Valerie Idada-Parker first met Marilyn Slaughter in a Durham church pew. Idada-Parker had recently voyaged from Nigeria to Durham and was looking to start her new life in the U.S.
It was 1988 and Idada-Parker didn’t know anyone yet in the Triangle. She was expecting her first child and was thinking about her future.
In stepped Slaughter, a fellow parishioner at the church and an executive assistant at Durham Technical Community College, with information about the College’s Single Parent Program.
“I can’t quantify Marilyn’s help in words,” Idada-Parker said. “She not only recommended Durham Tech highly, she made sure that I did not struggle financially. She would always tell me about scholarships in the pipeline and without the Single Parent Program, I don’t think it would’ve been possible for me to go to school.”
The single parent program offsets childcare costs for students that are single parents.
In addition to helping Idada-Parker enroll in the College, Slaughter helped her find a new career. Idada-Parker had received an accounting degree in Nigeria, but she was open to new opportunities.
“Marilyn suggested the nursing program at Durham Tech because I could get a job quickly,” Idada-Parker said. “I got my license in practical nursing in one year and started working immediately. When I realized I liked it and could make it a career, I decided to go back for another year and become a registered nurse.”
Slaughter said the experience changed her own life, too.
“It feels great that I was able to inspire someone,” Slaughter said. “Valerie is a fighter, a go-getter, and so determined. She’s been an inspiration to my family also.”
Despite crossing the world to a new life, Idada-Parker said Durham Tech helped make it a smooth transition.
“Durham Tech was a great foundation for me,” Idada-Parker said. “It helped me coming from another culture to this culture because it was a small community. You meet people in the hallways and cafeteria – it had a real family atmosphere. It was like a cocoon before you’re thrown into the world.”
Idada-Parker also pointed to Dr. Louise Gooche, a former longtime program director and instructor in the Practical Nursing Program at Durham Tech. Idada-Parker said Gooche helped to coordinate child care in the evenings, which was available at neighboring North Carolina Central University.
“Dr. Gooche was very approachable and helped students that had children,” Idada-Parker said. “She connected me to child care at NCCU so that I could take night classes. Times like this made being at a smaller college much easier to navigate.”
By 1994, Idada-Parker earned her License in Practical Nursing and two associate degrees in Liberal Arts and Nursing from Durham Tech. Since she earned her bachelor’s in Nigeria, Idada-Parker was able to transfer directly into the master’s in nursing program at the University of North Carolina. She graduated in 1997 and became a Family Nurse Practitioner.
“Knowledge is never wasted. Even if you never use it, you should always look for ways to get educated,” Idada-Parker said of her advice to future students. “Always look for an opportunity to get knowledge, a certification, or a license. Always look for opportunities to educate yourself.”
Idada-Parker continued her education at UNC and in 2011 earned a post-master’s certificate as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and in 2014 earned her doctorate in nursing practice. Today, Idada-Parker is a clinical faculty member at the UNC School of Nursing where she supervises clinicals for students in the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners Program. She also is a doctor at Reliable Health Services in Durham, which provides health and wellness care.
Idada-Parker said Durham Tech also has impacted her family’s life. Her daughter, Odinaka, enrolled in the inaugural class of Middle College High School, a magnet school at Durham Tech. By taking college level courses and passing placement tests, she earned her high school diploma in 2007 and her associate’s degree in 2008.
“My daughter told me about Middle College High School at Durham Tech and because I knew how powerful this thing was, I said, ‘We need to do it!’ ” Idada-Parker said. “It was a smaller community, so she didn’t get lost, it kept her on track, and saved her two years of college. It was amazing.”
Her daughter transferred to East Carolina University as a junior and then enrolled in Duke University’s Physician Assistant Program. She is now a Physician Assistant in Raleigh.
When Idada-Parker’s brother, Joseph, came to the U.S. to visit, she encouraged him to obtain a student visa and also enroll at Durham Tech. They sought advice from Patricia Hemingway, an international student counselor, and Joseph later earned an associate’s degree in accounting. He passed the Uniform Certified Public Accountant exam immediately after graduating and is now a CPA at Price Waterhouse in California.
“Durham Tech provided us an opportunity to live the American Dream,” Idada-Parker said. “Patricia Hemingway and Marilyn Slaughter were Americans that didn’t know us, but gave us an ear. We came to a foreign country, speaking differently and were accepted as we are. We were provided opportunities to get the same education that other Americans were getting without discrimination.”