Martha Thiei Machar was new to Vermont in the summer of 2006. She was expecting her first child that December, and she was eager to get started on her education.
Her husband, who had immigrated to the U.S. from Kenya ahead of her, had taken classes at CCV before completing a bachelor’s degree at UVM. He encouraged her to start at CCV. “Going to college was one of those priorities that we knew was going to happen, and CCV was there, and it fit with our schedule,” she said. “It was financially suitable for us as well, because classes were not as expensive as other colleges.”
So Martha started a full-time course load the next year, taking classes at night so she could care for her son during the day. “Having just moved here—everything was new,” she said. “So being in a small class environment helped a lot.” Martha knew she eventually wanted to transfer to UVM, and worked with her CCV advisor to make sure she was taking just the right classes—none she didn’t need, none that wouldn’t transfer. Her advisor also worked closely with a UVM transfer coordinator to ensure a seamless process.
She excelled at CCV, tapping into the many resources that were available, from scholarships and advising to one-on-one attention from instructors. “Being a student at CCV, what I initially learned was the importance of connection. The importance of being honest in what you need help with. If I had questions I knew it was okay to go ask the right person, or find the right person, to get them answered.”
She also discovered her career path at CCV. “When I started taking classes at CCV I had so many ideas in mind of what I wanted to do. You get this one on one with instructors, when I took classes I was lucky enough to get advice on what would work well for me.” She took financial accounting and managerial accounting with the same instructor, who helped her identify accounting as a focus. “Sometimes you just need that affirmation that you can do something; I was able to get that at CCV.”
Martha graduated with zero debt, and all of her CCV credits transferred to UVM. “The transfer went really smoothly,” she said. “I finished my undergraduate at UVM in only 2 years; I didn’t have to take extra classes, I only concentrated on my area of study.”
It wasn’t just the credits that gave her an advantage at UVM. “CCV prepared me in so many ways…Coming from a different type of setting to a different way of doing things can be hard. When I transferred to UVM I knew what was expected of me. CCV prepared me in that way.”
But the transition after UVM would prove much more challenging. After earning both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting, she started her job search. “I applied to so many jobs, and got so many rejections.”
She’d all but given up when she saw a job posting for a staff accountant at CCV. When she was offered the position, she says, “that changed everything. Given the number of times I had been rejected, there was no way I was going to give up this position.”
Martha joined the team at CCV-Montpelier in 2012, and stayed for four years. “It was just a great feeling being on the other side,” she says of being a staff member with an alumni perspective. “It felt good that I was part of the team that was offering these great services to people like me on the other side.”
One day she saw an ad in the paper for a position as deputy finance officer with the City of South Burlington, where she lives. “The experience I had gotten at CCV paved the way to where I am today,” she says of landing that job in 2016. Last fall, she was promoted to finance officer, a department head position, for the City. “The promotion comes with challenges and more responsibilities, including making financial related decisions for the city, but I am looking forward to applying my earned knowledge both at CCV and serving as the deputy finance officer.”
Martha says her professional career started with her experiences of learning and working at CCV. “It is never too late to go to school,” she said. “I started my college education as a married woman with a six-month-old child; if I had not gone to school at the time, if I had not received the support that I got, maybe I would not be where I am today. I got a good start. If you don’t have a great start you get discouraged. I was not discouraged. My advisor was there, and that made me comfortable. My instructors were there, and that made me comfortable. That gave me the courage to continue.” Her husband’s support and encouragement played a big role, too—he took care of their son so she could focus on school while he worked full-time as assistant director in UVM’s admissions office.
Martha’s pursuit of higher education was also deeply motivated by her life experiences. “I had the opportunity to do something that a lot of people around the world, and where I come from, do not have. I grew up in a refugee camp—there was no opportunity to go to college.” She says her mother was also a powerful motivating force. “She would do anything to make sure we were in school. I come from a culture where women do certain things, men do certain things. She would not let those things hold me back from going to school. When I saw her commitment to me getting the opportunity to do something she didn’t have the opportunity to do, I knew I had to do it.”
In a way, she’s passing that legacy on to her own three children. “I also wanted to show my kids that it doesn’t matter what your circumstances are—if you put your mind into something, you can do it.”