My story begins with a sense of pride and appreciation for my parents, who while they did not have the opportunity to attend college, ensured that my sisters and I would be able to have this life changing experience. I have four sisters and all have college degrees. My oldest sister is a lawyer, the next an artist, the third in line a teacher, and I am a Clinical Assistant Professor here at UNF, a role that I have sought for many years and dreamed about having, and yes, I LOVE what I do! Which, is exactly why I am happy to be part of this project and hope to, through my story, inspire the reader, perhaps a “First Time College Student” to continue in his or her own journey and in doing so, be able to craft your own story of achieving your career goals and aspirations.
I grew up in a rural part of northern Indiana on a farm that my grandfather had originally purchased as a young man, after immigrating from Italy at the tender age of 13. My grandfather would never see his Italian family again and only visited his birth country a time or two in his elder years. My father, his son, was one of five children and my mother one of eight. My mother was German, from a poor farm family; my father Italian, and it is hard for me to imagine but they shared with me in their later years (they were married 56 years!) that their marriage caused a bit of controversy because of their different family original nationalities. Wow, has time changed! Thank goodness!
While my parents had little economic means as youth, they worked hard together as a married couple to provide for my sisters and I. At first, they raised cows and made cheese from the milk which my father took to Chicago in his little truck to sell to vendors in the Italian village areas within the large city. Later, my father sold seed corn and became a district manager for Pioneer Seed Corn. He rose to this position due to his work ethic, but also because of his entrepreneurial spirit and most certainly because of his friendly and outgoing disposition with whom all he interacted, supported in this business by my mother who worked side by side with him in all he endeavored. Theirs was a partnership of love and hard work, and I share this story of them with you because I feel it is so very important for all of us to think about those who have sacrificed to make our dreams come true, even if that dream was an education that they themselves could not partake in. The story of opportunity was so very different for my parents than for I, and I fully acknowledge that and appreciate my many opportunities over the years to obtain college degrees.
Was college possible for my parents? Yes, and no. For my father, perhaps, but he enjoyed farming and his work in that area was a natural progression, although he admitted to me at about the age of 89 that his dream would have been to be a Veterinarian. I never knew. My mother, college? No way. She had the acumen, but coming from a large farm family she was expected to work after high school to support her family as an 18-year-old, felt fortunate her family even allowed her to finish high school actually, and her dreams of being a nurse were never realized. (She would have been an amazing nurse!) I have to share that my niece is a Veterinarian and my own daughter a nurse practitioner, so I do think sometimes the genes of aspirations live on!
My own story then is of a different context. I was able to attend college, and although I married way too early, at the age of 19, I was able to work full-time and achieve my own dream of becoming a teacher, a job I truly loved! It was not easy to finish college and work full-time, in fact there was one term of my junior year that I thought I just would not make it, and I do think my grades which were a few B’s could have been A’s but I was just too tired. As a married college student, I felt I could not ask my parents for additional financial support for my last two years of my bachelor’s degree, but they did help me to some extent those years and I took out student loans. Four years later I had my bachelors, YEA, and my first child, and began teaching. I did not plan to start a family during my senior year of college, but sometimes things just work out that way! So, when I graduated college with my degree, I was just about to give birth to my daughter. I remember my purple flowered graduation dress very well because it was the only dress I owned at the time and was a tent, I mean truly, a tent, which went well with those huge graduation gowns! I taught elementary school grades 5, 2 and art and juggled having a newborn.
I honestly look back at those years of my life, especially going to school and working, and wonder how in the world did I do it? And, in those days there were no online classes and since I lived in such a rural part of Indiana, I never lived on campus and instead drove about an hour each way for my classes. Let me share though that I did not have Jacksonville traffic to deal with-ugh, but I did have snow! Please don’t think I expect you the reader to feel sorry for me. Heck no! I was busy yes, but challenged with all I was doing, and also very very appreciative that I could go to college and become a teacher, fulfill my own goal! This was possible because my parents supported me financially at first and always emotionally, lending their support and excitement when I would talk to them about my school projects, my goals, etc.!
