Initiated in 2008, Excelsior College’s Partners in Lifelong Learning has raised more than $430,000 benefiting more than 400 adult students in financial need from the New York Capital Region and its surrounding areas. With the seventh annual celebration scheduled for April 23, 2014, Excelsior Life catches up with past winners to learn how earning a degree helped shape their life.
This past week, Heidi Blackwell sat down with Excelsior Life to discuss her educational journey and her reaction to receiving the Partners in Lifelong Learning scholarship. Blackwell is pursuing a BS in Health Sciences from Excelsior.
Excelsior Life: What inspired you to pursue a career in the medical field?
Blackwell: My mom was a nurse and (the medical field) was something I was always drawn to.
I graduated with a degree in medical assisting/lab technology and after college I worked for different laboratories and physician offices. After I moved to Albany I took an administrative position, something I thought I never wanted to do. That is, sitting at a desk all day! But I loved it and I worked my way up through the system…13 years later, I still love it.
Excelsior Life: As someone with a full-time job and a family at home, why did you decide to return to higher education?
Blackwell: There was a period of time that was “rocky” in our office and a very good position opened up in the office next to me. I spoke with the director and she went through the list of responsibilities – and I thought, “I do that, I do that, I know this computer system…” Then she told me that the job required a bachelor’s degree, and therefore, I was not qualified.
That was a wakeup call. I knew I had to go back and finish what I had started years earlier.
Excelsior Life: And why Excelsior?
Blackwell: When I started at Albany Medical Center at the beginning of my career, there weren’t a lot of options for online classes. When Excelsior came to Albany Med to talk about their partnership with the Hospital and what they could do for employees, I was hooked. I signed up the next day because I never wanted to lose out on a job again because I didn’t meet the degree requirements.
Excelsior Life: Can you talk about your experiences with the classes? I’m sure there was some trepidation, having never taken an online class prior.
Blackwell: The first time I signed on I was not sure what to do! It took me a couple weeks to overcome the jitters and become comfortable with the learning management system, posting assignments and participating in the discussion groups. But everything along the way was explained and there was always help when I had questions. That made it easier to settle in and get comfortable. The professors and my advisor have all been great.
Excelsior Life: How did you balance home, work and school?
Blackwell: For me, I had something to prove to myself. I did ok when I earned my undergraduate degree, but I let personal issues bog me down. I knew I was capable of being a good student, so I was very motivated. I got my life into a routine. My kids were a bit older by then, and more self-sufficient, so it was a matter of making a schedule. I go to work, arrive home at 4:30 pm, make dinner, and then work on my classes. It’s been hard but I’ve kept myself focused on the goal of completing the program.
Excelsior Life: What do your children say about their mom returning to school?
Blackwell: My son isn’t as vocal, but my daughter is working on her master’s online, and she’s more attuned with what it’s taken for me to accomplish this. We talk about it a lot together. She’s my cheerleader
Excelsior Life: She’s been part of your support system then?
Blackwell: Yes, she has. My partner, friends and my co-workers have all been very supportive as well.
Excelsior Life: How do you think your degree will impact your career?
Blackwell: Right now, I have no plans to look for a new job. I love where I work. But what I’m finding is that I have a better understanding when I go to meetings with the medical director of the hospital or with IT staff on how our health care system works. My knowledge has expanded and I want to keep using that to bring what I can to the table and contribute. And I know if I ever do decide to leave, I have the professional experience and a degree in a rapidly growing field…
As an adult learner, I have a deeper appreciation for what I’ve been through – what all adult learners go through.
Excelsior Life: How did the Partners in Lifelong Learning scholarship help you?
Blackwell: In a couple of ways. Being a single mom through this whole journey, I had to juggle my course load based on what I could afford. Excelsior offered a discount to Albany Med employees, and the hospital only reimbursed a certain amount for courses, so I had to mindful of costs. About a year ago, I decided I needed to speed things up, so I looked to take out some student loans.
When I received the letter offering the scholarship, it was such a relief; the feeling that the scholarship would help pay for my books for the semester or one class.
It was also a confidence booster – a sense of pride that I earned the scholarship. That I was on the right track and that I just needed to keep going in the same direction to achieve my goal.
I was/am thankful that there are people out there who generously make contributions so students, such as me, have a little less burden.
Read about other Partners in Lifelong Learning Awardees:
John Paul Ciejka