Diagnosed with a learning disability, one woman knew she could go further.

In 2008, Tiffany Grady of Houston took the Metro from her home to her first class at HCC-Central.

She’s made the trip hundreds of times since. On class days, the young student rides an hour and a half each way to a bus stop near downtown, then walks the remaining few blocks to campus—through cold, heat, wind or rain.

Her persistence has taken her further than she ever imagined. Tiffany, diagnosed early in life with a severe learning disorder, graduated from HCC’s VAST Academy, then earned an Associate of Arts in Child Development.

She is now within a semester of wrapping up a certificate in Early Childhood Education, and planning to transfer to the University of Houston-Downtown to complete a Bachelor’s in Teacher of a Young Child.

Her goal: teach public school kindergarten to disabled students, and pass along life lessons about pushing back barriers and overcoming obstacles, just has she has done.

Tiffany was in special classes throughout her own public school career. A school district mandatory test in her senior year showed her learning comprehension at a second-grade level.

But Tiffany knew enough to realize she needed more education and training if she was to find a job that paid enough to give her the independence and quality of life she desired.

A DARS counselor suggested she visit the VAST Academy at Houston Community College-Central.

VAST is an acronym for Vocational Advancement and Skills Training. The VAST Academy is a workforce program inside HCC’s School of Continuing Education that provides post-secondary transition training and comprehensive support services which lead to meaningful credentials, employment and independence.

Of the 4,000 students that have completed the program since it opened in 1995, 75 percent have successfully completed a career-readiness certificate and 65% have found employment. Approximately 15 percent have gone on to enroll in college credit programs, some earning workforce certificates, and others associate degrees in programs such as Culinary Pastry Chef, Business Technology, and Childcare.

So successful is the program that it won the 2016 National Exemplary Program Award in the category of Community Services & Personal Enrichment from the National Council for Continuing Education and Training (NCCET).

“I owe a lot to my VAST instructors and my parents,” Tiffany says. “My mom and dad believed in me, and encouraged me to keep going and not give up. My instructors were patient; they had to be.”

With a learning disability, Tiffany had no career expectations while in high school. But somewhere during her VAST education, a light went on in her mind.

“My VAST classes were a ‘wake up’ call,” she believes now. “I made good grades, and began to believe in myself. VAST gave me the drive to keep going. It was the push I needed.”

When not in class, Tiffany works for a popular grocery store chain. It’s a good job—for now, she says.

“I don’t want to rely on my parents to take care of me,” Tiffany explains. “I don’t want to believe I can’t go further or do more. VAST convinced me I could, and I became my biggest motivator.”

She has advice to others whose past grades and school performance have limited them.

“Keep pushing. Challenge yourself. Don’t sit idle; teach yourself. As long as you are moving forward, you’ll gain ground on your goals. Believe in yourself even if others don’t, and nothing can stop you.”

Tiffany Grady, college graduate, is still riding the bus to success.