Recent Administrative Medical Assistant graduate Aquita Pickney’s smile widens when she talks about her bright future, with a job offer working as a Claims Associate-Initial Loss Reporting at State Farm Insurance. Though she radiates confidence today, she wasn’t as positive on her first day of class.

“I went in with a cold attitude,” says Aquita about starting college. “I had a preconceived notion about the program, and I thought I wouldn’t last. Maybe I’d make it a month or a quarter—but the more I learned of the program, and of teacher Mary Ann Keith, the more I changed my outlook,” she says.

Originally from Sacramento, Calif., Aquita says, “I had more negative influences than positive growing up. When I was in high school, I started working at Sears. I thought I’d get seniority and work my way up, but it didn’t work out that way,” she remembers. “[The experience] taught me resilience. Experiences like that shaped and formed me. I kept my head on straight and decided not to let these circumstances control my future. So, with the help of my dad, I decided to enlist in the Army in 2010,” she says.

DSC_0065In the Army, she worked as a machinist and welder. She spent a year in Korea before landing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in 2012, where she met her husband. As she transitioned out of the military in 2013, she was seven-months pregnant with her son and began taking nursing prerequisites at Bates Technical College. Aquita changed course to focus on an administrative office career and enrolled in the Administrative Medical Assistant program.

When Aquita recalls the mentor-mentee relationship between instructor Mary Ann and herself, she says that whenever negative self-talk crept up, Mary Ann was there to help. If she missed a day, Mary Ann called, texted or emailed. “When I said I wouldn’t make it [in the program], Mary Ann said, ‘No, you’re going to finish.’ I really can’t thank her enough.”

She credits Mary Ann with encouraging her to stay in school, especially when she became pregnant a second time during her fourth quarter. “She was there to help me with anything I needed. If my husband was in the field, she always offered to help. When I told her I was pregnant, she gave me the confidence I needed to power through the program, which offered an online component that was helpful during my second pregnancy,” she says.

Aquita graduated spring quarter 2016 with an Associate in Applied Science, and is looking forward to beginning a career at State Farm Insurance. This fall, she will also begin taking courses toward a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration at the University of Washington Tacoma.

“You can let situations control you, or you can control the outcome of your situation. I changed my mindset and began thinking positive. And now, everything is falling into place,” she smiles. “It’s not even a new chapter—it’s a whole different book!”

Aquita’s advice to others: Don’t let the world make you who they want you to be. Be who you want to be.

Learn more about the Administrative Medical Assistant program at