Adult Studies Student Stories
Troy Davenport, class of 2016, organizational leadership (online)
U.S. Army Specialist Troy Davenport III, honorably discharged in 2005, has a heart for helping other veterans pursue higher education by obtaining their G.I. Bill benefits.
Over the past four years, Davenport used his own education benefits to earn multiple degrees, including a bachelor’s in organizational leadership from Simpson University’s School of Adult Studies, ASPIRE degree-completion program.
Davenport, a 34-year-old Paradise, Calif., resident, was one of more than 230 students who graduated during Simpson’s spring commencement ceremony on April 30. He was also inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society for continuing education students who maintain at least a 3.8 grade-point average.
Davenport first attended Butte College in Oroville, Calif., in 1999 but left school to join the Army. He returned to Butte in the spring of 2012.
“I decided to return to college because I had a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ date on my G.I. Bill benefits,” he said. “I wanted to maximize my benefits and decided to utilize my benefits for a degree.”
After completing associate degrees in social and behavioral sciences, Davenport tried transferring to a local four-year university, but after multiple complications in the intake process, he decided to look into the ASPIRE program.
“I was very pleased with what I researched,” he said. “I asked other ASPIRE graduates about their success, frustrations, and what they liked and disliked. They all had very positive things to say. This made the decision easy. When I enrolled in the ASPIRE program, the process was easy and the transition was smooth. There were multiple people available to answer any questions I had.”
Davenport started taking ASPIRE courses in the spring of 2015. He was a part of a 16-month-long online degree program. He connected with professors and classmates using Skype and Moodle, Simpson’s online learning management system. In addition to organizational leadership, the ASPIRE program offers an online B.A. in psychology.
“The main reason for pursuing the online degree was the geographic location,” he said. “I am almost two hours away from the main campus. If I were to drive there it would easily consume four hours of my day. I found that I could take the online courses while still going to work, maintaining my duties at home, and setting aside a regimented study schedule.”
Davenport said he liked many features of the ASPIRE program, including support from his classmates and the instruction he received from his professors.
Soon after starting his ASPIRE program, Davenport was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder that affects the brain. This illness led to multiple stays in the hospital, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and neurological examinations.
“I was about to resign from the ASPIRE program, but I had encouraging words and an amazing hope and faith from the ASPIRE leadership,” he said. “I continued to press on. I remember using the laptop by the bedside, trying to read the assignments. I remember listening to the lectures during the immunotherapy treatments. Through it all I realize God is the ultimate healer, and He will give us strength to accomplish anything.”
Although he just received his degree, Davenport has already incorporated what he has learned into his job working with veterans at Butte College.
“I see differences in my leadership style, including my skills, knowledge, and abilities,” he said. “I am able to apply the things I have learned in a real world environment.”
Davenport plans to keep working at his current job.
“I have a lot of reward invested in this position, being able to see veterans strive for success,” he said. “In addition, there is a personal connection, being a combat veteran myself. But, I have learned that my one calling is to lead and inspire others, whether or not it is solely with veterans.”
Based on his positive experience in the ASPIRE program, Davenport said he would recommend it to others.
“The ASPIRE program is a well-organized program that is designed to encourage a positive learning environment,” he said. “The ASPIRE program enables students to follow a structured program that is designed for success.”
Gabriela Tazzari, class of 2010, organizational leadership
Paradise police Lt. Gabriela Tazzari has never been afraid of a challenge. She passed her latest one with straight As, graduating from Simpson University with honors and a bachelor's degree in organizational leadership.
"Organizational Leadership is great for law enforcement because it breaks down areas of business," Tazzari said. "The degree gives you a lot of different perspectives of an organization."
Tazzari was one of 103 ASPIRE students who graduated Jan. 22 during Simpson's winter commencement in Redding. ASPIRE is a degree-completion program designed for working adults. Classes meet on weeknights or weekends, and a degree can be earned in 16 months.
Born in Argentina, Tazzari, 42, moved to the U.S. with her family in 1978. One of her earliest challenges was overcoming the language barrier in high school.
"People who aren't confident about their language should know that you can do it," she said. "Hard work really does pay off."
That work ethic helped her get a job in law enforcement in 1994. After several years in law enforcement she went back to school and graduated from Golden West College in Southern California with an AA with honors. After promoting at work, and later relocating to Northern California, she looked to get her bachelor's degree; however, most schools were not a good fit for her busy schedule.
"School was always my goal, but my career put that on hold," she said. "Every time I was promoted, I would have more responsibilities."
Tazzari was working for the Mount Shasta Police Department in Siskiyou County, when she learned that Simpson has an ASPIRE cohort that meets at College of the Siskiyous in Weed.
