Mom takes her son to a Georgia Gwinnett College Preview Day and enrolls herself
When Laurie Melonja-Seall first visited the Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) campus, it was to take a tour with her son, William, while he was planning his next steps in life after high school.
“He was interested in business, so we went to the School of Business,” she said. “The different professors got up and talked about accounting, marketing and economics. Then, a professor got up and talked about how they were starting a new concentration – supply chain management. As he was explaining it – boing! A light bulb lit up in my head.”
Melonja-Seall, who lives in Buford, went home and applied to GGC that night. Instead of sending her son to the college, she wound up being a student there herself.
If it seems unusual that a married mother of three would suddenly decide to go back to college, Melonja-Seall is right there with you.
“I never in a million years thought I would go back to school,” she laughed. “I hadn’t been in school for years. I thought I was done!”
Melonja-Seall grew up an “Army brat,” moving every two or three years as military families do. Her family wound up in Ohio as she was finishing high school and she met her husband, William, at their mutual friends’ wedding while they were both college students – she at the University of Pittsburgh and he at the University of Dayton. She earned a Bachelor of Science in information science and worked as a UNIX systems engineer for six years for companies like NCR Corporation and Reynolds and Reynolds.
“I was good at it, but I didn’t love it. It was a chore to go to work,” she said.
When the dot com bubble burst, she decided to change course and become a 911 operator. She did that for several years, but as her family grew, the 24/7 demands of that job were keeping her away from her kids, so she changed course again and became a school bus driver.
“I could have just stayed at home, but I didn’t want to,” Melonja-Seall said. “You drive the bus, you’re off in the middle of the day, you drive the bus, and you’re home! I did that for about two years.”
And that brings us back to that fateful visit to the GGC campus. At the time, she had been quite content being a stay-at-home mom for the last several years, raising her three kids – 19-year-old William, 14-year-old Gianna, and 11-year-old Nick – while her husband supported the family.
But the allure of GGC’s new supply chain management degree appealed to her in too many ways to ignore.
“A lot of soft skills are involved in supply chain management,” she said. “Partnership, collaboration, teamwork, planning, organization – stuff I’d been doing every day of my life, and I love it.”
Melonja-Seall talked to her kids and husband about it, and they wholeheartedly agreed she needed to pursue this thing that was calling to her so. She signed up for two evening classes and one Saturday class, despite a few misgivings that were nagging at her.
“I was really worried about, ‘Am I smart enough?’” she said. “I was worried if I could handle the academic load, and would I fit in? I wasn’t an 18-year-old out of high school. Plus, I’m a natural introvert. To get up and talk to people is not my thing.”
She said the professors in those first three classes immediately put her at ease: Dr. Mary Saunders in principals of management, Dr. Sanjaya Mayadunne in principals of supply chain management, and Dr. Howard Griffin in international business.
“Those professors were so supportive and encouraging,” she said. “The class sizes at GGC are very small, so you really get to know the people around you.”
Griffin’s international business class required each student to give a three-minute speech to the class, something that chilled Melonja-Seall to the bone.
“It was three tiny minutes, but I was so nervous. I had practiced and practiced, but I still got up and there and sounded like the fourth chipmunk – I could not talk fast enough,” she laughed. “I don’t think I even breathed in those three minutes. It was horrible, quite honestly. But Dr. Griffin was so kind about it.”
She became determined to tackle her fear of public speaking, so instead of shrinking from it, she faced it head-on and signed up at the Admissions office to be a student ambassador. Student ambassadors give campus tours to groups of prospective students and their families, like the one she and her son went on that sparked this whole new chapter of her life.
Melonja-Seall had to get comfortable talking to groups large and small. On Preview Day, she had to stand in front of hundreds of people and tell her own story.
“Every time I did something like that, something good came out of it,” she said. “I’d chant to myself for months: ‘This won’t kill you.’ ‘Fake it ‘till you make it’ ... all those contrite little sayings. But I’m so glad I did it.”
In addition to volunteering as a student ambassador, she helped start the college’s American Production and Inventory Control Society (APICS) club, and served as its president for the last year. She also volunteered for the Torch Team, whose members serve as ambassadors for the School of Business.
“The professors get to know you at GGC, and if you put a good foot forward, they remember that,” she said. “I still get professors emailing and calling me with possible job opportunities. That’s one of the great things about GGC’s small class size and their philosophy.”
She said she firmly believes challenging yourself and getting involved on campus are keys to success at GGC.
Melonja-Seall has been interviewing with several companies and recently landed what she called her "dream job" as a supply chain analyst for a nationwide manufacturer of bottled water and soft drinks. She will begin her new role after graduating in December and is excited to explore yet another path in life.
“Supply chain management is a very broad field. You can work in a cubical all day, or you can be out with people collaborating, making partnerships, and making decisions. That’s what I love about it.”
Melonja-Seall will join more than 500 of her classmates at GGC’s virtual fall commencement, scheduled for 10 a.m., Dec. 10. The ceremony can be viewed at www.ggc.edu/commencement.