Student turns over new leaf and thrives Late-bloomer makes up for lost time

June 02, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Margaret Kahlor didn't look like the typical Howard Community College student in her biker boots, jeans, Harley-Davidson T-shirt and leather jacket.

"She didn't look like anyone in Columbia," says Janice Marks, director of HCC's Learning Assistance Center. "She was intimidating and kind of angry that she might not be accepted at the college."

Her persona helped mask a fear about re-entering academia, especially since high school was an unpleasant experience.

"I never went to high school. I was rarely ever there," Ms. Kahlor says. "When I showed up, I rarely applied myself. I wasn't any good at it."

For about five years after graduating from Laurel High School, Ms. Kahlor had worked as a carpenter's helper, labor supervisor for a demolition crew, building maintenance worker, utility engineer and mechanical designer.

It was early in her HCC career, while in her mid-20s, that Ms. Kahlor was diagnosed with a learning disability that kept her at a fifth-grade reading level. She had difficulty tracking lines in text and reversed letters and numbers in math equations. She also was diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder.

Once diagnosed, Ms. Kahlor, who goes by the nickname P. J., enrolled in an intensive tutoring and counseling program with HCC's Student Support Services office and began to flourish in school.

She switched from engineering to theater, applying her mechanical abilities and hands-on experience to assembling stage sets and lighting schemes. After graduating from HCC in 1988, whe went on to earn a degree in film/video production at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, achieving a 3.5 grade point average and winning the university's award for the best student film of 1990.

Since September, the 30-year-old Arbutus resident has worked as a producer/director for HCC's Cable Eight, the local station which produces educational, arts and entertainment programming and instructional videos and televised courses for the college.

Ms. Kahlor recently was named Maryland's 1993 TRIO Achiever by a regional educational association. TRIO is a federally financed group of programs that assists disadvantaged students, students with disabilities and first-generation college students.

She produces "Critic's Choice," an arts and entertainment show, and is working on a documentary about Liberia.

Ms. Kahlor compares her educational experience to a train continually being pushed back on the academic track by counselors and tutors.

"I've yelled and wanted to quit many times," says Ms. Kahlor. "I've thrown my books in the trash can and said, 'I'm not going to do it,' and they said, 'Yes you are.' "

"We are wobbly. We do fall over a lot. We need somebody to pick us up and get us where we need to go. By the time I got to UMBC, my train was happening. It could take me anywhere I wanted to go."

After seeing people with engineering degrees vault ahead of her in earlier jobs, Ms. Kahlor says, she was determined to advance through earning a degree. "I was willing to do anything to get it," she says.

Ms. Marks says the Student Support Services office worked with Ms. Kahlor not only on overcoming learning disabilities, but on time management and study skills. Ms. Kahlor improved from a "C" average to dean's list, and won the outstanding student award in fine and performing arts for her work as a stage manager for an HCC production.

"Pretty soon she felt she fit in," says Ms. Marks. "Her whole demeanor changed, how she dressed and conducted herself. She finally felt college was the place she was supposed to be."

Cheryl Magill, HCC Cable Eight's TV studio manager, says Ms. Kahlor has a keen sense of how to capture viewers with visual images and a narrative that lends meaning.

"She has a real good sense of what works and what doesn't work," says Ms. Magill.

She also says Ms. Kahlor has a "wonderful sense of humor."

"In her evaluation, I wrote I wish I could clone her and have several P. J.'s working here," says Ms. Magill.

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