Friday, January 25, 2013

Where does college fit into the life of a military wife?

Sara Lopez, Post University Class of 2012
Military wives are heroes in their own right, often living transient lives, taking on the greater share of household and family responsibilities, sending photos back home when babies are born, explaining to their children why daddy isn't around, and counting the moments until he walks through the front door.

When so much time is devoted to their families, many military wives push other endeavors, such earning a college degree, to the back burner. But does that mean education must stay in the background? When can military wives fulfill their educational, and likewise, career goals?

One military wife, Sara Lopez, told us her story. We hope our readers find Sara's story as inspirational and insightful as we do.

A new commitment

Sara started college at the University of Rhode Island in 1990. She decided to go pre-med during her sophomore year, and began pursuing her zoology degree. As her undergraduate program came to close, Sara was on track to enter medical school -- her applications were out and acceptance letters were in.

But during her last year at Rhode Island, Sara met Jorge, the man who would become her husband. Jorge was on active duty in the Army. Suddenly a whole new future appeared before her. She was at a crossroads, and decided to push her education off, and instead devote herself to her new relationship with Jorge and life as a military spouse.

Sara graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 1994, and married Jorge in 1995. Sara became a full-fledged military spouse, and soon, mother of two. (Her children are now 17 and 19 years old.) While Jorge served in the Army, Sara cared for her children and volunteered with the military youth corps. Over the years, the family lived around the world to be nearby Jorge's stations -- Georgia, Washington, Japan, Germany, and today, Maine.

The aha moment

All the while, education was put on hold for Sara. Although her family encouraged her to go back to school, she wasn't sure if it was right for her, because she was happy with her life the way it was. She didn't want to spend money on something that might not benefit her in a way she wanted.

Then 2009 rolled around. Sara's children were in high school, and college planning for them was front and center. As Sara discussed college with her children, she thought about her own education. She realized she wanted to be something more than a human resources director at the Y, a job she started a couple years prior.

Although she had no regrets about the way her life had gone so far, she saw how she had put her education on hold many years ago. She decided it was time to pick it back up.

Mapping out a plan

Sara began looking at many different degree programs, trying to determine what field might interest her now. Even though she had once wanted to go to medical school, she didn't feel that way anymore. Instead, she felt her passion lied in human service, specifically counseling therapy.

She weighed the differences between going to school at a physical campus, and earning her degree online. Sara lived in a rural area, and the closest college or university was an hour away. All that driving wouldn't work well for Sara, not with a family to care for and a full-time job to manage.

Sara was stuck. She talked things over with her husband, who was enrolled in Post University's business administration/management program. At his suggestion, Sara looked into Post's programs, and learned that the university offered the degree she wanted, a master's of science in human services (MSHSV). The program was also online, which Sara thought would help her balance her education with the rest of life's responsibilities.

She also liked Post's Military Program, which would help her use her family's military educational benefits, cover the cost of her books, and provide her other financial assistance to reduce her out-of-pocket expenses.

Mission to learn

Sara enrolled in Post's online MSHSV program part-time, taking two classes in her first mod (or module, which runs eight weeks). She was off and running from day one. Although she had been out of school mode for years, she was exhilarated at the thought of learning something new.

She poured herself into her education, and quickly became adept at the online structure. She engaged every day on the discussion boards, getting absorbed in invigorating conversations with her instructors and peers, and seeking out more information. She found herself always wanting to know more. Within just a couple months of starting her MSHSV degree program, Sara knew she wanted to earn her Doctor of Psychology degree (Psy.D.) next.

Time management is one of the biggest challenges for most adult learners. But Sara quickly learned how to manage her schedule well. In fact, after her first mod, Sara became a full-time student, taking three classes per mod, while continuing her full-time jobs at home and at the Y.

Winning secrets

Sara's biggest secret to college success was to set a rigid schedule for classwork, and stick to it. She balanced college with her other responsibilities by waking at least an hour or two before she had to go to work, and focusing on assignments and studying.

