Her father was a master mason and owner of his own company, and her mother a middle school principal, so Debra Wells grew up understanding the importance of hard work.
The first time she was passed over for a promotion, she realized the value of education.
“That’s when I realized education means more than I ever anticipated,” said Wells, who went on to earn her bachelor’s in business education from Norfolk State University and her master’s in educational leadership from Regent University.
Today the program head for Tidewater Community College’s Administrative Support Technology (AST) program passes her wealth of experience onto others. Her career has included administrative support positions from a Manhattan stock brokerage firm, communication and real estate companies, a hospital and a dental office.
The AST program teaches students a range of skills to prepare them for careers as administrative assistants, executive assistants and office managers in fields such as business, health, government and education.
Wells, program head since 2005, initially was the lone instructor. Now six additional faculty members teach classes that range from business communication to database management to accounting. Their classroom is a suite of cubicles called “The Firm” that replicates the inside of corporate offices, complete with a state-of-the-art conference room.
“This is a program that teaches you how to deal with people,” said Wells, who stresses the role of critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork to her students. “We do mock interviews, mock customer service scenarios, and mock medical procedural scenarios. We always have a scenario.”
Wells a former teacher at Hampton’s Bethel High for six years enjoys watching the students evolve as they grow professionally in the program and strategically identify who they are. “Whatever they’re learning, they can apply to themselves,” she said.
The Brooklyn native who was a single parent connects with her students by sharing her own life experiences and by welcoming them to share back when it comes to their own obstacles.
“Everyone comes in with their baggage, even if it’s only from the morning,” said Wells, sitting at the conference room table in the Firm. “As an instructor, I have to get through their baggage in order to teach. I see myself in many of my students and that makes me able to both connect and relate to them.”
In her free time, Wells enjoys line dancing, time with her two daughters and 2-year-old grandson.
“I love the diversity at TCC,” she said. “When I speak of diversity I mean culture, I mean age and generations. I learn from my students every day.”