Georgia Piedmont Technical College’s 2019 GOAL Student of the Year, Tina-Kay Rhoden of Conyers, left, joins her practical nursing program instructor and GOAL award nominator Denise Beckford at the regional GOAL competition March 5 in Gainesville.

(March 13, 2019)
— Tina-Kay Rhoden of Conyers may be the fifth member of her family to graduate from Georgia Piedmont Technical College’s (GPTC) practical nursing program, but she is the first in the family to hold the title as the college’s top student.

Family and the drive to inspire and provide for her two sons helped Tina-Kay, now a full-time nurse and a part-time student, realize her most recent achievement as GPTC’s 2019 Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership (GOAL) winner.

“I knew there was a better life for me, and GPTC had the doors that I could walk through and make a step that would change my life forever,” Rhoden stated during her acceptance speech at the GOAL awards luncheon January 24.

Selected out of approximately 3,500 students enrolled at Georgia Piedmont Tech, annual GOAL winners represent the college as the Student of the Year. All 22 institutions in the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) present these awards. Local winners serve as ambassadors to their communities on behalf of their colleges. Rhoden will represent GPTC in its service area of DeKalb, Newton and Rockdale counties.

The legacy of nurses in her family began with Rhoden’s mother, who attended nursing school in Florida when Tina-Kay was a child. After three schools and two and a half years, Rhoden’s mother became a licensed practical nurse (LPN) but not before she won Florida’s highest honor awarded to a nursing student. She later earned her credentials as a registered nurse (RN) in Georgia.

“That was when I learned about hard work and education — and what it means is, sometimes you can stumble, but you can always pick yourself up,” Tina-Kay says of her mother’s perseverance. “Her dedication really stuck with me — absolutely how we mirrored each other as far as education [and award winners].”

When Tina-Kay was 12, her father’s kidneys began to fail and the family moved from Florida to Georgia. At 16, to help her parents provide for the family, Tina-Kay enrolled in medical assisting courses at night, after spending all day at Lithonia High School (LHS). She started her career in medicine answering phones at a doctor’s office as a teenager before graduating from LHS in 2002.

Tragedy struck Tina-Kay’s family when her cousin Monique passed away suddenly just three months after graduating with her diploma in nursing from GPTC.

Tina-Kay says losing Monique was not in vain. It was the catalyst in encouraging Tina-Kay’s brother, two cousins, and Tina-Kay herself to follow in Monique’s footsteps in the nursing program at GPTC. A sixth family member is pursuing the same career field at GPTC currently as well.

“People have held on to her strength for years after [her death], so to me it was about the whole family,” Rhoden says.

Seeing her family members earn their nursing diplomas, Tina-Kay says, made a lasting impact on her. “It really affirmed to me that technical college training and experience is an optimal choice for me. I feel like you don’t get the same experience in a four-year college that you get in a technical college. These [technical college graduates] are the everyday people that we need in our everyday lives.”

Enrolled at GPTC since 2011, Tina-Kay’s road to becoming a nurse was long and rocky. After completing the prerequisite courses, she failed the required entrance exam for the nursing program twice and carried the load of being a single mother while working full time in retail and as a medical assistant. But GPTC’s nursing faculty saw her potential to succeed.

Even after losing her father and cousin and surviving sexual abuse, Tina-Kay says, “I’ve learned to move past my adversities through the service of others. I never let it kill my spirit.”

Last March, Tina-Kay competed in Georgia’s SkillsUSA competition representing GPTC and took home the top prize, a gold medal, for her applied practical nursing skills. This qualified her to compete on the national stage in June where she ranked fourth in the country through mastering skills such as foley catheter insertion, blood pressure reading, critical thinking, CPR, wound dressing, hand washing and mental health issues management.

Following her strong showing at the SkillsUSA competitions, Tina-Kay’s practical nursing instructor Denise Beckford approached her about nominating her for GPTC’s GOAL Student of the Year.

She describes Beckford as a ‘Mama Bear’ to her, always encouraging and supporting her.

Tina-Kay says it took a team to mentor and teach her at GPTC and credits the entire nursing faculty of Kaye Henry, Melanie Kramber, Trevi Leon and Beckford in getting her to where she is now.

“They have taught me how to think critically. I’m just really grateful for them, because I’ve yet to see what they see in me,” she says. “I was just a regular nursing student. This GOAL platform that I have been put on has opened so many doors for me.”

Rhoden graduated from GPTC’s nursing program, which is housed at the college’s Newton County campus, in August 2018 and is now a working nurse at Westbury Health and Rehabilitation Center in Conyers. But she has chosen to continue her education at Georgia Piedmont Tech in the Interdisciplinary Studies major to further her career as a registered nurse and later as a research doctor studying diabetes.

She says she was drawn to interdisciplinary studies because it is a broad spectrum major and will give her the opportunity to study multiple subjects. Rhoden plans to complete her associate degree at GPTC within the next 18 months before transferring to earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing.

As for Tina-Kay’s deeper mission, she says, “My mother has always told me, you do things in life so that your children’s, children’s children will merit. I want my life to be a stamp on Earth.”

Rhoden was chosen by a panel of local leaders over three other nominees for the GPTC GOAL award. The runners-up were Angel Caldwell, Andrew Cunningham and Daniel Phillips, all Paralegal Studies program majors. The announcement of Rhoden as the Georgia Piedmont GOAL winner was made by Dr. Kohle Paul, vice president of student affairs, at the annual awards luncheon on the college’s DeKalb County campus in Clarkston.

She competed in regional judging in early March at Lanier Technical College in Gainesville with seven of her peers from the TCSG North Region. Nine statewide finalists, three each from the three TCSG regions, will be announced at the TCSG Leadership Summit in Atlanta on April 17. A panel of leaders from the business, industry and government sectors will conduct interviews and choose one to be the 2019 State GOAL winner, TCSG’s Student of the Year, and the recipient of the GOAL medallion.

The grand prize also includes a brand new car, courtesy of Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, the statewide corporate sponsor of the GOAL program.

Tina-Kay once again will follow in big footsteps if she prevails at the regional and state levels in April. GPTC’s 2018 GOAL Student of the Year, Crystal Wright, took home the honor of being the statewide GOAL winner and drove away in her own new Kia last year. Wright was the third statewide GOAL winner in GPTC’s 58-year history and its second in three years. Stephanie Jackson, a paralegal studies student, won the statewide GOAL award in 2015.


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