It is truly because of watching them both, immersed in the family business, working hard together, but enjoying their work that I realized finding joy in what you do as your career is incredibly important! I do feel badly at times when I think though about my own parents’ dreams of college degrees that would have allowed my father to be a Veterinarian, my mother a nurse, but they were the kind of people who approached each day and each work challenge with a sense of commitment and happiness. In their own way they helped many others and always with a positive attitude and a sense of gratitude. Oh, how I hope as their daughter that I have continued that legacy of appreciation!
I actually wrote a book about appreciating our teachers in our lives, both formal and informal, and recognizing the lessons we learn from those who give to us, impact us, support us. I wrote my book after my mother had passed from Alzheimer’s and at first my book was going to be about my parents and the pain I watched them both endure in the final three years of my mother’s life, a time when she did not always know her own husband, my father. But, when I began to write this book instead, I had to channel JOY, not pain, as that would not have been a fitting tribute to my parents. My book is titled Life’s Bouquet, -Appreciate the Flowers, Embrace the Weeds, Explore the Possibilities. It is a compilation of stories, a few about my parents of course, but it is more about appreciation for the flowers and weeds in the form of my many teachers. The book chapters are each dedicated to an individual or more and each chapter starts with a painting I have created with that person in mind, followed by a poem, then a story, and finally a letter I write to that person or persons expressing what they meant to me and how their influences spurred my own growth. I talk a lot about a sixth-grade teacher I had who left an indelible impression upon me and my family, Miss Beverly Kay Winterberg, a teacher on this earth for too short of a time and to whom I dedicated my Ph.D. dissertation.
In my career I spent ten years as a classroom teacher before moving on to administration and decided to go back to school for advanced degrees along the way, a master’s in elementary education and art, an administration master’s equivalent in educational leadership, and a Ph. D. in Educational Leadership, all from Purdue University. I guess you could say I love school! And, while my degrees allowed me to serve as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent, and superintendent in Indiana, and a principal, district level career director, a dean for arts and sciences for a community college, and now as a clinical assistant professor in Florida, I started out just as you are, embarking upon my first year, worried and unaware, but supported by my parents, the memory of Miss Winterberg, and others as I propelled myself to get started, complete that first term, learn what college was all about, and continue to grow in both my knowledge of what obtaining a college degree would mean in terms of assignments and courses, but also what it would mean to continue on, to complete the degrees that would take me where I wanted to go, always seeking a sense of JOY in my work!
I would share as a closing the following advice:
Listen to yourself. Create your own dreams and plan the steps needed to achieve your own goals! This has to be YOUR endeavor, your journey as only you can know if you are on the right path to getting to where you want to be, to find work that brings you JOY! Can’t you just see the passion in someone when they love what they do? Intangible, but tangible too, vivid in action!
Surround yourself with positive people, but don’t overlook spending time with those who are different from you, diverse in backgrounds and choices, and ideas-this is how we all grow! Question, everything!! Always! I still do this ALL the time! Questions are what prompt us, help us dive deeper into our own thinking!
I mentioned earlier in this narrative that I love to paint! I have my own one room studio attached to my home and it is my go-to place, always! What I love about painting is the BLANK CANVAS-it just awaits, it entices me to be creative and to let go, to ask the questions of the canvas about what it will be! Your college degree pursuit is much the same. Let yourself be that blank canvas that will unfold, revealing to you what you are thinking about yourself, all in due time. This goes back to listening and to planning. There certainly is action needed by you to achieve your goals. They won’t just happen to you. But I believe strongly that you can MAKE YOUR GOALS HAPPEN! Yes, I do.
As a rural northern Indiana high school student entering college, I was so green about so many things in the world, and hesitant. Now, after many years and more degrees, I have covered so much ground in my own journey, supported and loved along the way and for that I have the most enormous sense of appreciation. Oh, I hope can feel that too, and that your own journey can unfold to you as crafted by your own design through embarking upon your college experience!
Let others help you. Converse. Engage. Open up to yourself and to others about your concerns and your dreams. Share. Listen. Grow!