Like Mother, Like Daughter
Tiana McCall credits her mother, Birdia Cooper, for instilling within her a passion for volunteer work. “My mother was a community advocate,” McCall says. “I remember every time it rained in the summertime, our streets would flood. And so I would hear my mother calling the alderman saying we deserved to have drainage. And the next thing is, we’d have drainage.”
It left a big impression on McCall. Her desire to help people led her to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology and work in social services. But the work was heavy on her heart.
A television commercial for Rockford College provided a lightbulb moment. “It was like, go get your Master’s of Business Administration. And I thought ‘Yeah, that could be good, I could do anything with that,” McCall says.
Even though she had a 3-year-old son and numerous volunteer commitments, she still managed to earn her MBA in 2009 and begin a career change. In 2010, she started working at Rock Valley College for a program that assisted youths in getting their GEDs. When grant funds were cut, she switched worked for the State of Illinois in public aid.
Before long, she was working for Congresswoman Cheri Bustos. After a few years there, McCall was watching TV yet again when she had an epiphany. She saw on the news that the Winnebago County Clerk was retiring, and they were looking for a replacement during the interim.
“It was the hardest thing of my life, because I really loved working with the congresswoman,” McCall says. “I decided to just apply, and I read all the names of people who had more experience than me, with decades-long job titles, and I thought ‘There’s no way I’m going to get this.’”
In landing the job, she became the county’s first African-American clerk. Now, she has her own “decades-long” job title as the vice president of community outreach in strategic partnerships at Rock Valley College. She still volunteers in many capacities, but her favorite is taking up to 50 high schoolers each year to tour colleges, which she’s done since 2004. Her now 17-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter tag along.
“I love when students find out, ‘This is where I’m going to be.’ You get to see a little spark in their eyes,” McCall says.