Michaelle Blakley, a soon-to-be graduate of the College’s radiologic technology program, isn’t one to take the traditional route when enrolling in college or making plans for after graduation. A mother of four adult children and grandmother of 11, Michaelle surprised everyone, including herself, when she enrolled at the Community College of Beaver County to learn a new career, and two and a half years later, when she committed to a two-year mission trip to Africa.

      After Michaelle was laid off from a job as a medical transcriptionist, she had the opportunity to go back to school and find a new skillset. In August 2011, she began to take prerequisite courses for the radiologic technology program at the College.

      “I had the fear of going back to college and fitting in with the rest of the students,” said Michaelle. “As an adult learner, it was a challenge to learn the material but after the class started to form study groups, I was more comfortable and learned from everyone in my class.”

      With support and encouragement from her two daughters, Michaelle excelled in the classroom and was named as part of the Dean’s List and President’s List throughout her time at the College. Because of the same support from her daughters, she started to consider going on a mission trip after hearing more about them in the media.

      “I heard on the radio and later on a 60 Minutes segment about Mercy Ships, where doctors go from port to port to provide medical procedures to those in need,” said Michaelle. “They are helping those who are most in need, providing emergency and restorative surgeries.”

      Michaelle then learned more about mission trips through her church and talked to others who had previously gone on missions. As she introduced herself as a radiologic technologist student, she received a surprising reaction.

      “They told me, “We need you!”” said Michaelle. “At the time, I thought, I am just a student, what could I do to help? I never thought X-ray technicians could be part of a mission trip.”

      Michaelle continued to research more about mission trips and completed the application process. She soon found out that she would be part of a two-year mission trip to Togo, Africa, starting in December 2014. 

      Togo, a country about the size of West Virginia, is sandwiched between Benin and Ghana on the Gulf Coast of West Africa.  There are approximately 1 million people, but they only have four doctors for every 100,000 people.  Michaelle will do her mission work at The Hospital of Hope, located in Mango, Togo, which is in the northern part of the country. She will serve as the sole radiologic technologist for at least one of her two years in Togo.

       “It will be a culture shock but a great learning experience,” said Michaelle. “Also, the Togolese people speak a dialect of French, so I will be taking a six-week crash course in French before I leave for Africa.” 

      In preparing for the trip, Michaelle is also raising funds for support and many of the technologists she has met through her clinical classes at Ellwood City Hospital have offered to provide her with necessities for the trip. CCBC faculty members have also offered their help and support.

      “Not only are the instructors highly intelligent and go the extra mile to help students inside the classroom, but they also have been very supportive of my trip and willing to help out,” said Michaelle. “They even offered to help me via Skype, if needed.”

      In addition to learning French, Michaelle will attend a four-day training in June to prepare for her trip and will also have the chance to meet others who will be part of the mission. Michaelle’s compassion is evident as she prepares for this new journey. Her only goal is to “make a difference and serve where help is needed most, whether here or overseas.” 

      For now, Michaelle plans to enjoy the Radiologic Technology Pinning Ceremony Wednesday evening, where her daughters will present her with her radiologic technologist pin, as well as the main graduation ceremony Thursday evening, during which Michaelle will wear a cap and gown for the first time.