Pursuing higher education to develop my career path while a mom of five, in my 40’s, and a Latina poses many challenges. Each label could be a stumbling block but I’ve used them as foundational cornerstones.
I’m currently a student at Penn State World Campus pursuing my Bachelor’s degree in Health Policy and Administration. Some days, I can’t believe I can say this! I’m the mom of five children. I’m now 42 years old. I’m Latina. Each label is seen as a barrier. These labels can mean a deficient. They can mean an impossible struggle. However, these are the very reasons I can achieve. At a particular point in my job, I was motivated to get out from behind my cubicle. Although, I was comfortable and secure there, I learned I had to pursue higher education and develop my career path. This is how I started, how I found resources, and how I continue to achieve.
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How I got started
After graduating with an Interior Design Associates degree from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, I began working in what I felt was my chosen career. However, as soon as I started to gain my momentum as design consultant, the housing economy began its downturn. Although I had an Associates degree, I could see that it was too specific to allow me to move into a new field. Not really knowing what to do, I took an Office Certification course through Heald College. Unfortunately, Heald College didn’t turned out so well. In hindsight, I should have applied myself elsewhere but I got the instruction I was looking for to feel confident in an office setting. Through God’s placement and timing, I attended a job fair where I signed up for an interview as a Member Service Representative at Kaiser Permanente. I was hired! In a matter of weeks, I settled into my cubicle and left my worries behind.
I did just that for the next several years. I didn’t think once about my own education nor changing jobs after I was hired. I was very comfortable! Until the closure of our Member Services Call Center was announced. Once again I was faced with the devastating reality of changing jobs. That push took me out of my comfort zone. As an SEIU Union member, I was given the opportunity to study for a medical coding position. I studied hard! I passed the certification test on my first attempt. I was fortunate to be high enough on the seniority list to qualify for a transfer into Kaiser Permanente’s Professional Coding Support Services.
Those experiences showed me that I needed to be prepared for life’s challenges. What I still wasn’t sure of was how. How was I going to prepare myself? Interior Design is a specialized field. Working in a call center has its limitations. Medical Coding can also a specialized field. How will I prepare myself should change happen again? When I took time to think it though that’s when I began to find my niche, my passion, and most logical career path.
When you are pushed out of your comfort zone, take the opportunity to grow.
How I found resources
A life-changing transition into a new job forced me to consider how I was going to be prepared next time. There will always be challenges, so “next time” may come sooner or later. I started to search online for information on career strategies. I found many groups and websites geared toward entrepreneurship, STEM careers, non-profit volunteering which all sounded so rewarding, interesting, and worthy to pursue. However, I found myself in the middle of many different directions. Which step should I take next? Is it really what I’m interested in? How can I be sure? Then I found this helpful image online.
This assessment helped me visually separate my likes from my loves which was a huge first step. I like doing a lot of things! Narrowing down what I love to do made the rest of the graph easier to answer. Without going in any particular order, I used sticky notes to add phrases to each section. I’d step back. Take a look. Take a note down. Replace it with something else. I worked on it for several days. In the end, I found a direction for a career that made sense to me economically, professionally, and personally.
Once I sharpened my focus, I then worked backward to create my path. Education would be a priority. There would be no way around it. I met a counselor at my community college, San Joaquin Delta College, who viewed my college transcripts. She clearly defined the courses needed to transfer to a California State University or University of California for a Bachelor degree in Health Science. I started with an online English course. Not because I needed it. I started with a course that I knew I would enjoy! The next semester I took an online Algebra course. Then, the next semester I took an online Statistics course. However, the next semester, I would have to take the Chemistry course in person. It took a couple of years but each step was strategic. Taking one course at the time was manageable with my family and full time work schedule. It was the only way I could work my way toward a bachelor degree program.
I had my vision. I had outlined my steps. Yet, my journey could not be tackled alone. The support of my family continues to be my key resource. From taking on additional house chores to being my daily inspiration, they have helped me achieve my milestones. The big question is – how did this happen? The truth is, it doesn’t always happen but it happens often enough. First and foremost, my husband and children know to take care of each other. School lunches made, dinner prepped and cooked, clothes washed, Friday and Saturday house scrub downs, watching over Titus (which used to include diaper changes), and more happen one way or another. Then once in awhile, when the kids stop by my desk for a quick chat or hug and besito, I’m grateful we are all on this journey together!
Using the purpose Venn diagram to focus my career vision, seeking help at my local community college, and relying on my family were all valuable resources that have helped me pursue higher education and develop my career path. I couldn’t have done it without them!
Start where you are and use what you have to get ahead.
How I continue to achieve
Those were the early hurdles. There would be more to come. With my family and full-time work schedule, I decided the only way I could continue to pursue a Bachelor’s degree would be online. I wanted to make sure to choose a top program so I wouldn’t waste time and money. I turned to U.S. News Reports’ research of online bachelor programs to find their ranked colleges. Focusing on the top 10, I looked into each one to find their Health Policy and Administration program which led me to Penn State World Campus. Following this step-by-step process assured me I was headed in the right direction.
I’m so glad I decided to enroll at Penn State World Campus! #WeAre! I had an enrollment coach who helped me navigate my first year. Not only was she an email away before classes started but when the Fall Semester began we used the eCoach app to connect. Penn State uses eCoach to provide videos and lessons for successful online learning. Their New Student Orientation provided necessary information but also connected me to other new Penn Staters. Altogether, I felt connected although I was miles away from campus.
By planning ahead, remaining consistent with my schedule, and being flexible when needed, I succeeded in my first and second year at Penn State. I committed to reading and studying at night because that’s when I work best and when it’s most quite at home. I‘m flexible during the day to fit in extra reading time at lunch. On the weekends, I‘ll write essays and complete quizzes. This is the nitty-gritty of continuing higher education. It’s not glamorous. You have to get the work done. Plain and simple. By establishing resources ahead of time, I’m able to focus on doing my course work. At the end of each semester, I celebrate being one step closer to earning my Bachelor degree.
Celebrate milestones on the way to achieving your goals!
My life experience showed me the importance of developing my career path. Being a mother drives me to achieve my goals because I’m my children’s primary role model. As a Latina, I feel responsible to take advantage of opportunities made possible through the sacrifices of my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Want to continue your education? Want to develop a career path? Here’s how:
- Use life’s challenges as motivation to further your education
- Develop a career path using the purpose Venn diagram
- Research colleges and universities that align with your career path and schedule
- Gather your resources and support network
- Work diligently
- Celebrate milestones