Single mothers: you CAN aim for higher goals - and reach them!

This is a guest posting by Carla Bates, Database Programmer and Adjunct Instructor.
This article tells about Carla's personal experience being a single Mom and a nontraditional student. I think you will find it very interesting - I did!

When I graduated from high school, I thought I had much better things to do than school. When I was 24 and getting ready to start a family, I started rethinking my decisions. I kept just getting dead-end jobs that paid minimum wage. I saw an advertisement for a business college and thought I would give it a shot. When I graduated, I was 25 and pregnant with my first child. Months after my graduation, I was a new mommy and I landed a “decent” job. The position I landed was at a local university with great benefits. I live in a small town and “decent” jobs come few and far between. The position was the lowest clerical position available, but what I had learned at the business college was a key factor in me getting the position.

At this university, after you had completed a 6 month probation period you could take classes at a 75% discount. A woman I worked with and I decided we would take a class or two for “fun”. I was hooked. Soon into my second semester I had my second child and didn’t even miss a day of class. Some people may say that is a bad thing but I don’t feel so. I had a goal I wanted to complete. I knew it would take forever but I had already decided I was going to work toward a degree.

While working on my courses at the business college, I had decided that I like computers and was pretty good with them. I enrolled in the computer science degree program at the university where I was now working. People I worked with would tell me “Why don’t you try to get a degree in something you can accomplish like history or English”. I wasn’t interested in those subjects so I did not listen to them. It just made me more determined to finish.

Soon after starting to work on my degree, my husband and I separated. We shared custody of our two daughters. I continued school and continued being promoted at work. I had to take a physics course for the degree. Several people told me to take it during the summer because “it would be easier.” I signed up for that course the semester my husband and I separated. From this time forward I always had one full-time job and multiple part-time jobs.

After the first day of class, I was totally lost so withdrew from the course. Soon afterward (July 1992), I was in a near-fatal accident. I spent the summer recuperating and re-evaluating. When the fall semester started, I signed up for classes and returned to work. I also changed my major to something that was more interesting to me. Work proved too much for me (brachial plexus nerve damage was causing problems for me at work). For at least 6 months after my accident, I was not able to use my right arm at all (and of course, I’m right handed). I left work, after 4 years of working at the university and being promoted from the lowest clerical position to one of the highest secretarial positions, on long-term disability and started attending school full-time. Other health reasons from the accident caused me problems attending school full-time but I was determined to complete a bachelor’s of science degree.

The girls’ dad was always in the picture, but while I had them I was their primary caregiver. Life was not easy but I was determined. When I had long days of school and activities with the girls, I waited until my brain was too tired to think. I didn’t start out that way, but soon learned that was the best plan.

While I attended school, I was very active with my girls. Along with shuffling them to gymnastics, softball practice, piano lessons, and guitar lessons, I was always a Girl Scout leader for one troop, and was a leader for two troops in my girls were in different levels. We sold a lot of Girl Scout cookies (one year even sold over 1,000 boxes so both girls could go to Girl Scout camp free since I didn’t have the money to pay for it). They were also involved in several other activities that required my time.

In May 1996 I graduated with my BS. I was so excited! I applied for programming positions at the same university I worked and graduated from, received interviews, but no job offers. I took a job teaching at the same business school I had attended years ago. It was bittersweet because deep down I had always wanted to teach. The down side was that the pay was less than I made before my degree as an Administrative Assistant. But I knew I had to work to support my girls. I started teaching at the business college in June 1996 and worked there until November 1996. I had finally landed a job at the university as a programmer with a big pay raise. I was so excited.

After a couple years, I thought about going back to work on a master’s degree. That particular university didn’t really offer anything I was interested in but I knew that was the only way I could afford to go to school. I finally chose an engineering management program but ended up dropping after a couple semesters due to family issues.

A few years later, the university was talking about adding a new degree in management systems. More my cup of tea! A co-worker and I decided to take classes together. When one of us was worn out and discouraged the other made them feel better. We pushed each other through every semester (including summers). About half-way through, I suggested to my co-worker, “let’s take this summer off, then hit it hard until we finish.” Which is what we did! We graduated in May 2005 with our master’s degrees. It didn’t mean more money or a promotion at work but we finished.

While working on my master’s degree, I had started teaching part-time for extra money. I loved it! I looked forward to the days when I got to teach. It was like a bonus for me. Also, while working on our master’s degree we had to make a choice. Thesis or class work. Most students, if they are going to continue toward their doctorate choose thesis. We chose class work since we knew we were not going to take more classes.

After a couple years, many changes in the department I worked, my dad pushing me, and most of all, my love for teaching, I started looking for a doctoral program. I knew I should not get all three degrees at one school so that was going to be a problem. Several, totally on-line school degrees would not get me where I wanted to be, to teach at “my” university full-time. A co-worker, the one I finished the master’s degree with, knew of my goals and suggested a program that I like that was in a related university (still received the 75% discount) and a hour and a half away. I could take part of the courses on-line. After much thought and consideration, I applied.

I received a letter stating that they wanted to have a phone interview before accepting me into the program. I was excited and scared to death at the same time but set up the interview. A month later I received a letter of acceptance!

The progress toward my doctorate started in January 2007. I started with one course and quickly changed to two courses a semester. I usually took one on-line and one face to face which required a two hour drive (one way) once a week. The first semester of driving, I didn’t take into account the 4 hour drive time and it was really tough on me. I have since been able to adjust my schedule.

I have been fortunate in that I am able to take off work and make up my time while working on my degree. But I do work hard. I work on a computer all day at work then come home to work on homework. In the same time period, I have worked a full-time job, 2-4 part-time jobs, and enrolled in 3-6 credit hours a semester.

My first advisor was not very supportive, and every time I met with him he would tell me that I would never finish my degree if I didn’t quit my job, move to the town I was attending school, and attend full-time. I do have a better advisor now which is making me feel better. Well, I haven’t completed yet, but am still making progress even with several devastating events in my life. I am planning to complete my course work in December 2011 and then another year on my dissertation.

I’m still not completely convinced I will get a full-time teaching position at “my” university, but a girl can always hope, right? I wouldn’t have thought I would ever get to where am I am now.

The most important reason for this story is to tell you single mothers that you can aim for higher goals…..and reach them! Good luck!

- Carla Bates
Thank you so much for this excellent story about what it is like out there for single mothers who want to go back to school and succeed. I think this article will inspire other people go for their dreams.

Would you like to write Carla and tell her what a great job she did on this article? Just contact her via her work web page:
Some of my links!
The Nontrad site and blog
The Betsyanne page and blog
My Squidoo Pages and referral