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BHC recruiter loves her second career
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Photo: John Greenwood/jgreenwood@qconline.com
After spending 35 years in broadcasting, Susan McPeters switched gears and is a recruiter at Black Hawk College. She said she loves the job because she works with a wide variety of students, including ex-felons to people with bachelor's degrees.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: John Greenwood/jgreenwood@qconline.com
After spending more than 20 years in television broadcasting, Susan McPeters switched gears and is a recruiter at Black Hawk College. She said she loves the job because she works with people from all ends of the spectrum, including ex-felons to people with bachelor's degrees.
Susan McPeters knows exactly what many nontraditional Black Hawk College students deal with when they walk into her office.

The college recruiter -- who helps people, often years out of high school, looking to make a change in life -- faced a terrifying obstacle herself in January 2009. After a 35-year career in television and radio, budget cuts resulted in Ms. McPeters being laid off from her longtime on-air job at WQPT-TV, then based at Black Hawk and now at Western Illinois University.

"I see a lot of older students who think it's scary," she said. "I can relate to that, because when I was laid off, it was scary. I was 57 years old; I had never trained for anything else. I had been in broadcasting since before I got out of college.

"Initially, I was very angry being forced out of a career I loved. Now I feel very fortunate I have had two careers I have found fulfilling," the 19-year WQPT veteran said. "Even though I moved from one department of the college to another, there was a period of time where it was like, what if I can't find something else?"

Ms. McPeters said she never thought of going to another local TV station because "who is going to hire a 57-year-old woman as an anchor, unless you're Paula Sands and you're already there? I thought I would grow old at WQPT."

She wanted to stay at BHC partly because she was vested in the college retirement plan. "I really believed in Black Hawk. I'd been here long enough, I saw people could get a really good education here," she said.

Despite her experience at WQPT, Ms. McPeters didn't know much about the actual education and benefits BHC offered, including free tutoring and counseling, free laptop loans and an emergency food pantry.

"There is so much here to help students and help them succeed," she said. "How much these people do care about helping students succeed. I had no idea this went on here. I had a lot to learn."

Her job as recruiter focuses on nontraditional students (anyone not right out of high school), including ex-convicts from the East Moline Correctional Center and people at homeless shelters.

Ms. McPeters hears from people while they're still in prison, wanting to turn their lives around, and attends career fairs at the prison.

"Like a lot of people, I lumped them all together -- they're all bad and deserve to be there," she said of prisoners. "But they are as different as we are. There are very smart people who did stupid things. I really believe in getting an education and giving people a second chance. I'd rather get them a Pell Grant for $10,000 or less in tax money and get them a job than have them sit in prison for $25,000 to $30,000 a year, per inmate, and that's all they do."

Some nontraditional students weren't ready when they were college age, something came up, they dropped out and years later have returned, Ms. McPeters said.

"I see people who never went to college and now they want to," she said. "A lot of people just aren't ready the first time. I see people who've gotten their GEDs and want to continue on; people who have lost their jobs and want to get trained for something; people who are tired of what they're doing and want to do something else, something that they really like, even if they make less money.

"People who have retired but aren't ready to quit working. I'm starting to see people who have bachelor's degrees and they can't get jobs in their field, and they want to come back," she said. Some students just take a few classes to get a better related job or enhance the skills they have at their current one."

The average BHC student is 29, and, of 11,773 total students last school year, 67 percent were considered part time. Several employers have sent students to BHC to add job skills, Ms. McPeters said. "That's nice to see, an employer wants their workers to improve their skills.

"That's what I like about my job, it has such variety," she said. "That's what I had in broadcasting; it was something different every day. When I was laid off from that, that was one of my biggest fears -- what if I end up having to take a job that I hate?

"I loved broadcasting, and I was fortunate to have a career for 35 years that I loved because so many people don't, and they just go 'cause it's a job," Ms. McPeters said. "I was fortunate I was able to get a job here at Black Hawk. I have found myself absolutely passionate about these students. I take it very personally that they succeed."

The Bettendorf native graduated from the University of Iowa with a communications degree, focusing on broadcasting, and her career included many years in San Diego. Similar to broadcasting, she enjoys her BHC job because she is "constantly learning something new."

"Where skills from my previous career come in are, I really like to talk to people. In broadcasting, people told me they felt comfortable with me," Ms. McPeters said. "Being on television can be scary, even when you're taping the show."

She knows how to listen to people and find out what they need.

"Sometimes they say they don't know what they need, but they really do," she said. "You just find that out by talking to them. I don't know if you can train people to do that. That's something I just have -- an innate curiosity about things."

Ms. McPeters said she sometimes works with students through graduating and getting a job, "and that's really rewarding. I think about these people. Some of them will have a problem and I think, 'How can we solve that?'"

She doesn't tell students what the best career is for them but helps them discover it for themselves.

"What do you want to do? It's your life," Ms. McPeters said. "You want to be able to support yourself, but you want to be happy."

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