American Culture Studies student, Terri Williams, recently shared her experience of going back to school to get her graduate degree as a working adult at University College, the professional and continuing education division at Washington University in St. Louis.
What drew you to University College? What made you want to get involved and learn more about their program offerings?
As a business owner, I did know that I always eventually wanted to go back to graduate school to get my graduate degree for myself. I was excited to be able to do that, and in the process, give my daughters an opportunity to see me grow and to see me accomplish something great. It was a chance to show them that they can accomplish anything and that nothing worth having is easy.
I consider myself to be a little bit of a history buff, and the American Culture Studies degree program aligned with so many things I was passionate about: history, music, art, and literature. Being able to combine all of those elements together gives a more comprehensive view of education and a view of those historical aspects and how they are all tied together.
I am a lifelong learner, and it was important for me to pursue this passion for myself. I have already established a professional lane for myself as a business owner. But I did want to go back and learn and see how I could manipulate my learning experiences for other opportunities professionally.
How do you see your degree being supplemental to your career as a businesswoman?
When I began, I had full intentions to teach on the adjunct level or pursue something greater in higher education. However, I found that when I would take the elements and the things I learned in the classroom back to my business establishment and shared it with the community there. I saw the engagement of the people there; the wanting to learn more about what I was learning.
Did you find that your life experiences helped you with your classes, or gave you more ways to contribute in class?
I definitely think my life experiences had a great influence on my encounters with my classmates and instructors. I was able to draw from a lot of my own personal experiences, my own knowledge of the St. Louis region, and really use the things that I knew, the things that I held in my heart, to further conversation in the classroom.
Things that happen today will be the things that people talk about years from now. To be able to bring the experiences we have today into the classroom and to compare and contrast with things that have already occurred; to see the similarities, to see what has changed, what has not changed, how can we fix this, does it need to be fixed, is there anything broken? If you don't pull from outside and bring it into the classroom, then the knowledge that you gain inside of the classroom will be in vain because there will not be any action that we'll be able to put forth with it.
Can you think of anything that enhanced your University College experience?
During my first semester, I met with the American Culture Studies program coordinator and I asked him, "When I graduate, can I do with this degree? What are some options for me?" From there, he began to help me network and introduce me to people. It was from that one meeting with the program coordinator that I actually interviewed for a research assistantship position in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, and shortly after, I was offered the position. Through that research assistantship, I met some amazing mentors. Even after the assistantship, one mentor pulled me alongside her to go further into other projects that she had on her own. That's how I became exposed to videography, editing, and photography. There are so many things I never thought I would've done in my life, but all of a sudden, I'm doing them now. And it came from that one meeting with the program coordinator during my first semester.
My advisor is another example. She was really understanding and compassionate and was able to give me everything that I needed to know about the program. In fact, she saw a job recently and told me I'd be great for it and encouraged me to apply. That's how I ended up in my current position at Unleashing Potential, a local nonprofit that provides children and families the support they need to grow.
Every experience I've had at University College, all of those skills, all of those networks, all of those mentors helped to groom me and put me in a position where now I have a full-time job that I'm very excited about, and the future just looks so bright.
What helped you make the decision to apply to WashU's University College?
I always knew I was smart enough to attend, but financially, would I be able to afford it. The great thing about University College is that they make it financially possible to obtain your degree. The financial aid process was very simple, and the staff was very helpful.
"In comparison to other institutions in the St. Louis region, I felt that University College was definitely the best choice for me. I was able to obtain an amazing learning experience and a master's degree while paying a reasonable price for it."
I looked at other colleges with comparable programs in the St. Louis region. However, I chose University College because I found it to be a great opportunity to get a world-class research degree from an amazing institution. Washington University is one of the most prestigious universities in the world. So, being able to attach myself under the University College umbrella was definitely something that I knew I wanted to pursue, and I'm so glad that I made that choice.
Oftentimes, we hear one of the biggest concerns people have when considering going back to school is, "How will I balance going to work and school, along with all of my other commitments?" How did University College help with your work-life balance?
The great thing about University College is the instructors are amazingly understanding.
"They understand that you may have a family. They understand that you may have a full-time job. They understand that whatever it is that brought you here, there's some type of transition that's happening...and they are compassionate about that."
Last year, I had a traumatic experience while enrolled at University College. One of my professors at the time was just so compassionate and understanding that life was happening. Not that life happens, but life was happening to me. He allowed me to be available to my family and that's something I'm very grateful for.
How are you going to take what you've learned from University College back to your community?
There are so many things I've learned while studying American Cultural Studies here at University College. Whether it has been elements from the curriculum, or networking skills, or even the skills I learned while doing research assistantship. I'm so excited to be able to go back to my community and take all of the knowledge, all of the different skill sets I've learned and share them with the community. And, possibly even show them how to gain these skills and more specifically, where they should come to do it.
What is next for Terri Williams?
I am starting a new career and a new chapter in my life—which is something I knew I wanted to do when I first enrolled. I knew my old profession had come to an end, and it was time for me to pursue something new, something different. I'm so excited to be able to really utilize my talents and skills at my new job and to be able to give back to our community and how we can uplift one another.
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