The question was not would Ana Doder find academic success at Piedmont Virginia Community College, but how much.
The answer is a lot.
Doder graduates Friday with two associate’s degrees, a stint as president of the college’s Student Government Association and the proud recipient of the PVCC Board Community Service Award.
The award honors her organizing a food bank fundraiser and creating holiday care packages for fellow students.
A member of the Monticello High School Class of 2018, Doder is fluent in Serbian and English and has long studied Spanish. She finished an associate’s degree in business administration in December and another in liberal arts this spring.
“I didn’t know which route I wanted to go so I just did both,” Doder laughed. “It worked out well.”
Doder’s success was nurtured at home and in middle school.
“My parents always pushed us to be the best that we can be. I wanted to go to college because they weren’t able to finish school,” Doder, 20, said. “We are originally from Bosnia, and when they were in college is when the war broke out, so my sister and I are first-generation college students.”
Her family came to Central Virginia in 2002 when Doder was 2 years old.
“Our family was very young parents with very young children who spoke little to no English. I grew up speaking Serbian at home and didn’t really speak English until I started going to elementary school, so I was in the English as a Second Language classes until about middle school,” she said.
“I speak Serbian at home and English at school and sometimes I forget which language I’m thinking in and what words are coming out of my mouth,” she laughed. “I studied Spanish since middle school and I think I’ve learned it well enough that if I went to a Spanish-speaking country, I could get around.”
Doder got a jumpstart on college when she joined the Advance Via Individual Determination, or AVID, program at Buford Middle School. The program encourages students to work toward higher education, including providing trips to colleges and developing a college-like study atmosphere at the school.
“It pushed me to want to go to college and to see that there was more to life than sitting at home all day and not really doing anything,” she said. “When I got to high school, I continued with the program and every year we did a college trip for our spring break. I fell in love with the idea of moving out, making new friends and going to school for what you want to study.”
She fell enough in love that she took dual-enrollment classes, graduating from high school with 30 PVCC credits on her record.
Although she was involved in sports and student clubs in middle and high school, her first year at PVCC was all about getting accustomed to college.
“My first year I didn’t do anything outside of school,” Doder said. “It was fun. It was a lot of learning and lot of growing and a real fun experience. I am glad I attended a community college because I was not ready to go off to a four-year college.”
After a year, she had the academic side handled and decided to dive into the college social world. She joined the Student Government Association just as the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
“Everything sort of slowed down and got pushed behind, but that’s OK. Everything happens the way it’s supposed to happen,” Doder said. “The majority of my classes were already online so being at home all day wasn’t the big change. The biggest change was to not be able to go on campus, use the library, meet my friends or do a study session.”
Doder said not being near people was difficult.
“There was certainly some loneliness. It was kind of weird. On [virtual meetings], a lot of people don’t like to have their cameras on and, even if they do have them on, you’re looking at little squares all day,” she said. “You get used to it, though. You get into a routine and you move on.”
Doder did more than move on — she moved forward. She was elected Student Government Association president and organized a food and fundraising drive in November. She also led an effort to provide swag bags of necessities for fellow students who were losing access to the school’s food pantry during the holiday break.
“We had bins all around the school for people to drop off whatever they wanted. We were able to raise $1,275 in monetary donations and 201 pounds of food in the bins,” Doder said.
“Before the holiday, I worked directly with the marketing department to get 150 of the PVCC tote bags that they give to students,” she said. “We filled them with things like toilet paper, toothpaste toothbrushes, kitchen items like dish detergent and some basic things that students would need over the winter break while school was closed and they couldn’t access the pantry.”
Those efforts won her the PVCC board’s community service award, but she wasn’t looking for an accolade. Her concern was real.
A survey released this spring of Virginia’s 23 community colleges showed that 32% of students reported not being sure from where they’d get their next meal during the pandemic. About 42% worried about losing their housing, and 10% of students had been homeless for a period of time during the pandemic.
Now that she’s graduating, Doder said that next year she will transfer her PVCC credits to Virginia Commonwealth University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science.
“VCU has the perfect major for me, which is public policy administration. It has a bit of both the business administration and the liberal arts intertwined together and I think it will be very interesting, coming from both sides,” she said.
“I honestly don’t know yet what I want do after college. I’m just going to see where life will take me,” Doder said. “There are so many options and opportunities out there. I don’t think I have one specific career goal yet.”