Troy Moon, Pensacola State College
Penny Taylor’s job title is TRIO Student Support Services Administrative Assistant/Retention Specialist.
Nowhere in that job description does it say anything about driving students to grocery stores, or picking up groceries for students with no vehicle and little money. Right now, she’s collecting food and other staples for a student who, Taylor said, “has no food and even ran out of Ramen noodles.”
That’s why, when PSC student Julie Riser decided to enter an essay contest about a college employee, she chose Taylor, a 15-year PSC employee.
Julie’s essay is one of three national winners of the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development’s (NISOD) Student Essay Contest. For the win, both Julie and Taylor will each receive $1,000 and the college will receive a complimentary NISOD membership.
“She cried,” Julie said of Taylor when she (Taylor) found out the essay was about her. When both found out Julie’s essay was one of three national winners, “she cried more. She cried badly.”
“I was pretty touched,” Taylor said. “It’s pretty wild.”
Julie, a Robinson Honors Student, also works as a TRIO tutor. She’s seen the care and time that Taylor gives the non-traditional students that TRIO supports. TRIO’s Student Support Services serves first-generation college students, students from low-income households and students with disabilities.
“I know a lot of students write about teachers and coaches, but Penny is an unsung hero,” Julie said. “She’s like a mom. She’s always helping people and goes out of her way to do so.”
Taylor admitted she does feel a maternal role when dealing with some of PSC’s most vulnerable students.
“We tell them we’re going to be their family, and we mean it,” Taylor said. “Some of them have been told they’re not smart enough for college, or there’s no money for college. They’ve been told all of this stuff and have had to deal with all these setbacks. So we always try to figure out how to help these students the best we can.”
Rachelle Burns, TRIO Student Support Services Director, said PSC is fortunate to have Taylor assisting its students.
“She has a lot of heart and soul,” Burns said. “She does things that are not in her job description. She goes above and beyond to help our students anyway she can. And when you think she can’t, she’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen.”
The NISOD Student Essay Contest was promoted through campus emails and fliers, and 11 students submitted essays, said Tracy Peyton, head of the PSC English and Communications Department, which judged the PSC entries and submitted three essays, including Julie’s, to the national contest.
Essays were also submitted by PSC students Zachary Kelley about English instructor Sarah Smith and by Haleigh Allen about history instructor Andrew Barbero.
“Julie’s essay was quite touching” Peyton said. “It was clear that Penny Taylor has had a real impact on her.”
And that $1,000 will make an impact as well, especially in such uncertain times.
“That is such a blessing,” Taylor said. “I’m just so grateful to Julie for thinking of me like this. It means everything.”
PHOTO: Penny Taylor, left; Julie Riser
Penny Taylor Essay by Julie Riser
I know that many people will be choosing to highlight teachers or professors that have “taught them all they know” or an advisor that steered them in the right direction or, even yet, a coach that pushed them to meet their optimum potential. But though all of these are great examples of those who inspire, there are many different people on the campus of Pensacola State College that are there to help students and give out much- needed love and assistance without thought of self.
In the TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) office there lives a wonderful woman by the name of Penny Taylor. Penny is the Administrative Assistant for SSS, and I am convinced that she is some mythical being sent here to this campus to be everyone’s helping hand. She is quite possibly one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met. She helps in any way possible whether it be monetarily, emotionally, or spiritually. She is constantly at the ready for wayward students that often walk into the office in search of any help they can find. One of those students happens to be me.
Though I was not one of the aimless wanderers that often ends up in the office, I did come onto the TRIO SSS scene just as hapless and lost as anyone else. I was assigned to this office as a work-study student, and it quickly became my home. None of which would have happened if it weren’t for Penny and her welcoming nature and her signature tagline for every new student, “We are all family now, we’re here for you whenever you need us!”. You see, I’ve always been leery of letting people in, and I’ve always found myself to be on the watch for the “next bad thing”, but at this office, all of that washed away.
Penny has helped me through rough emotional patches with my family. She held me as I cried and never once asked why but silently knowing I’d tell her in my own time. She has rooted for me through all my successes academically. She did a happy dance every time I made an A in a subject I was worried about and told me she knew I would be fine and that I had no reason to worry. She showed me that I could trust in people again and that people that are of no blood relation can become the family that you need so desperately.
If it weren’t for Penny and her indomitable light, I don’t think I would have made it through many semesters. Though she doesn’t teach any classes here, she gives out amazing life lessons, advice, and is an exemplary human being. Teaching us all that everyone deserves help and you might be that one person, that one being, that is keeping them afloat. She somehow does all of this without expecting anything in return, takes nothing in return, and continues forward touching as many lives as she can along the way.