As a police officer, Tazzari never knows what a day will bring. "You can't predict emergencies," she noted. "ASPIRE is high-paced but not so much that it's not manageable."
When Tazzari moved to Paradise midway through her studies, Simpson University worked with her so that she could take classes at the main Redding campus, shortening her commute.
"It's been challenging at times," she said. "This is a very demanding job."
But Tazzari persisted and earned a 4.0 grade-point average, qualifying for Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society for continuing education students. Her family cheered her on as she walked across the stage at Simpson University to receive her diploma.
The success she's had in this challenge is inspiring her to think further – possibly about earning a master's degree.
"I feel that earning my degree really helped with my career and my future," she said.
Rafael Ortiz, class of 2016, organizational leadership (online)
Orland resident Rafael Ortiz moved to the U.S. from Mexico when he was a teenager. The son of migrant workers, he became the first member of his family to graduate from college on Jan. 21, when he received a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from Simpson University’s School of Adult and Graduate Professional Studies, ASPIRE program, during the university’s winter commencement ceremony.
Ortiz, 41, attended Butte College in Oroville, Calif., in 1993, where he earned an associate’s degree in social and behavioral science. He put off furthering his education in order to work.
Ortiz heard about Simpson’s ASPIRE program from a co-worker, and after researching the program and talking to an admissions counselor, he decided it was the right fit.
“It felt like the ASPIRE program was truly designed for someone like me,” he said. “I have a family, and I was already in a leadership role. All I had to do was further my education by attending the program.”
He chose to major in organizational leadership because it would advance his career in logistics, at one of the world’s largest retailers, where he has worked for more than 20 years. While he was still taking classes, he was promoted to an operational manager within the company.
“I looked at the curriculum and felt that I could benefit from the classes that the program offered,” he said. “I also felt that I lacked so many of the skills that the program described, including how to be an effective leader.”
Ortiz started taking ASPIRE courses in the fall of 2014. He was part of a 16-month-long online degree program. He connected with professors and classmates using email, Skype, and Moodle, Simpson’s online learning management system. In addition to organizational leadership, the ASPIRE program offers an online B.A. in psychology.
“I have a full-time job in a leadership role, and I have a family that requires much attention,” he said. “The online program was a perfect fit for my current life and responsibilities.”
Ortiz said one of the things he liked most about the online program was being able to work from home.
“I could tend to my responsibilities as a husband and father without the worry of having to leave my home to attend a classroom,” he said. “All I had to do is go to my computer and complete my assignments. Being able to study in my home gave me an opportunity to feel relaxed and more at ease. If I had a concern, all I had to do was send an email to my teacher. The response was almost instantaneous.”
Based on his positive experience, Ortiz recommends the ASPIRE program to others.
“I always tell people that the program is designed for you to succeed,” he said. “The way it is set up is foolproof, as long as you make a commitment to better yourself. It might be a bit hard at first, but know that the staff, and professors are going to be invested in your success.”
The personal of attention from faculty and staff was one of the things Ortiz found most rewarding.
“All of the faculty and staff were truly amazing in their own way,” he said. “I will never forget them. I felt throughout the whole program that they were not going to let me fail.”
Since completing the ASPIRE program last summer, Ortiz has continued working as an operations manager and is working toward earning his master’s in business management.
Gregory Morales, class of 2015, psychology (online)
After serving in ministry for over 25 years, Gregory Morales decided it was time to change career paths and go in to counseling.
“As a kid I always wanted to help people,” he said. “I have always worked in some way with people, either in customer service or a helping profession. As a pastor I had brief experiences counseling through the years, and it seemed like the perfect transition, not only for work but also fitting to my personality.”
Morales, a 45 year-old Willows, Calif., resident, enrolled in Simpson University’s School of Adult Studies’ online psychology degree-completion program. He was familiar with an online program format, having completed an associate’s degree in Christian Ministry from The Kings Seminary in Van Nuys, Calif., mostly online.
“I decided to return to college to open up more opportunities for myself,” he said. “I decided to apply to Simpson because I wanted to even further expand my possibilities by getting my B.A. in psychology.”
Morales, along with over 200 other students, received degrees during Simpson’s spring commencement ceremony on Saturday, April 25. Students from the traditional undergraduate studies program, ASPIRE, the School of Education, and A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary participated in the graduation proceedings. His high GPA made him eligible for Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society for continuing education students who receive a GPA of 3.8 or higher.
While in ASPIRE, Morales was part of a 16-month-long online degree program. He stayed connected with professors and classmates by using Skype and Moodle, Simpson University's online learning management system. In addition to psychology, the ASPIRE program offers an online bachelor of arts degree in organizational leadership.
