I grew up in the small town of Strong, Arkansas—and when I say “small,” I mean it! Strong has a population of 750 residents, with no drive-throughs or stoplights. I was one of 22 students in my high school graduating class. The name of our town hearkens to a time when a tornado nearly wiped it out—but Strong survived and rebuilt. My educational journey has had its shares of twists and turns, but, like my hometown, I have ridden the storm and it has brought me to where I am today.
My first foray in higher education was at a large state university in Louisiana. Admittedly, it was my first time away from a strict household, and my newfound freedom was not conducive to successful academics. I dropped out and pursued other endeavors. Several years later, I moved to California and was later followed by my younger sister, Shelby. One day she posed a challenge to both of us that changed the trajectory of my life forever: “Let’s get our degrees together.” I was unsure, but Shelby was adamant, even though we were both working full-time. Our first semester in community college brought frustrations when we compared ourselves to our younger classmates, but, nevertheless, we persisted.
We eventually completed our bachelor’s degrees in 2004—mine in business, Shelby’s in human services. But we didn’t stop there—we each earned a master’s degree in health administration, and then a second master’s in human resources. Our mom, who experienced lifelong challenges due to a childhood illness, and dad have never let us forget how proud they are of Shelby and me graduating together with all three degrees.
Even though I am the older sister, I have always called Shelby my guidance counselor. She pushed me and believed in me, even when I did not believe in myself. I am so grateful to have embarked on my educational journey with her.
My blessings continued when I received an invitation to interview for a job as coordinator for the economics and accounting departments at the University of Redlands. Once I stepped onto campus, I immediately felt at home and knew this was a place I wanted to work. When I was offered the job in June 2017, it felt like Christmas! I love supporting and helping my amazing colleagues and students, and I could not have written a more perfect job description for myself.
Since my position has a 10-month schedule, I was available to work a temporary job in graduate and professional enrollment last summer. Through this job, I learned more about the myriad educational opportunities available at Redlands and applied to the new Master of Science in Organizational Leadership program.
In the process, I realized why education has been such a major force in my life—it’s the ultimate self-care. At U of R’s School of Business, I also saw similarities with my classmates: we work, we have families, and, while we are enrolled for different reasons, we all want to better ourselves, which in turn makes us better for everyone around us.
Later this month, I will begin my study abroad class in Croatia, Slovania, and Italy—an experience that I thought was reserved for traditional-aged students. One year later, I will walk at Commencement with my third master’s degree. Shelby (who is pursuing her doctoral degree) will cheer me on from the stands with the rest of my family, and I hope I can continue to make them proud.
When I first heard about Giving Day on April 4 (which just happens to be my mom’s birthday), I knew I was “all in.” This event will ensure that the University can help more students so they can be as happy as I am, both as an employee and future alumna. I love everything Redlands stands for, and I see firsthand what it does for its students, faculty, and community. Through Giving Day, I can do a small part to ensure our University’s future.
Visit givingday.redlands.edu on April 4 to join Kay and go “all in” for Redlands.