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Local News in Virginia

Part One: Local ITT Employees Adjust After Closures

chukwuama-awanna
By Rosaland Tyler
Associate Editor
New Journal and Guide

If Chukwuama Awanna had not had a long list of accomplishments, he probably would have panicked when ITT Educational Services closed all of its campuses nationwide, and terminated nearly 8,000 employees on Sept. 6. But Awanna served in the Navy for two decades. He worked for nearly 20 years at the ITT Educational Services’ campuses (both were located at Military Circle Mall and later at 863 Glenrock Rd.). The point is this. History shows Awanna has a habit of landing on his feet.

He is an old hand at launching outcomes that tend to end in his favor. For example, he was close to retiring from the Navy the day he saw a stranded motorist on the freeway. He offered to drive her to work. Later she introduced Awanna to her boss. One thing led to another and Awanna began working in marketing and recruiting at the ITT campus in Military Circle Mall in November 1999.

“She was about ¾ miles away from her job when her car cut off,” Awanna said. “She was stranded. I didn’t even think she would get in the car with me but I guess I looked trustworthy. It just so happened she was an ITT representative. And at the time, I was a Navy reserve recruiter. And so, when she told me where she worked, being two good recruiters, we exchanged business cards.”

Describing how fate, chance and opportunity stepped in to lend a helping hand when he was about to retire from the military, he said, “That day, I went in to meet her boss. He was retired military. We had similar backgrounds. Within an hour he offered me a job.” Awanna, 56, who has been married for 25 years to his wife, Nannette, a city employee, said, “There is no way possible that you can say you believe in the Most High and not expect to be tried and tested. The question is when you go through the fire will you come forth as pure gold?”

“I have a huge income to replace,” he added. He and his wife have three children, ages 15-22. “So I will be out there looking for a new job. I am not wasting any time. I still have a bit of a cushion but I don’t want to exhaust that cushion. I want to maintain the same lifestyle. I still want me and my wife to go out to dinner after church on Sunday. I still want to have date night on Friday with my wife. I don’t want to stop hanging out with my kids. I don’t want any of that to stop.”

While Awanna said his emotions often fluctuate as he reads the headlines on ITT, his resume does not fluctuate. The headlines may say ITT bolted doors. Parking lots emptied. That one of the nation’s largest for-profit colleges closed for good after surviving federal agents with search warrants swooping into the company’s offices in eight states in 2004, according to The New York Times. The shutdown will affect about 35,000 students who were preparing for the start of classes this month.

“It has been a long time coming,” Carrie Wofford, president of the nonprofit Veterans Education Success and the former senior counsel to a Senate committee investigating for-profit colleges, told The New York Times on Sept. 2, 2016. There was “a lack of fair play that was particularly true at ITT and some others.” Launched at the end of World War II as part of the original International Telephone & Telegraph, the career school’s operation split off into an independent, publicly traded corporation in the mid-1990s. The for-profit college sector was booming on Wall Street from 2000 to 2003. ITT operated vocational schools on more than 130 campuses in 38 states, often under the ITT Technical Institute name. Last year, it enrolled 45,000 students and reported $850 million in revenue, according to The Los Angeles Times.

But while business was booming, troubling accusations of abusive practices in the industry surfaced, and resulted in the 2004 federal raid. The next year, ITT agreed to a $725,000 settlement with California after employees revealed that the company inflated grades to qualify students for state financial aid. Several investors, convinced company officials had lied to them, filed securities fraud lawsuits.

The point is this. Negative headlines continue to swirl around Awanna’s former employer. But he said his skill-set increased at ITT. “Yes, I am getting a little angrier as I read about it in the news,” he said. “But I am also updating my resume. I am accomplished in marketing, public relations, recruiting and career assessment.” Pointing to other skills on his resume, he said, “I have worked as a security consultant at the corporate level. I have about 20 years of experience in threat and vulnerability assessment, training, planning and management.”

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Awanna added, “I’ve only had three jobs in my life. My first job was when I was waiting to go on active duty at age 18. I worked at a nuclear power plant in utilities just for the summer waiting for active duty to start after finishing high school.” He said, “My second job in the Navy lasted for 20 years. My job at ITT lasted almost two decades. It was very fulfilling because I helped change people’s lives. I had one student who still calls me at least three or four times a year to thank me. She lives in Florida and is working on her master’s degree. She is a probation officer. She came from an inner-city neighborhood but she was determined. She used to walk to school sometimes in the rain when she didn’t have the money to catch the bus.”

Outcomes tend to end in his favor, he said because of his faith and determination. “God has never failed me. He has always surrounded me with people of faith. I know about struggle but I also know about the value of perseverance. “
Please contact Awanna at cnwanna7@gmail.com.

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