AC JosepH Media | Rowan College at Burlington County
MOUNT LAUREL — At 64 years old, Marion Akins knows a thing or two about the time it takes to find yourself and summon the courage to pursue the path that’s right for you.
As a child, Akins found little interest in school, preferring to socialize and network with others. Eventually, however, she grew to love her academic journey and continues to pursue higher degrees.
“Growing up, my parents had the means to pay for all of my education,” Akins, of Burlington, recalled. “But, at the time, I just wasn’t really interested in school. Although I did well, I never pushed myself; I was happy just earning Bs and Cs.
“My sister was considered the academic child but I was the apple of my mother’s eye because I knew how to relate to people and how to throw a party. My father pulled me aside one day and said, ‘you need to figure out what you’re going to do with your life.'”
Akin’s penchant for people, planning and parties turned out to be more than just a natural inclination. After accompanying a friend on a trip to New York City to buy merchandise for her boutique, she realized that she wanted to do the same, so she opened Couture Bridal.
She started with a 3,500 square foot space in Burlington and eventually expanded to a 13,000 square foot building.
“Life started blooming,” Akins said. “I realized there was a market need for full-figured formal wear and decided that I would build my business around that. Eventually, I was approached to design a gown for a dignitary and was asked to plan an Indian wedding in Dubai. This is when I realized I had a knack for hospitality that my mother had ingrained in me.”
Although she didn’t have design experience, Marion embraced the opportunity. Her openness and flexibility allowed her to grow a substantial customer base, and she began offering clients a variety of bridal services.
She realized that what she really wanted to do was provide a full-service experience from just one building. She also decided that she wanted to go back to college to expand her business and managerial knowledge.
“In comparison to other colleges I researched, Rowan College at Burlington County was affordable,” Marion said. “I also qualified for several grants through RCBC, and my first semester of classes really piqued my interest. I realized ‘I like this. I’m doing very well here.'”
Marion went beyond well. She excelled. She started to earn Dean’s List and realized her full potential as a hospitality student.
“It shed a different light mentally on what I knew I could accomplish and what I wanted to be,” Akins said. “It also helped me to develop an entire concept around a one-stop shop for bridal services. I’m hoping by the end of next year to find land for a space to open my location. I know wherever it’s supposed to be, it will be in the right place.”
Akins is set to graduate this May. Never at a loss for words, when asked what she’ll remember most about her experiences at RCBC, she had a lot to say.
“When you first start out as an adult learner in college, it can be intimidating being around so many young people, but it was like the students never looked at me as an old person, but instead as a mentor,” Akins said.
“I always told them, ‘You can call me Miss Marion or mom.’ It felt like a family. I’m going to miss this school. It gave me a different love for a two-year college. My professors were so encouraging, available and willing to connect me with industry professionals. It was a wealth of encouragement.”
Akins has been pre-accepted to Temple University’s master’s program, where she’ll study hospitality.
“I have been extremely happy over the four years I’ve attended RCBC,” Akins said. “It’s meant the world to me. My heart is saddened because after transitioning to Temple, I don’t know if I’ll get the same love I got at RCBC.
“People know you here — there’s that personal touch — they know how you move; they know how you flow. RCBC is a well-kept gem that I think every student should experience. For every parent who’s unsure if their child is not academically prepared, RCBC is by far the school they should attend. It gave me the roux to make the pot of my life so much richer.”
As for her future plans, Akins hopes to circle back to RCBC someday either in a professorial role or as an advisor to adult students.
“Learning starts from the time you’re in the womb until you close your eyes,” Akins said. “If you never close your eyes to learning, you will always be able to soar.”
To learn more about RCBC’s culinary and hospitality programs, visit www.rcbc.edu/culinary.
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