggest barrier was a rather strange one,” says Oldja, who lives in Wellington. “I had to discover that I was smart enough for college. Being homeschooled means that you don’t have a way to measure your intelligence or work ethic against your peers, so I was incredibly nervous to finally be in a place where I’d be officially graded for the first time in my life. I was anxious to do a good job, because it was my first opportunity to prove myself.”

Oldja says that she was shy at first, and it took awhile for her to begin feeling comfortable approaching other students and instructors. But by taking advantage of the opportunities LCCC offered, she began to come out of her shell as she built a promising future in computer programming.

“Once I overcame my shyness, I found that all my instructors were quick to help with whatever I needed,” she says. “The community at LCCC has always been so supportive. The instructors were always willing to go the extra mile. I always felt like I had all the help and encouragement I needed to get my career started.”

Turning techie

Homeschooling instilled in Oldja the initiative she’d need to succeed in college and beyond.

“Since I was homeschooled, I got to pick a lot of the classes I took,” she says. “There’s no bus that comes at a certain time or teachers to penalize me, so I had to be mature enough to motivate myself.”

Oldja’s interest in computer programming was sparked during high school, and as she pursued online courses related to computers, she became the go-to person for tech help among her friends and family. That’s when she realized she’d found her future career as a problem-solving programmer.

“I love programming for the same reason I love math,” she says. “Computers and the code they run are perfectly logical, and it’s up to me to solve a complex and sometimes messy problem by turning it into something logical and simple. That challenge has always been an exciting one to me.”

By the time she graduated from high school in 2015, Oldja knew she wanted to pursue her bachelor of science degree in Computer Information Systems from The University of Akron. Then, she realized she could earn that same degree — from the same college, with less travel time and lower tuition — through LCCC’s University Partnership program.

“LCCC was far less expensive than going straight to The University of Akron, and it was closer to my house,” she says.

Professor Mark Harms, assistant professor, Engineering, Business & Information Technologies, Computer Information Systems at LCCC, says this career is a natural fit for Oldja.

“Ruth is an excellent problem-solver and a logical thinker,” he says. “To be successful in IT requires an ‘I can figure it out’ mentality. Our goal is to share real-world knowledge with our students through hands-on activities so they can be prepared for situations they’ll encounter when they’re working in the field.”

Oldja graduated from LCCC this spring with her associate of applied business in software development degree and will continue her education through LCCC’s University Partnership to earn a bachelor’s degree in programming through The University of Akron.

“Finishing my bachelor’s through the University Partnership will save me thousands of dollars in tuition fees,” she says.

From student to teacher

For the first few years of college, Oldja kept her head down and focused on work and school. Then, about a year ago, she took a leap and started sharing what she’d learned with other students.

She began working as a computer science tutor at LCCC’s Academic Support Center, where she spent a few hours each week helping students with their homework. Harms says this experience was pivotal in strengthening Oldja’s skills as she interacted more with her peers.

“The students who had her as a tutor were very impressed with her and how she helped them,” Harms says. “It takes a lot of patience and a little bit of outgoingness to be comfortable working with other people on those technical issues, so tutoring was a big step for her.”

Oldja’s tutoring experience led to another opportunity as a supplemental instructor for college algebra, a class she had tested out of. She sat in on lectures with students and led sessions twice a week to help them better understand the material, develop good study habits and prepare for exams. By transitioning from student to tutor and teacher, Oldja developed the confidence she would need to succeed in the field.

“I took these positions as a way to challenge myself,” she says. “I knew I had the know-how to help other students, but I wasn’t confident in my ability to communicate and speak clearly. I’m a huge believer in doing things that scare you, and these jobs definitely scared me at first. But I learned the materials better than if I would have only taken the classes, and I learned how to share the things I know so that other people can benefit from them. It’s such a great feeling to know that I can give back with the tools I’ve developed at LCCC.”

Continuing education

When Harms learned about an internship opportunity with long-term job potential at a software development company, he thought Oldja would be a great fit. After interviewing for the position, Oldja received an offer — and the hiring manager contacted Harms to tell him how impressed the company was with her.

“They were impressed with her overall skills and said, ‘If you have another Ruth there, please let us know,’” he says.

Oldja started her internship at Foundation Software in May.

“It’s like a boot camp, where they train you from the ground up,” she says. “At the end of the training session, they are going to have a whole team of junior developers ready to start at their company.”

But Oldja’s not just another intern. Because she’s a more advanced hire, with more computer education than the other interns, the company asked her to assist with the training. Her tutoring experience is useful as she helps her fellow interns integrate into the company, which develops accounting software for the construction industry.

For now, Oldja plans to focus on her internship, which could lead to a full-time job opportunity, then complete her bachelor’s degree through LCCC’s University Partnership.

Wherever Oldja’s career path leads in the future, she says that continuing education will always be a critical part of achieving her goals in this field, and she’s grateful for the academic foundation that LCCC has given her.

“I know that, as a computer programmer, the learning will never end,” she says. “There will always be a new language to learn and new developments to stay on top of. And I’m very thankful for my education at LCCC that has prepared me for such an exciting career.”