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Terri Ballard

A second chance at a fulfilling career

Terri Ballard

Customer Engagement Coordinator in Drexel’s Dragon Card Office

Terri Ballard is a West Philadelphia resident who took a trip to visit Drexel’s Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships in the midst of her job search several years ago. The visit, which included a meeting with Drexel Human Resources Business and Community Partner Courtney Claiborne, landed her a temp position that soon blossomed into a permanent job delivering student services. Ballard works in the Dragon Card Office, Drexel’s hub for obtaining the identification cards that provide students with access to buildings and services. Her work—handling tasks ranging from cash management and student dining plans to issuing parking permits and identification cards to students, staff, and contractors—puts her in contact with many of the diverse faces that make up the university. She rotates through each of Drexel’s three campuses and has gotten to interact with a wide variety of people as a result. “I really love this job,” she says, “ and I will retire from here, if they’ll keep me.”

Ballard was hired at Drexel in December 2015 as a temporary worker, having returned to her roots in Philadelphia after living for a time in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Prior to coming to Drexel, she held various temporary and part-time jobs, one gained through the assistance of the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, a University City District program that connects West Philadelphia employers seeking talent to West Philadelphians seeking opportunity. A Goodwill Industries representative she met at a Dornsife Center job fair held helped her with additional employment connections. 

Her fortune began to rise when she learned from Claiborne, during HR Open Hours at the Dornsife Center, about a temporary job opportunity with Drexel that carried the possibility of becoming a permanent placement. In December 2015 Ballard trained with Drexel’s Campus Services division for a temporary position in the Dragon Card Office. At the end of her temporary appointment in February 2016, her supervisor asked her to stay longer. When a coworker in the office gained a promotion, it opened up a permanent position within the office, and she was encouraged to apply for the job. “The rest,” Ballard says, “was history.” 

This job has enabled Ballard to regain financial independence, as well as obtaining her own apartment - a home - through the People’s Emergency Center (PEC), a West Philadelphia neighborhood change agent. She is glad that places like the Dornsife Center and PEC exist, to provide a network of support and assistance in accessing benefits and services for people who need them.  

Now she, in turn, works in a position at an urban university where she can give a different type of assistance each day to her clientele—and it is this aspect of being able to help others that drives her to work hard doing a job she loves. If a student loses their ID card, or a parent needs reassurance that their child’s special dietary needs are being accommodated, Ballard is there to assist. She brings with her the practical skills of being patient, polite, respectful, and customer-oriented to get her job done. 

Ballard loves the work she does alongside “the best group of people” she has ever worked with. Working at the Dragon Card Office has been a positive experience for her culturally as well, she feels, as it gives her the opportunity to interact with students and faculty from all over the world. One program she highlights is Project SEARCH, under the auspices of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute at the university. She said that the program helps high school students diagnosed with autism learn office skills through vocational training and internship rotations. She enjoyed working alongside several of these high school students, and was thrilled at their success obtaining employment upon the completion of the program.

Ballard feels the benefits of anchor-institution engagement can extend to the anchor institution itself, in that if it partners with its local community, as Drexel has, and residents gain opportunities to advance, by gaining knowledge, acquiring GED’s, or obtaining employment which turns into careers and the like—everybody wins. 

In order to get into entry-level work at a university, Ballard acknowledges one would need: 

  • Good interpersonal skills 
  • Excellent communication skills 
  • Ability to pay attention to details 
  • Customer service orientation 
  • Desire to assist 

As a community resident, she would recommend that any institution looking to engage more productively with its local community: 

Build a resource-outreach hub similar to the Dornsife Center 

Start at the earliest level, with children, building their desire and abilities to read and to learn 

Implement a plan for investing in the development of job training skills for high school students on the autism spectrum, in the way Drexel has done

Focus on the children, to help keep them on track to careers

Ballard sees a need for literacy training because she has noticed that there are a lot of adults and older people in her neighborhood who struggle with reading, lacking adult-level proficiency. Still, she believes that focusing on educating youth holds especially critical significance. Her thought is that if you provide children with high quality education, perhaps then the child’s success could inspire the adults around them, enabling everyone to move ahead. 

Ballard says: One reward of anchor-engaged operation is that it can offer a second chance to those willing to work to achieve it.

“Just because you make a mistake one time, you are not a bad person. Everyone deserves that second chance.”

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