Success Story: Susan Smith header image

Susan Smith

Describe your educational journey after high school. 
Just like many of my classmates, I started college at Utah State University right after high school.  I didn't really have a major or a plan, just a desire to get out of the house and develop some independence.  I took three years to complete less than two full years of college due to the need to work and provide money for myself since my parents were unskilled at navigating the financial aid process (not as easy as it is now).  I was on academic probation because I wasn't focused and didn't really care.  I wanted to pass classes so that my parents wouldn't require I move back home, but didn't care other than that.  When I got married during my third year of college, I dropped out and attended Medical Assisting school and became a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA).  Being a mom was my dream and so I was able to use those medical skills to work part-time and be a mom like I wanted.  I left the medical field and became licensed to sell medical/dental/life/disability insurance and started my own agency in Utah/Idaho which was very successful.  When we moved to Oregon, it was difficult to maintain my clients from 800 miles away so I sold my agency.  I wasn't sure what I wanted to do here, but I knew that I did NOT have the desire to learn new insurance regulations for another state.

What/who was the biggest influence on your decision to go (back) to college?
It was the class of 2014 that actually inspired me to go back to school.  Majalaise Tolan, the Assistant Principal at the time at Taft 7-12, asked me to begin working with the GEAR UP cohort and as I did this, I found it very hypocritical to tell the kids how important post-secondary education was when I didn't have a degree myself.  When students would say, "where did you graduate?", it seemed immoral to tell them I hadn't yet when I was telling them they could.  I enrolled part-time at Oregon Coast Community College taking online classes with the thought of becoming a teacher.  I soon realized that I didn't want to teach because I was too interested in the students who were struggling.  It didn't take me long to rediscover my original passion for psychology (I had dreamed of being a criminal profiler at one point in my life) and I thought I would just get a BS in psychology.  The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn and I soon graduated with a 3.94 GPA from Corban University, working full-time and carrying a full credit load.  I had to have more and enrolled in the Masters of Counseling program at Corban as well as a non-degree seeking school counseling student through the new hybrid program at Oregon State University.  

What is one of the best things about college?
Learning!! I love it!! I love that in college you can learn about the things that matter, not what someone else thinks matter! I love that you can choose which school to attend and your limitations are only as big as what you allow them to be!  I told my GEAR UP kids, if I can be old, work full-time, be a mom and a wife, attend school full-time, and still manage love life... you have no excuses!!! 

What advice do you have for parents or students currently in middle and high school GEAR UP programs? What do you wish you would have known/done in middle or high school?
For parents:
I wish someone would have helped my parents through the FAFSA process. I wish someone would have helped them see that the dream was attainable.  Neither one of my parents had graduated from college so they had no idea what to expect or what to tell me.  I wish they would have encouraged me to dream!  No one asked me to do wasn't part of our family wasn't part of the discussion.  I wish I could have visited school campuses and learned about what my options were.

For kids: DREAM!!! Don't EVER let someone tell you that it is impossible!  It isn't!! You may change your major 20 times but the final choice will be the best and you will discover your strengths and weaknesses throughout the process.  Listen to your counselors when they tell you that the class you hate, really will help you get into college.  My years in college were truly some of the BEST memories of my life.  The freedom and independence I experienced were so awesome and the friends I had in college are still part of my life.  Don't sit back and wait for someone else to make the decision, invest in yourself, invest in your future, dream big and don't go home; go to college!!!