Sara also always carried a book or assignment with her if she was able to catch a few minutes of down time to read a chapter or two or proofread a paper. All in all, Sara estimates she spent 40 hours a week on her education.

Despite the time commitment, being an adult learner was never unmanageable for Sara. She owes this to her strong work ethic. If she's going to do something, she says she'll put her heart and soul into it. Earning her MSHSV was no exception.

Sara shared more advice for fellow adult learners in our new e-book, "The Adult Learner Survival Guide," which you can read for more tips and insights from Sara and 29 other adult learners.

Next tour of duty

Sara graduated from Post University in 2012 with her MSHSV degree with concentrations in clinical counseling and alcohol and drug counseling. She now has a part-time position in a domestic violence program, joined the Post University team as an Associate Faculty Instructor in Human Services, and is enrolled in California Southern University's Psy.D. program, which is also mainly online.

California is a fitting location for Sara, because Jorge will be retiring from the military this spring, and her family will be moving to California in a year or two. Once Sara completes her doctorate, she plans to become a board-licensed psychologist.

She hopes to join a practice at first, and then open her own practice when she builds her experience. She's thinking she would like to focus on working with either adolescents or geriatrics, but is keeping her options open for now.

In hindsight

Looking back on her life, Sara wouldn't change any of her decisions. She's glad she focused on her family first, and believes the years she has spent with her children has helped them grow and develop, especially because she has a military family. She is also happy she didn't go to medical school. Psychology is her passion, and exactly where she wants to be.

For Sara, earning her master's degree and doctorate as an adult has been the right path. The right time to pursue her professional passion was after raising her family. And she's succeeded, thanks to her bullish work ethic and unlimited thirst for knowledge and learning.

Sara's story provides insight into why more adults are going back to school. Education is not just for the traditional time period of when you're 5 to 22 years old. It's for any time in your life. It's for your whole life.

Her story also helps answer the question in the headline of this post -- where does college fit into the life of a military wife? It fits in when the time is right.

Sara's own words

When we talked to Sara, she also wrote an email to us telling her story in her own words. We wanted to share it with you.
I was born and raised in Massachusetts. I graduated from the University of Rhode Island (1994), with a B.S. in zoology, and it was during my undergraduate studies that I met my husband, Jorge. As a military spouse, Jorge and I (and then our children) were fortunate to travel and live around the world. Prior to beginning the MSHSV program at Post University, I was the Human Resources Director for a Y, and for many years before that, I volunteered within the military community as a youth sports coach.

The decision to pursue a graduate degree came with much thought, and it took me over one year to appreciate that human service, specifically counseling therapy, was the path I was chosen for. I selected Post University because of its online program and commitment to military families. My husband was already enrolled in the undergraduate business program when I applied to Post University.

The MSHSV program was everything I expected it to be. Coming from a brick-and-mortar classroom campus, I was unsure of the online forum. However, I found the course work extensive and well thought out. The professors I had were extremely knowledgeable and I found many of them to be a continued resource for me. I keep in touch with several Post University professors, especially since beginning my Psy.D. program at California Southern University.

Currently, I am a full-time doctoral student, with plans to graduate with a Psy.D. in clinical psychology in 2015. My goals are to graduate with my doctorate, complete all 3,000 supervised professional experience hours, pass the EPPP, and become a board-licensed psychologist in California.

I intend to work with the underserved that have a mental illness, hopefully through a non-profit organization. I also intend on serving the public through pro-bono work. Furthermore, I would like to teach at the university level, online and face-to-face. Once a board-licensed psychologist, my next goal is to receive my Juris Doctor, so I can advocate for the rights and dignity of the underserved. I will never stop learning.

Post University opened many doors to me. I highly recommend Post University to anyone wishing to pursue just one class or an entire degree. The advisors and professors are willing to help students during the process, with the school's ultimate goal being the student's success.

Sara Lopez
Class of 2012
It's been our pleasure to play a part in Sara's admirable educational journey. On behalf of the entire Military Program, I commend her hard work and commitment, and wish her the best of luck.

Can you relate to Sara's story? What drove you to go back to school, and how did it work for you? Let us know in the comments.