Many students take community college classes between shifts at their day jobs, or while trying to support families. Ronda Hayes knows: she was such a student herself. Now she teaches IT courses and coordinates the Oracle program at North Lake College, where her leadership, and her example, help empower a new generation to succeed.
A no-nonsense approach
In the Hayes family, a strong work ethic was not so much a trait as a requirement, handed down from generation to generation. All the Hayes women were raised with a practical mindset, oriented to solving problems and getting jobs done. “I’m a very logical person,” Ronda says. “It was expected of me: that’s the way my mother was, my grandmother, my great-grandmother.” As a child, Hayes was told, “I don’t care if you’re digging ditches, if you’re cleaning floors: you do the best job you can.”
That mental discipline led her to study programming – “programming is about logic. It’s yes or no, it’s black and white” – and it also helped form her leadership style. Hayes is known at NLC for her no-nonsense, straight-talk approach, and she extends that to her students. “They call me Ronda,” she says, adding that she has no need for titles or honorifics. Classes are often conducted “sitting around talking,” rather than in lecture format. “I’m not any smarter than you,” she says, “just because I’m up here teaching.”
Hayes started her own career at a local community college, where she began IT classes, she says, “while working full-time, 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m., and raising my daughter. Working those hours provided me the opportunity to attend school all day.” It was a tough schedule, but “I was extremely driven,” and with a child dependent on her, “quitting was not an option.” She continued until she earned her master’s degree, working night shifts as a programmer all the while. That on-the-job experience was not just about having a reliable income; it also made her a better programmer. “There is only so much you can learn in a book.”
Ronda’s punishing schedule led to some untimely napping during her classes. “My professors understood that I showed no disrespect if I fell asleep.” They were willing to help her continue, so long as she was willing to put in the effort. That’s the philosophy Hayes now practices as a teacher herself.
A teacher and a role model
Hayes will fight every step of the way to help a good pupil succeed. “I go meet students on weekends,” she says, often at coffee shops. Motivated students make the job worth doing; they are, she says, “the goal.” Her courses, she says, are full of people who have identified a specific goal and will put in the effort needed to achieve it.
And when students work towards their goals, Hayes is there to help. “Empowerment is a strategy that I’ve employed for years.” It is the building block of her teaching style: “I don’t teach students for them to remember; I teach them for them to understand.” And, she adds, with her typical plain-spokenness, “I teach them to question authority.”
Starting when she was a student herself, Ronda Hayes has achieved success through tenacity, determination, and hard work. Now, as a professor, she can cultivate and reward those qualities in her students, and she can inspire them with her example.
“I’ve always been a fighter,” Hayes explains. “I’m like Popeye – I am who I am, and that’s all I can be.”