Alumni Association honors Meredith Hoffman and seven others with annual awards.
by Kat Friedmann
As an adolescent and teen, Meredith Hoffman didn’t care about school and certainly didn’t appreciate it. She struggled through middle school and started ditching class in high school to do drugs with her friends. At age 15, Hoffman was sent to rehab. At age 16, she was a high school dropout.
At age 31, however, Hoffman worked extra hours after her computer science courses at Georgia Perimeter College. She valued her relationships with her professors and was named GPC’s 2013 Outstanding Alumni—Emerging Leader.
Now, a few months after receiving her GPC degree, Hoffman attends Georgia State University with plans to double major in mathematics and computer science. Her goal is to graduate and find a job working in large-scale software platforms, developing algorithms.
Hoffman’s educational U-turn occurred after a trying and bumpy start. The daughter of a Methodist preacher, Hoffman spent most of her youth in central Florida, moving from town to town.
“They have these sayings about preachers’ daughters, that they are troublemakers. In my case, that was 100 percent true,” says Hoffman. “I could say I hung around with the wrong crowd, but I was part of the wrong crowd, so I can’t blame it on the people I hung around with.”
Hoffman obtained her GED when she was 17 and married when she was 20. The marriage didn’t last long, however, and after she separated from her husband, she felt she needed a fresh start. She moved in with a friend in Atlanta and quickly found a job in the automotive after-market insurance business. Hoffman enjoyed the work, but when the economy went sour in 2009, she was laid off.
For the next two years Hoffman went from job to job being laid off five times as the economy struggled. Her final job as a receptionist at a computer repair shop helped inspire her to make a second fresh start.
“That last one was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Hoffman explains. “I decided at that point that I really needed to get the skills necessary to have a job in which I wasn’t so replaceable—one in which I couldn’t just be let go when things got tough. I could be an essential part of a company.”
Hoffman always enjoyed tinkering with computers, and her last job at the computer repair store encouraged the pastime. So she enrolled at GPC as a computer science major.
“Developing a program can be extremely frustrating, and you want to pull your hair out, but once you actually get it to work, it feels amazing. It’s like you’re actually creating something, and that’s very cool.”
During her time at Georgia Perimeter, Hoffman became a leader in the GPC community by noticing a need unique to two-year colleges.
Hoffman, like many other students, is continuing her education at a four-year institution. When looking at potential schools, she checked to see what honor societies were available.
The National Society for Collegiate Scholars (NSCS) seemed to be at most four-year schools in Georgia. But students only were invited to become members when they were freshmen or sophomores—the time they were attending Georgia Perimeter.
Hoffman decided that Georgia Perimeter College should have an honor society available to students—one whose membership they can carry with them when they transfer to four-year institutions.
With the help of Dr. Greg Murray, Hoffman started an NSCS chapter at GPC. She chose NSCS because she saw a need for the organization’s flagship program, PACE, in the communities surrounding Georgia Perimeter.
PACE (Planning to Achieve Collegiate Excellence) helps at-risk high school students obtain resources for attending college. It helps them gain access to free tutoring and mentoring.
“[PACE] is designed for each chapter to build a relationship with a school in an underserved population. The chapter helps mentor those children and encourage them to continue their education beyond high school—to pursue a secondary education,” says Hoffman.
“I am a strong proponent of education for all people,” says Hoffman. “I think that in the area where people are struggling in their lives, it is often the same area where education is not prioritized…that really spoke to me. I thought that [PACE] was a really good program for GPC to be a part of and for students to take part in as well.”
Hoffman almost single-handedly founded the National Society for Collegiate Scholars, an honors organization that now exceeds 500 members, says GPC English professor and NSCS advisor Dr. Greg Murray.
“Having a 30-plus-year-old student with this sort of involvement is unusual, and in the best cases it’s a student who recognizes that she missed her first opportunity at school,” Murray says.
“Meredith has shown an intense determination not to let this one pass her by. She knows that she’s on the path to making a difference in her community and in her own life, and you can see that she takes tremendous pride in the way she goes about her affairs.”
Alumni, faculty, staff earn awards
In addition to Meredith Hoffman, the following members of the GPC community received 2013 alumni awards:
Juan Rodriguez, Outstanding Alumnus of the Year, Emerging Leader: Rodriguez, a history and political science major and 2013 graduate, served as president of the Dunwoody Campus Student Government Association, vice president of the National Society for Collegiate Scholars and mentor to fellow students in the GPC Educational Achievement Program. “My dream has always been to protect and fight for the rights of all people, especially those of Hispanic descent, such as myself, and others whom the political system has failed,” says Rodriguez, who plans a career in politics.
Kavya Manyapu, Outstanding Alumna of the Year, Recent Alumni: While growing up in India, Manyapu shared a special interest in space exploration with her father. After attending GPC from 2002 to 2004, Manyapu earned her bachelor’s in aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech and her master’s in aeronautics and astronautics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is currently fulfilling her dream as a flight test engineer at The Boeing Company, where she works on the NASA Commercial Crew program for the CST-100 spacecraft and helps design safe exit strategies for pilots.
Karla Moody, Outstanding Alumna of the Year, Distinguished Alumni: Upon graduating from the college’s Nursing Program in 1990, Moody worked as a hospice nurse for 20 years before retiring in 2011. In 2012, her husband, Dave Moody, decided to honor her hard work by starting a scholarship for nursing students in her name. To date, Karla Moody has endowed two nursing scholarships in the amount of $500 each for African-American and Native-American women older than 30. She also now serves on the GPC Foundation Board.
Dr. Sallie Vargis, Outstanding Faculty of the Year: Vargis, professor of History and Honors Program coordinator on Newton Campus, serves as faculty advisor for Phi Theta Kappa, the two-year college international honor society, and various other clubs. Outside the classroom, she mentors students by taking them to national conferences and serves on various committees. “As a colleague, I have admired her work for many years, and I am often in awe of her dedication to student success and her energy in creating the environment that makes this possible,” says Loretta Gilead, English professor at Newton.
Dr. Margaret Ehrlich, Outstanding Faculty of the Year: As dean of math, computer science and engineering, Ehrlich has overseen the redesign of GPC’s learning support math classes, including helping to secure a Department of Education grant to support the changes. “Making the decision to go with this ‘flipped classroom’ approach was leading-edge, and Maggie had to get buy-in from the USG, administration, faculty and students,” says Laura Lembeck, math chair at GPC Alpharetta. “She faced challenges at every turn, but she met those challenges by educating herself, listening to her faculty’s concerns and procuring data so that she can lead our division toward good decision making.”
Anthony Edwards, Outstanding Staff of the Year: As the coordinator of Health and Wellness for Clarkston Campus, “Coach” Edwards designs fitness programs for students, faculty and staff. While managing a facility of Clarkston’s size is no small feat, what is most impressive about Edwards is his ability to manage and encourage his staff of 19 student employees. “He has shown me, by example, how to thrive in my place of employment, improve my lifestyle and keep going forward, always having a positive impact on others, no matter what obstacles may arise,” says Deidra Myers, current student and HWR employee.
Stephan Moore, Outstanding Staff of the Year: As director of Student Life on Clarkston Campus, Moore works tirelessly to organize and promote student life events. He is often the first in the office, at 7 a.m., and the last to leave. His mentoring of student campus leaders and his accommodations of their lives and schedules is unparalleled. “He welcomes us to speak to him about our concerns, is patient and always willing to offer advice or a helping hand,” says Salwa Ahmed, SGA secretary. “He pushes us to do our very best—to never settle for what is easy and comfortable.”