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One Family, Four Educations – Thanks to ACC

Generational ACC alumni are (from left) Sandra Johnson, Alexis Caldwell, Dreama Johnson Caldwell, and Nikole Johnson.

Generational ACC alumni are (from left) Sandra Johnson, Alexis Caldwell, Dreama Johnson Caldwell, and Nikole Johnson.

It’s not often an entire family benefits from an Alamance Community College education – let alone three generations over more than 40 years.

But that is exactly the case with one Burlington family whose careers have included Nursing, Early Childhood, and Information Technology. The next generation is currently enrolled and that ACC student is considering a medical career.

“Getting my credentials from ACC got me and my daughter out of the projects,” says Sandra Johnson, the matriarch who began the family’s journey at the College. “I’m a big fan of what ACC can do for people’s lives.”

Sandra Johnson came to ACC – or Technical College of Alamance (TCA) as it was then known – to better her life and that of her baby daughter. A single mother at 18 in the late 1970s, Sandra was living in project housing when her mother told her she needed to get her education and not rely on welfare.

“I came to the college initially as secretary to Suella Klug, who was then director of the nursing program,” said Sandra. “After about six months, I began to develop an interest in nursing itself, so I talked to Ms. Klug about it. She encouraged me and I enrolled as a student.”

Sandra said she received much encouragement from her instructors. She was able to place her infant daughter, Dreama, into the college childcare center. At one point Dreama became very sick and had to be hospitalized for 21 days.

“That was a trying time, but the faculty worked with me so that I never got behind in my studies,” said Sandra.

Sandra ultimately earned her LPN credential and began working at Alamance Regional Hospital in 1981. After five years, she decided to grow her education and returned to ACC to earn her RN credential.

“We were able to leave project housing and get our own home all because I made the decision to attend ACC, which led to a well-paying job in nursing,” said Sandra.

Sandra Johnson worked at Alamance Regional as a RN for 33 years. Since 2013, she has worked in Residential Treatment Services.

Dreama was the baby and toddler Sandra Johnson placed initially in the College’s childcare center while Sandra studied nursing. Dreama doesn’t remember much about her experiences there but something must have rubbed off.

As an adult, Dreama followed in her mother’s footsteps by returning to the Alamance Community College campus. She enrolled in the Early Childhood Associate program, earning her associate degree in 1995 under then-department head Jeannie Proctor.

While a student at the College, Dreama served as president of the Early Childhood Club.

“I really loved the small classes at ACC,” said Dreama. “You’re not a number to the instructors. In fact, I got to know many of the faculty here one-on-one.”

One of her favorite courses was the African American Literature class taught by now-retired instructor, Dr. Marla Dunham.

Dreama proceeded to work in childcare for the next 22 years, first as a caregiver and later in the administrative side. 

Mother and daughter not only share alumni status at ACC but each were named to Who’s Who Among Junior Colleges: Sandra Johnson in the 1980s and Dreama Johnson in the mid-1990s.

“I love to tell people that I was literally educated from pre-kindergarten all the way through by our local education system, of which ACC is a big part. I’m a strong believer in fully funding public education,” said Dreama.

In 2007, Dreama married Alexis Caldwell and he became the next member of the family to attend ACC. New to the area, Alexis had attended Fayetteville State University in 1994 but did not graduate. In the early 2000’s he was going from job to job without much future.

“I finally just got tired of working jobs on an erratic basis,” said Alexis. “At times I had jobs fixing computers, dealing with software. But I wanted to expand my skills and move into the business sector.”

At his wife Dreama’s suggestion, Alexis enrolled in ACC’s Information Technology program in 2014. His positive attitude led to being nominated to serve as a student ambassador. The ACC Foundation’s Ambassador Program gives achieving students opportunities to represent the College at VIP events and speaking engagements, as well as fundraising. Alexis also participated in the African American Male Mentor program.

“I was really nervous about coming back to school after 20 years, but I grew to enjoy my experience at ACC. I had great relationships with my teachers, especially my computer instructor Larry Farrer, who’s the one who nominated me as a student ambassador,” said Alexis.

In 2016, Alexis graduated with two credentials: an associate degree in Information Technology and a General Education degree in Information Technology. Today he is working as a logistics manager for Piedmont Metals of Burlington. ACC’s contribution to this Alamance County family is nearly completed. Dreama’s daughter, Nikole, graduated from Eastern Alamance High last spring and recently completed her first semester at ACC in December. Studying through the college’s University Transfer program, Nikole hopes to graduate in two years and transfer to UNC-Greensboro to study toward becoming a pediatrician.

“It’s amazing what an associate degree can do for a person,” said Sandra Johnson. “Our family is proof of that.”