Lisa Charon has done what many dream of but few dare to try - she has changed careers in midstream and taken on fresh, new challenges.

After spending 14 years in accounting and undergoing a series of layoffs, she found herself unemployed a few years ago and unable to find work. For the first time in her life, the West Deptford resident found herself collecting unemployment benefits.

That's when Charon decided to change her life and applied to Gloucester County College, where she found herself eligible for financial aid. This month, the 36-year-old plans will graduate with an associate's degree in psychology.

While working two part-time jobs, Charon managed to maintain a 4.0 grade point average at GCC. She was recently honored as one of the 20 top students in the country by USA Today as a recipient of its All USA Academic Team First Team Award. Through a collaboration with Phi Theta Kappa, the international honors society for two-year colleges, Charon received a $2,500 scholarship, an obelisk and a medallion.

"I was amazed, surprised, shocked and excited," she said. "I was also extremely grateful."

Charon also received the New Jersey New Century Scholar Award and an $8,000 transfer scholarship from Phi Theta Kappa, which will help in her transition to Rutgers Honors College in Camden. She plans to pursue a degree in psychology.

"The Gloucester County College community is extremely proud of what Lisa has accomplished," college president William F. Anderson said in a press release. "She is a real example of what GCC can do in providing the opportunity for the citizens of Gloucester County to improve the quality of their life through affordable accessible education."

During her five semesters at GCC, Charon has concentrated not only on her studies, consistently earning President's List status, but has also been an active member of Phi Theta Kappa, the Center for People in Transition, and the Special Needs Department due to a visual impairment. The volunteer student mentor also works part-time as an assistant in the college's financial aid office as well as another part-time job off campus.

"When I first started out and they told me I qualified for financial aid, I cried," she said. "I just took each semester as it came and I'm so excited to be able to reach all the goals I set out for myself in the beginning."