Posted May 15, 2008

For Temple College of Engineering employee, persistence pays off

Bachelor of Arts: English

In 1984, 12 years after she graduated from South Philadelphia’s St. Maria Goretti High School, Vernell Ross finally arrived at Temple University, although as a clerk in the collections department, not as a student.

“My parents couldn’t afford to send me to college when I graduated high school,” said Ross. “I had applied to some colleges, but they just couldn’t afford to pay for me to go.”

She married her husband, Gerald, in 1973, worked in industry for several years and had a daughter, Trumell — but she never lost that dream of going to college.

So when she was hired to work at Temple in 1984, she saw the opportunity to make her dream a reality. And now, 24 years later, Ross is a member of Temple’s class of 2008, graduating cum laude and receiving her bachelor’s degree in English.

“I’m happy I finally made it,” she said. “I didn’t think I ever would.”

Within a year of starting work at Temple, she decided to enroll as a part-time undergraduate student, taking one or two courses each semester, said Ross, who has worked in the College of Engineering since 1987, the past 13 as secretary for the Mechanical Engineering Department. “My decision to enroll was to fulfill a promise to myself.”

One of her first classes was a summer course in religion.


Photo by
Ryan Brandenberg/Temple University
Shortly after starting as a Temple employee in 1984, Vernell Ross enrolled as a part-time undergraduate student. After more than two decades of balancing her job and her coursework, Ross will receive her bachelor of arts in English on May 22.

“I can still remember it like it was yesterday,” she said. “I didn’t do very well, and I was highly upset. But I said, ‘just try again,’ and took another class.

“Progressively, with each class, I began to get the feel for being in the classroom and for the teachers again because I had been out of school for so long,” said Ross.

As she began to accumulate the necessary credits, she started planning to become a full-time student, and in 1993, she matriculated as a full-time English major.

Why English?

“The love of reading, I have always read,” answered Ross. “As a kid, in the summertime, we would go to the library and get books. While the other kids were playing, I would sit on the front steps and read.

“I think everyone should have a library card; I still have mine,” she said, noting that biographies, autobiographies and history are her favorite genres.

Not long after matriculating, Ross was joined at Temple by Trumell, who earned her degree in human resources management from the Fox School of Business in 1999. “I always wanted to take a summer course with her, but she would say no because she was afraid they would get our grades mixed up,” said Ross with a laugh.

As she sat in the Liacouras Center that day in 1999 watching her daughter graduate, Ross began envisioning the day she would be seated among those wearing the caps and gowns.

“I was sitting there watching Commencement, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is awesome. I can’t wait until I graduate,’” she recalled.

But that enthusiasm began to give way to skepticism and as the end of her journey toward a degree crept nearer, Ross began to feel overwhelmed. When she confided to her daughter that she was thinking of quitting, Trumell gave her the same pep talk Ross had given her daughter just a few years earlier.

“Her reply was, ‘No, you can’t quit. If I had quit, you would have been upset, so you have to finish,’” said Ross. “You know what? She was right.”

After that, not even a bout with Graves Disease could stop her. “I had radiation treatment on Friday, and I was back in class the following Monday,” she said.

And now that she has her English degree?

Ross said she will continue to work at Temple, and after some much-earned rest, will look toward graduate school to study education.

“I want to teach,” she said. “That was goal through all this, to teach seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders.”

And Ross wants to see her five-year-old granddaughter Sianni — who will attend commencement — follow in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother as a third-generation Temple alumna. “We’re prepping her,” said Ross with a smile. “Someday I’ll see her graduate from Temple.”

She just hopes it doesn’t take her granddaughter 24 years.