Online program takes career seeker from United Airlines to preschool classroom

Aug 8, 2022Courtney Morris
Preschool classroom

Some people tell family when they're considering a career change. Shawnetta Thomas waited until she could hold up her brand-new San Jacinto College student ID card.

After several jobs that weren't quite the right fit, the 33-year-old had enrolled in the College's online early childhood education program.

"They were so proud," Thomas said, "and I hadn't done anything yet."

But she continues to make her family proud. From overcoming early fears to being only two classes away from earning her educational aide certificate, she is changing her career course through flexible online classes.

Opening the mailbox

Shawnetta Thomas

Since high school, Thomas had worked several jobs: nursing home personal care provider, personal banker, and her last position — United Airlines seamstress assistant.

Helping others linked each role, whether she chatted with older adults while giving medicine or suited up flight attendants with perfectly altered uniforms. Now Thomas wants to share that helper's heart with preschool children.

"This is something I would enjoy doing for a long time in my life," she said. "Preschool kids are at that stage where it's important for them to get the proper learning. I don't want someone who's not skilled or trained going in there. It should be someone who has the passion and is focused on their learning and behavior."

The wheels started turning in fall 2021 when Thomas opened her mailbox to find a San Jac postcard.

"I hadn't heard about San Jac before," she said. "Wow, it's close to my house! So I researched on the College's website and found this program."

After earning her certificate from San Jac, Thomas will be ready to take her Child Development Associate national credential test and work as a public school teacher's aide or a preschool teacher in an early childhood setting.

"Quality educators are in high demand, and this program allows students to complete coursework in less than a year," said Caresal Bolds, North Campus child development program director. "In addition, the credits students earn for this certificate will transfer to the Associate of Applied Science degree."'

Opening new doors

Since she left her United Airlines job during the pandemic, Thomas has been a homemaker. Financial aid has covered her San Jac program so far, and she babysits to bring in extra money while taking classes part time.

Picking up new computer skills and adjusting to online classes was tricky at first, but she prefers online now — no commute and 100% support from professors. Although she doesn't clock in for a daily job, she treats her classes, study time, and projects with the same commitment as an 8-to-5.

"I write down everything, make notes about my weekly schedule and my workload for the week," she said. "I'm going to get up at this time, and from this time to this time, I'm working on this."

With "online anytime" classes, Thomas can log on to the Blackboard portal whenever she wants to view announcements, assignments, and any video lessons. Some teachers also offer weekly Zoom sessions for students to chat about projects and ask questions.

"Once I figured the computer part out, it was easy-breezy," she said. "Not having a teacher right there was OK because I could email my teachers and get quick responses."

Now a career change could be just months away. Thomas' advice to others considering an online program?

"Go for it," she said. "Don't be scared. I was so nervous just doing the registration paperwork: 'What am I doing? I can't do this.' Once I finished the first semester, I was like, 'Wow, I did it. I passed!'"

You've got options online

San Jac offers many affordable online programs you can pursue from the comfort of home. Now is the time to go after that career you've always dreamed of!

Learn more about how you can earn your degree online at

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