“What I found rewarding is even though it is an online platform, I was able to still connect to the others in my cohort and in the process learn a lot of great stuff,” he said. “Even more rewarding may be that I personally grew in the process of learning.”
Morales started the ASPIRE program in January 2014 while he was living in the small town of Stonyford, Calif.
“At the time I started Simpson I lived about 40 miles from any larger towns, and none of them offered on-campus classes,” he said. “Online education is not the easiest, but if you can’t take classes on campus, the convenience is a good reason.”
Simpson’s online psychology program accommodated Morales’ busy life. While living in Stonyford, he served as a church pastor and worked part-time as a school bus driver and in the general store. A year ago he moved to Willows and started working as a print and mail services assistant at California State University Chico.
“Online was very convenient because I could do homework and participate in the classes on my own time,” he said. “I think it just fit for me.”
Earning his degree was not an easy task for Morales. He had to balance work, family, and school responsibilities. He also faced financial struggles.
“I started school at the same time my wife did, so we were both in school and working jobs, while still maintaining a family,” he said. “We have also had many financial challenges to think about, which is why we worked so much. I have to say my family has been amazing through this process. I couldn’t have accomplished this without them.”
After graduation, Morales plans to find a job in a psychology-related field using the new skills he has learned. He also hopes to attend graduate school and go into a career in counseling and/or therapy.
Based on his experience, Morales said he would recommend the ASPIRE program to others.
“I feel it is quality education taught by quality teachers,” he said. “The teachers have not only taught the information well but are encouraging in the process. I really feel like I’ve had several coaches along the way.”
Margaret Hampton, class of 2016, organizational leadership (online)
Five years after taking a college sculpting class for fun with her daughters, Margaret Hampton graduated with her B.A. in organizational leadership through Simpson University’s School of Adult and Graduate Professional Studies, ASPIRE program. She was also one of the first in her large family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
“This degree will allow me to find employment that will help me to be self-supportive, an effective leader, and an inspiration to my children and grandchildren,” she said. “One of my daughters told me that I have inspired her to go back to college to seek her degree, and she will be attending Simpson in the future.”
Hampton, a mother of three and Redding resident, was one of more than 160 students who graduated during Simpson’s winter commencement ceremony on Jan. 21. She was also inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society for continuing education students who maintain at least a 3.8 grade-point average. Hampton graduated with a 3.95 grade-point average.
“Although I am 53 years of age and have had many medical issues that could have put me at a standstill with my education, I pushed forward to reach my goal,” she said. “This has been a tremendous accomplishment for me, and I am so very thankful for my experience at Simpson University.”
Hampton started taking ASPIRE courses in the fall of 2015. She was part of a 12-month-long online degree program. She connected with professors and classmates using email, Skype, and Moodle, Simpson’s online learning management system. In addition to organizational leadership, the ASPIRE program offers an online B.A. in psychology.
“The online classes allowed me to be comfortable doing my schoolwork in my own environment,” she said. “I could also work at my own pace and at any hours. I also had the convenience of taking my schoolwork to comfortable places that I would not be able to do on campus.”
Earning her bachelor’s degree was no easy feat for Hampton. While in the program, she had several surgeries that left her bed-ridden for long periods of time, and she dealt with a panic anxiety disorder.
“I was not going to let these struggles stop me from reaching my goal,” she said. “I faced my fears and challenges and worked through them with great success.”
For Hampton, all she has learned and how to utilize that knowledge in a career were the most rewarding aspects of the ASPIRE program.
“I found that I am capable of achieving a degree and the program has allowed me to realize that I love to learn,” she said.
Based on her positive experience, Hampton said she would recommend the ASPIRE program to others.
“I have received an excellent education and great support from the professors and my counselor,” she said. “The staff in the ASPIRE program care about their students and have helped me at times when I felt overwhelmed and ill. They truly care about their students and their futures.”
Hampton was also challenged in her faith journey while attending Simpson.
“The ASPIRE program has helped my relationship grow with God,” she said. “I have learned to turn to the Bible often and study His word to strengthen myself. I have also received prayers from my professors and others through hard times from Simpson.”
Hampton is looking for a job that will utilize what she has learned in her leadership classes at Simpson and the psychology classes she took while at Shasta College. She plans on taking classes toward earning her master’s degree in organizational leadership from Simpson starting this fall.
Jeanette McBroome, class of 2016, organizational leadership (online)
Jeanette McBroome had multiple reasons for celebrating on Jan. 21. Not only did she celebrate her 52nd birthday, she also received her bachelor’s in organizational leadership from Simpson University’s School of Adult and Graduate Professional Studies, ASPIRE degree completion program, during the school’s winter commencement ceremony.
McBroome, an Anderson, Calif., resident, was also inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society for continuing education students who maintain at least a 3.8 grade-point average.
