Danielle Willett

Greenville Technical College

"I can honestly say that, when I leave Greenville Tech, I will be a much better person than when I entered it. "

Most people would probably expect Danielle Willett to say that her proudest accomplishment was giving birth to her daughter Maeve. “BUT,” exclaims the Greenville Tech student, “that was a group effort!” Instead, her proudest accomplishment – something she made happen all on her own – is going back to college – and excelling.

Both giving birth and going back to college are impressive accomplishments. And for you, they are closely connected. How so?

In high school, I earned my Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certification through my local career center. I entered the Nursing program at Greenville Tech immediately afterwards. But that was my first taste of freedom, and doing 19-year-old things was more of a priority to me than furthering my education.

Now, eleven years later, I have my fiancé Caleb, my stepdaughter Juniper, and my three-year-old Maeve. Having kids and a family really changes your perspective, you know? So I decided to go back to college to get something under my belt, and I am taking education more seriously than I ever have in my life. That feels very rewarding.

This time around, you’re enrolled in the Paralegal program – not Health Sciences. How did that change come about?

I used to work for a medical funding company that focused on personal injury, medical malpractice, workers’ comp cases – things like that. I enjoyed the helping aspect of what they were doing – how they would assist people who were at their lowest point, regardless of whose fault it was. And I liked knowing that, if I became a paralegal, I would have the same job tasks every single day – filing, drafting documents – but the details of each case would vary. I figured I would be less likely to get complacent or bored with work that was both consistent and varied.

Since you’ve enrolled at Greenville Tech, all kinds of doors have opened to you – largely because of one instructor. Tell us about her influence.

Professor Nancy Sutton is the department head for the paralegal program, has worked as an attorney in the field, and is my supervisor in the work study program. So I get to view her as teacher, institutional leader, and in a professional capacity. And she has given me so many opportunities!

She tries to get me as many hours as possible through the work study. She has invited me to be part of committee meetings with attorneys, paralegals, judges, and professors. She has arranged for my participation in Lunch and Learn events with the Legal Staff Professionals of Greenville (LSPG). She has introduced me to graduates of the program who are now senior paralegals. She has done a lot of volunteer work on her end and encourages me to do the same.

And she does not treat me any differently when it comes to grading. If anything, maybe she’s a little harder on me! But I appreciate that because she’s really given me a sense of community within the paralegal program. From day one, she’s been my cheerleader, encouraging me and making me feel welcome.

I also like to think that the work I’ve done with her and some of the other roles I have at Greenville Tech have helped me get a position with my current employer, Dobson Law Group.

That group practices a different kind of law than the medical funding company you started with. Have you found that you prefer one type of law over another?

I started in the personal injury field and was initially worried that if I didn’t continue down that path, I would lose the helping aspect that really drew me towards being a paralegal in the first place. But that is not the case!

My current work is with probate matters, estate matters, wills, trusts – those kinds of things. People will come in without a will or without having their house deeded appropriately, and not know what to do. We draft their documents and go through the whole process, and they leave saying, “Thank you so much! You have saved me and my family years’ worth of headaches or internal disagreements.”

So no matter what field of law you’re in, you’re still helping someone who’s going through a difficult situation or trying to prevent them from going through a difficult situation in the future.

Speaking of helping… how does that desire extend beyond your professional life?

I am very involved with our food pantry here at Greenville Tech. It is located within our Caring Corner, which is part the STAR Center. (STAR is short for Student Assistance and Resources.) That group helps students with various financial needs, like paying for textbooks and getting food from the food pantry.

When I was in my second semester, I had to use that service. I get the stereotype of “I don’t want to be that student who walks into the food pantry room and have people think that I’m poor or not financially stable.” But the people there were always so nice to me and never made me feel embarrassed.

So promoting and supplying the food pantry – through personal donations or by holding food drives – is one thing I try to do. I want students to know that this resource exists – whether they need to use it, want to tell others about it, or would like to donate to it.

What’s next for you?

You don’t get certified when you finish the Paralegal program. Instead, you get prepared to take an outside certification exam. I like to call it “the baby bar exam.” It’s a two-part exam administered by the American Bar Association-recognized group called NALA (National Association of Legal Assistants). If I pass, I’ll get two letters – CP, for Certified Paralegal – to add to my email signature after my name. That’s the end goal!

I can honestly say that, when I leave Greenville Tech, I will be a much better person than when I entered it. It’s given me a massive confidence boost. I feel intelligent. I feel that I can do whatever I set my mind to. I’ve made friends. I’ve made professional relationships. I’ve found ways to serve. And for as much as the college has given me, I want to continue to give back – even after graduation.