Area Grandmother Earns 2 College Degrees 39 Years After High School

Three years ago, Petersburg’s Denese Harold kept her husband of 23 years company when, four decades distant from any classroom learning, he decided to strengthen his job-market credentials and returned to study for his high school equivalency diploma through Adult Basic Education (A. B.E.) in Moorefield.

She went with him to class only to ease his nerves, and little did she imagine that her wifely act of moral support would soon lead to a deepening of her own education, and to college certificates, and this May to graduation with an associate degree. No — two college degrees.

In that A. B.E. classroom, when instructor Vera Shockey asked her students questions in math and English, none of them raised a hand. But Harold, though just an onlooker, seemed to know every answer, and struck Shockey as being already prepared for more advanced learning.

“You really need to take some college courses,” she told Harold. “You can do it.”

Harold graduated Franklin (now Pendleton County) High School in 1977, and except for a single vocational class in electronics technology 20 years ago, had not had any formal schooling since. So at first she felt unsure.

Prophetic Impressions

But because the A.B.E. program is located at Eastern WV Community and Technical College, Harold had a chance to look the college over, and that encouraged her. “It’s a really nice facility,” she said. “Vera said that if I needed anything, she would help me. And everyone there seemed really nice.”

Those first impressions proved prophetic. Right away, Shockey shared some learning websites designed to prepare students for Eastern’s placement tests, that “you have to take to start at the college,” Harold recalled.

Even though Eastern offers an open admissions policy, and accepts all applicants who have a high school diploma or equivalent, it still requires them to take the Accuplacer Test, which gives a clear indication of each student’s level of preparation for each subject. After prepping on the websites that Shockey had suggested, Harold qualified for college level courses in nearly all areas, needing to take only one pre-college “refresher” class in math.

Her experience over the next two years continued to prove true those first positive perceptions. Advancing through four semesters (plus summers) of straight “A” grades in all her college courses, Harold also made the President’s List, Eastern’s top academic honor, in each of those terms. Confirming her academic excellence, Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges, inducted her as a member last year.


Thanks in part to Eastern’s student support teamwork, Harold said she never ran into a hurdle she couldn’t readily clear.  “If I ever had any problems, everyone, all the teachers and staff, were always so willing to help. They want you to succeed,” she emphasized. “That’s the best thing about the school.”

At nearly 57 years young, mother of three and grandmother of five, as a first-generation college-goer Harold beat even her own two daughters and son to college (although her “youngest is now taking some classes at Eastern”). And she thrived in Eastern’s learning environment.

“I really like that it’s a small school. I think you get a lot more,” she said, “because the teachers are able to give you more one-on-one if you need it.” Working with the college’s student services staff, Harold put together an effective learning plan, and found “all the classes I needed. And I didn’t have to take things I didn’t need.”

She also liked Eastern’s flexibility, she noted, especially the convenience of having “some classes in the day and some in the evening, and some on-line. I could work it into my schedule. I could keep my job,” as the Petersburg Church of God’s part-time secretary, “and do what I needed to do, and still take classes. That’s a big plus.

“And I loved its location, so close to home,” she said.

Deeper Background

Planning at first to major only in accounting, Harold graduated this past spring with two associate degrees, one in accounting and one in business management. She credited Seyed Mirkhani, Eastern’s division chair for Business, Computer and Information Technology, with encouraging her to complete both. “I’m glad he did,” she said. “Now I have all those classes, too, which will really help me out.”

For an accountant, Mirkhani pointed out, a business degree offers additional background in marketing, management and economics. “And that’s a big part of accounting — the impact of the economy on business.

“When you do accounting,” he explained, “it’s great to know how marketing and economics work,” because businesses hire accountants as “major consultants. So if you have both a business and an accounting degree, you are ahead of someone who has only one.”

Finishing the second major at Eastern also required Harold to complete an internship during her final semester last spring, which coincided with tax season. Her learning landed her a paid internship at R. Thomas and Associates, CPA, a prestigious area accounting firm.

“They needed someone to help during income tax season,” Harold said. And according to the firm’s principal, Rosalie Thomas, the Eastern intern fit the bill.

“Denese is very bright, very competent and willing to learn,” Thomas said. “It was a real joy to have her, and honestly, I have only good things to say about her. She helped me immensely.”

Fortunately for Harold, figuring income taxes for clients “is my very most favorite thing about accounting, because they’re never the same. Everyone brings something different. Each family is different,” she noted, “so it’s not the same old, same old, same old.”

Start-up Business

Less fortunately, when income tax season ended, so did the job. “At tax season is when they really need someone,” she acknowledged.

Now a college graduate, Harold is looking for fulltime employment in accounting, “preferably with income tax or payroll tax — I would love doing that.”

She thinks about someday starting up her own accounting office, after she gets more experience. “I’ve got the business classes, and I’m pretty sure I could do it.”

Still grateful for her work at the church, she might “take a breather for the summer,” she said, “and maybe look more seriously in the fall. But Rosie told me that if I’m not doing anything next year, she wants me to come back.

 “And that,” Harold said, “was my dream job.”

For more information about Eastern’s financial aid opportunities, programs of study, workforce training and community education and events, call 304-434-8000, or toll-free: 877-982-2322; or check the College’s website: “”.

Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College is a comprehensive and equal opportunity community and technical college that makes educational resources accessible to the families, communities, and employers of Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Mineral, Pendleton and Tucker counties. Eastern is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.