RENO, NV - "TMCC opened doors for me," says Inga Zukauskiene, an adult basic education student at TMCC. Today, the 36-year-old mother of three could go on and on at the roundtable discussion at the college. But two years ago, when she moved to the U.S. from Lithuania, she couldn't speak any English.
"And I couldn't help my kids with their homework," said Zukauskiene. "I decided that I had to learn. Because I couldn't live a normal life without english."
That's why she signed up for adult basic education classes at TMCC.
"TMCC opened doors for me, to find a job, to find friends," she said during a roundtable discussion that was held Wednesday morning at the Truckee Meadows Community College Meadowood Center.
Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier attended the discussion because she wanted to learn more about TMCC's adult education programs. As the U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education, hearing directly from students was important.
"Because it grounds you in reality," said Dr. Dann-Messier. "Secretary Duncan says all the time - we don't have the answers in Washington. The answers are on the ground with people who are doing the work. So as we craft public policy on behalf of the nation, I like to keep the students' voices in my mind and know what services they need, so that they can be successful. And that's why i'm here. To be reminded of all the support they need, the encouragement they need, and the high quality of services they need available to them."
For TMCC administrators, Dr. Dann-Messier's visit means a lot.
"It means that we are on the radar screen," said Dr. John Tuthill, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Student Services at TMCC. "We are known, we are recognized and there are going to be people in Washington talking about us and what we're doing."
Inga Zukauskiene now feels confident communicating with others in English. She has been able to find work, take care of her kids, and go to school. She is working on getting a certificate in Landscape Architecture at TMCC so that she can go on to UNR to get a degree.
"Two years ago, I was scared and afraid of everything. Now I am comfortable," said Zukauskiene. "And I am enjoying my life!"
TMCC officials said they have more than 3,000 students enrolled in the adult education program. Dr. Dann-Messier's stop here in Reno is part of the Bus Tour Across America, which is put on every year by the Department of Education.