Cultivating example setters: Brenda Woodruff on founding and leading Career Academy

“About 20 years ago, I had my ‘moment of insanity.’ But it was a good moment of insanity.”

Typically, something described as insanity is anything but good. Humorous? Maybe. But the prevailing connotation is nearly always negative. Not for Brenda Woodruff. 

Her “moment of insanity” has improved thousands of lives.

Brenda grew up with two nurses in her family. In her earliest memories, she recalls being fascinated with their jobs and wanting to follow in their footsteps. That passion has never wavered.

“I became a registered nurse in 1977,” Woodruff said. “I just loved the idea of being able to help people every day with my job, and I saw that demonstrated by some of my family.”

From 1977 to 2004, Brenda served in various roles in the medical field. She went from RN to med surgeon to long-term care, dialysis, home health, and finally to nursing management and administration. A desire for excellence fueled her constant upskilling.

“If you’re gonna do something, do it well,” Woodruff said. “I can’t do anything halfheartedly.”

Brenda Woodruff, Founder and Director of Career Academy

Brenda Woodruff, Founder and Director of Career Academy

With decades of experience and an intimate understanding of the nursing field, Brenda was struck by an idea that just wouldn’t leave her alone. She wanted to train the next generation.

But rather than focus solely on job placement, her mission with what has become Career Academy is to create a medical workforce of example-setters and leaders here in Memphis.

“You can teach most people to do tasks,” Woodruff said. “But you can also teach robots to do many of those same jobs. The difference comes with teaching professionalism and the importance of empathy.”

Career Academy was officially founded and authorized by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission in 2004 after months of meticulous course prep. Priced at an affordable rate that covers books, CPR certification, tests, and registration fees, Brenda’s mission was not to cash in her experience for her benefit but to provide a viable career path that anyone in Memphis could travel down.

“Career Academy is different because we have a personal touch,” Woodruff said. “It’s not about meeting a student quota and packing classrooms. We’re here to help people. We will always work with students and accommodate their needs in order to serve them.”

Since 2008, Career Academy has been the gold standard for affordable and quality CNA training in Memphis. In 2017, Brenda was contacted by our HireLocal team about a loose partnership. We directed our students to her program and helped with employee referrals.

Now, we’re official partners! Career Academy teaches our soft skills program as part of its curriculum and refers students seeking job placement to our team.

“I’ve gotten great feedback from my students about HireLocal and their soft skills program,” Woodruff said. “They’re always well prepared, and their lesson plans are a welcome addition to Career Academy.”

After nearly 20 years since starting Career Academy and 45 years since becoming a nurse, Brenda is still energized and ready to continue leading.

When asked what keeps her going, she said without hesitation that it is her students. Seeing them thrive is the only validation she needs.

“I was reading the paper one day, and I saw that one of my former students had started a mobile clinic for blood pressure checks and things like that,” Woodruff said. “I couldn’t have been more proud.”

Brenda said she bumps into her students regularly when visiting a hospital or clinic, and they’re always happy to see each other.

“Seeing things come full circle is always humbling,” Woodruff said. “Recently, a former student of mine applied for a position here at Career Academy, and after working for a few years as a nurse, they now work for me!”

To any student considering Career Academy, Brenda believes the most critical mindset is pursuing excellence, the same motto she lives by.

“If you want to serve others, serve them like you’d want to be served,” Woodruff said. “No one can achieve perfection. But if you strive for it, you’ll hit excellence at a minimum, and the term mediocre will be foreign to you.”

Although Brenda describes its founding as a moment of insanity, Career Academy’s impact is crystal clear. As our partnership continues, we will always anticipate seeing more students’ lives change through this program!

Interested in enrolling at Career Academy? Click here!

‘We have a responsibility to empower our community’: Terika Hughes on Career Academy


“I did not have a cookie-cutter approach to earning my degrees. A lot of life happened between when I started college and eight years later when I went back to finish.”

When you have worked in higher education for over fifteen years, like Terika Hughes, you hear about harsh realities from students regularly. She knows firsthand how life’s unrelenting nature can dramatically impact academic and career trajectories. 

As Director of Career Training at Southwest, Terika uses her experience as a starting point to relate to students who may feel alone in their battles. Her role in Southwest’s Career training program is a lifeline to many.

“I’ve been working in higher education a while, and I know that I have a gift of being able to talk and identify with people, helping them realize their strengths,” Hughes said.

This ability to relate and guide others towards their goals did not manifest from nothing. It comes in part from Terika’s own non-traditional journey as a student.

“I went to college immediately out of high school and began exploring my niches,” Hughes said. “Soon after, my father passed, and I left school.”

“I did not return until eight years later, and in that time, I earned two credentials, got married, and had children,” Hughes continued. “When I’m talking to students now, I can tell them I did not have a cookie-cutter approach to earning my degrees. A lot of life happened between when I started college and eight years later when I went back to finish.”

Now with an MBA and working towards her doctorate, Terika is the first to bring up the importance of the credentials she earned in her time away from school. 

“I’m able to share with students how my credentials helped me upskill and contribute more in the workforce,” Hughes said. “Having technical experience along with academic experience makes me a better worker.”

And that’s exactly what Southwest’s Career Training program is designed to do: foster a more vibrant, diverse, and equipped workforce. Their program offers Comp TIA A+ IT Certifications, Human Resources training, Contractor courses, Robotics training, Freight Driving training, Allied Health training, and Defensive Driving courses, among many others. Southwest’s career training has something for everyone, both online and in-person. 

They accomplish this through partnerships with local and national businesses and organizations like ours here at HireLocal. Southwest’s employer partners let them know what roles need to be filled, and Southwest helps provide quality and employees via their specified training.

Designed for ultimate flexibility, Southwest’s certification and training courses can be taken on an as-desired basis. Whether someone is enrolled as a Southwest student or not does not eliminate their eligibility.

“We are creating easy-to-access pathways that lead to better jobs for our students,” Hughes said. “Want to earn certifications while getting your two-year degree? Great! Want to come back after graduation to get a credential? Sure. Want to work for a few years first? No problem.”

“There are no barriers,” Hughes said. “There is nothing that is going to keep you from coming back to reskilling or upskilling. We have a responsibility as a community college to empower our community.”

At HireLocal, we cherish our partnership with Terika and Southwest’s Career Training initiative. Southwest facilitates soft skill training for us, helping prep our students for CNA courses and certification tests.

There are no limits to one’s potential when given access to the tools and encouragement necessary for success. Southwest helps provide them. 

To learn more about Southwest’s Career Training program, click here.

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