Fate and Hormones Had Other PlansCharlene Woodard | Masters Student, Saint Joseph’s College
I grew up in California. I had ambitions of going to college and majoring in business, but fate and hormones had other plans for me. I ran away from home at 16, and soon dropped out of school to raise a family.
I raised my children the best I could, their father was an abusive alcoholic, who spent more time in the bars than at home. He was emotionally and physically abuse to me. I would constantly hear how much of a failure I was. I could never do anything right and he was the only man who would ever want me. I finally found the courage to leave him.
I ended up at a battered women’s shelter in Boston, (it was a horrific experience), I was alone in a battle zone with strangers. I was lucky that I kept in touch with a friend—while I was in the shelter—whose parents took pity on me and my children. A bus to North Station and a train to Haverhill, MA carried me to a brand-new life.
After a couple of years, I moved out on my own. I had many struggles and challenges as a single mother, but I was living life on my own terms. I was working in housekeeping at a local hospital when I become ill and had to resign. I enrolled in welfare for a few years. I then met a wonderful man who became my husband.
So, how did I go from single mother on welfare to a woman working at and going to college and earning her master’s degree? Well, I worked on my GED through a program offered by the local Community Action Agency. I attended a program to help me build my resume. I started everyday looking at the want ads in the newspapers, and called companies to set up interview appointments. One day I came across two job postings at the local community college, one was working in an office, and the other was in the reprographics department (print shop). I saw a great opportunity. I told my job counselor I was going to call and make an appointment for an interview. I will never forget what she said, “you should forget about applying for that job, because you will never get hired at a college.” I ignored her advice. I applied and was hired in the reprographic department, and have been employed for 27 years.
Aspire for More
It took me four years to start taking classes, because I had a poor self-image. But thanks to two work-study students, who convinced me to take the first step. My first class was intro to accounting, and it was hard for me to get back into studying. I almost quit several times. I just was not getting it, after working all day, coming home to my family, then staying up until 2:00 a.m. studying. I was overwhelmed by feelings of doubt. I have always been a good student, but I struggled with test taking—for some reason just knowing there was a test caused me so much anxiety that I started to question myself. But I told myself if I could pass the first test, then I would stay. If not I would quit. Well, I passed the first test, and every test. I finally got it! I was hooked on learning!
I had many caring professors who helped guide me. The best professors were the ones who challenged me to do my best work and cheered me on every step of the way. The worst professors were the ones who never cared if I passed the class or not, or who did not understand that an adult learner may need more time to process information.
It took me longer than most students to finish my degree. I was working full time, raising a family. I had to come up with creative ideas to squeeze in classes. I did whatever it took to get it done. I took a class in the morning, a class before work, a class on Saturdays, at night after work. I spent hours in the math and writing labs getting extra help with my assignments. I was so happy when the college started online classes because it made my life easier. I was able to finish my associate’s degree sooner, (it took me 15 years to do it).
Advice for University Administrators
My road back to college was a tough one, as it is for everyone. It takes hard work, commitment and time management to earn degrees while working and caring for a family. But it can be made easier to navigate for other adult learners if college and university leaders commit to making some small changes.
Changes that could make the enrollment process easier for adult students:
- Have a website where information about the enrollment process, academic programs, program prerequisites, and financial aid is clear and easy to access.
- Have advisors who offer emotional support and encouragement for adult students to help them navigate the process of enrolling into a college course.
As an adult learner, I found it very confusing when I decided to enroll in an online bachelor’s and master’s program. I was fortunate that I had advisors who helped me every step of the way.
What’s more, offering online support services—such as tutoring, and labs focused on math, reading and writing skills—would be incredibly valuable for adult students who are unable to travel to the campus.
I found the online Smarthinking tutoring service through Saint Joseph’s College in Maine to be very useful, especially in the first couple of courses.
Never Stop Learning
Because of the convenience of online learning, I was able to earn my Bachelor of Science in Business from Southern New Hampshire University, and work on my Master of Education: Adult Learning & Training from Saint Joseph’s College in Maine.
Overcoming my life struggles have helped me with my journey of educating myself to be the person that I am today. I am a woman who has confidence in myself, after years of doubt and regret. Without those struggles I would have a much different life, one where education may not have been a priority. I would not be graduating this summer without those struggles. It is important for me to help other women achieve their dreams of getting an education.
Author Perspective: Student