Gena Duran

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  • Was the first in her family to pursue a higher education
  • Earned a bachelor’s in communication and is now working on her master’s degree
  • Facilitates leadership training for women at UNC’s Stryker Institute for Leadership Development
  • Attends college along with her mother, husband, daughter and son-in-law

Establishing a Family Tradition of Higher Education

No longer living at home and juggling two jobs, Gena Duran left high school her junior year. She earned her General Equivalency Diploma and began working in various jobs, including housecleaning, daycare, fast food service and telemarketing. By 2005 she had three children and was happily married to her husband Dion, a construction worker.

Then one day, a comment made by a family member inspired her and Dion to enroll at Aims Community College. “I expected to take a few courses,” she said. ”I never expected to fall in love with learning.”

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To help balance family and school, they’d help their kids with homework in the evenings, and then work on their own. Education became a family affair. “We just kept taking classes and eventually earned our associate’s degrees.”

Then, a life-changing meeting took place with Kenna Johnson, director of the Stryker Institute for Leadership Development at UNC. Kenna had come to Aims to recruit students to the institute’s leadership program. She encouraged Gena to enroll at UNC, explaining that the institute could provide resources and support. The conversation inspired Gena to enroll.

Dion also enrolled at UNC, with a dream of working in student support services. They continued to juggle homework, family obligations and work.

Gena found herself spending more and more time at the Women’s Resource Center at UNC, which provides students with programs and materials about women’s issues, initiatives and development. “The WRC and Stryker give women a chance to learn about leadership and develop those qualities. I thrive there.”

Receiving her bachelor’s degree in communication was one of the proudest moments of her life. She graduated alongside her husband and there’s a photo of that moment—complete with caps and gowns and big smiles—on her desk at the Stryker Institute, where she now works.

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She continues learning by working on her master’s degree in communication.  Dion is also working on his master’s degree while working at Eaton School District Re-2, supporting migrant students. 

After finishing their master’s degrees, Dion and Gena plan to pursue their doctorates—and their passions to help others achieve their goals.

"My education at UNC has been amazing. Not only have I earned my first degree, but I’ve discovered my self-identity and am modeling the way for my entire family to attend college."

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