Washtenaw Community College has a diverse student population with learners from all walks of life and all stages of their academic journeys. Brenda Anderson once used WCC as a launching pad to a degree from the University of Michigan. Years later, she’s back, exploring photography as a “retirement career,” and has plans to stick around in another capacity.
Learn more about Anderson in this Q&A with WCC Communications Assistant Tabetha Chaney:
Can you tell us about your background?
I graduated from Detroit Finney High School, which is now nonexistent, in 1975 and attended the University of Michigan Engineering College. I have lived in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti ever since.
What is your work experience?
I have always had technical jobs. I left U of M after my second year and began working as one of the first AT&T (then Michigan Bell Telephone Co.) installation and repair technicians, which involved carrying ladders and climbing 30-foot poles. I met my husband there, left work, and then had a family.
I then went to work at the University of Michigan Hospital as a pharmacy tech and was in charge of their medication robot.
After about eight years, I left that job and I went back to school at Washtenaw Community College, in order to return to U of M to continue my engineering degree.
What brought you back to WCC?
I think WCC is a great school. It got me back to U of M and I did well. I want to finish what I started, computer science, and embark upon my passion, which is photography.
It actually is my dream to teach at WCC one day. Not necessarily photography — I don’t know if I could get into grad school on my skills in photography because I am a late bloomer. However, I do aspire to teach a STEM course in mathematics or computer science. It is important to me to let women and young people of all colors know that they can do whatever it is they have a passion for, and I want to be an avenue for them.
Can you tell us more about your passion for photography?
This is not going to be a simple answer! From a young age, kindergarten, I have always found peace and joy in expressing myself creatively. I was involved in many art programs throughout my childhood; spent summers at the Cranbrook Institute of Art painting and drawing in programs for what was then called “inner-city kids.”
I used to see photographers taking pictures of us there and was fascinated by their SLR cameras. I then saw their pictures of us; we were doing art, but we then became the art. We were not posed, but we looked artistic. I wanted to do that: use a camera to turn people in organic settings into art.
However, being African-American, pursuing anything like that was completely out of my realm of possibility back then. ‘You can’t make a living doing that! You are going to college to use your math skills. You can’t afford to play around drawing and taking pictures,’ are the things I was told.
Even though I had been in art contests and won throughout my youth, a hard-working job, not a passion, was the direction I was sent on.
Would you define photography as your hobby, or something more than that?
I am pursuing photography as my retirement career. I want to have a studio in Detroit to showcase the beautiful diversity of the city, and to be a mentor to the youth in Detroit. I want to show them how they can become photographers and create beautiful art from the perspective of their own view.
What are some of the challenges you face as an adult learner?
As an adult learner, one is not afforded the luxury of just going to class and studying, or even just going to class, going to work, and studying. As an adult learner, who is also a caregiver and wife, I have only two priorities: taking care of my mother and my schoolwork.
Although these are my two priorities, they are very intense priorities. I am the one who has to do all the household work, cooking and shopping. So, my time is very constrained, but the strangest thing is that during these times, it makes me feel alive, so I do not mind this pressure at all! I am hoping that when all of this is over, I will be well on my way to my life goals!