McBroome first attended college in 1983, where she earned an associate’s degree from Shasta College in Redding. With encouragement from her boss, she decided to return to school and earn her bachelor’s degree.
“I applied to Simpson because the tuition was lower than other colleges that I checked,” she said. “ I also liked that it was an accelerated online program that allowed me to work from home using my own schedule and get through the courses quickly.”
McBroome chose to major in organizational leadership because it fit well her responsibilities as a laboratory supervisor at Mercy Medical Center.
“Earning this degree was a natural progression to my training,” she said. “I also wanted to build on my current leadership abilities by becoming the best leader I could be,” she said.
McBroome started taking ASPIRE courses in the spring of 2015 and was part of a 16-month-long online degree program. She connected with professors and classmates using email, Skype, and Moodle, Simpson’s online learning management system. In addition to organizational leadership, the ASPIRE program offers an online B.A. in psychology.
“I’m a hands-on and visual learner, so attending lectures is not well suited to my learning style,” she said. “I also have a busy and chaotic schedule at work with varying hours and days, so the online course let me work when it was best for me.”
One of the features McBroome liked most about the ASPIRE program was the fast-paced classes.
“Completing one class every five weeks kept things interesting and exciting,” she said. “You didn’t have time to get bored.”
Based on her positive experience, McBroome said she would recommend the program to others.
“The ASPIRE program is great for people who have busy or unpredictable schedules,” she said. “The online courses are great for people who are self-motivated and disciplined. Working online gives you the freedom to do the classwork when it fits your schedule.”
Denise Knox, class of 2016, organizational leadership
Redding resident Denise Knox’s time as a student in Simpson University’s ASPIRE degree-completion program was a time of academic and spiritual development.
“I chose Simpson because it was a Christian university, and it was local,” she said. “I not only wanted to study general education, but I wanted to learn more about the Bible and sharing my faith in Christ with the world.”
Knox, along with more than 230 other students, received degrees during Simpson’s spring commencement ceremony on April 30. She was also inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society for continuing education students who maintain at least a 3.8 grade-point average.
Knox first attended college in 1977 but dropped out when she got married. She returned to school in 2007 and earned her certified nursing assistant (CNA)/home health aide credentials from Shasta College in Redding. She worked as a CNA prior to attending Simpson.
Knox explored options for returning to college and decided to pursue B.A. in organizational leadership through the School of Adult Studies.
“I chose organizational leadership because it seemed very well-rounded,” she said. “It prepares individuals to lead in any group or organization, but it can open up a door to a teaching career as well. It gives more options to be hirable, in my opinion.”
While in the ASPIRE program, Knox was part of a 16-month-long on-campus degree program. She attended class from 6 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays.
“One of the things I learned about myself in this pursuit is that I need to be around people, engaging them in person,” she said. “I am an audio/visual learner, so being able to engage the instructor, watch him/her and ask questions on the spot is important to me. I enjoy when others in the classroom have a different slant on something and they speak up.”
Knox, a 57-year-old widowed mother and grandmother, faced multiple challenges during her time in the ASPIRE program, including struggling with family issues and finances.
“Doing this program at this stage in my life has been a real challenge, but I know God has a purpose in all of this,” she said. “I have met so many great people along the way who have helped me. My faith tells me He sent them to me. And now that it is almost over, I can look back and see His hand in all of it. He took care of me.”
By attending Simpson, Knox said she was able to achieve the deeper biblical understanding she was searching for.
“I am less worried now about having all the answers about God,” she said. “I am more interested in walking in a moment-by-moment relationship with Him that is vital and alive. I feel like since I have been at Simpson, I really see God in others in a more intense way. I look for God in others.”
She said she also gained a great understanding for other cultures.
“I learned much about other cultures, other worldviews, and that the gospel message has to be given out with wisdom and sensitivity to people who do not have the same background as I do here in the West,” she said. “God created a very beautiful diverse world with many different cultures, and they bring glory to Him. I feel more equipped to share Christ with others who are unlike me now.”
Based on her positive experience, Knox said she would recommend the ASPIRE program to others.
“I think it is always good to further your education, and the ASPIRE program is a way someone can do it and not lose their home and job in the process,” she said. “This program expands your thinking and helps you to understand that people who disagree with your view are not necessarily wrong. In fact, you may find out that you are the one who is wrong.”
Knox is unsure of how she will use her degree, but she is considering multiple I ideas, including working in family services, education, or church leadership. She is also thinking about teaching on the mission field.
Jeffrey Arndt, class of 2014, organizational leadership (online)
Growing up, Jeffrey Arndt was unable to attend both his eighth grade and high school graduations. On Saturday, Jan. 10, he participated in his first-ever graduation ceremony, where he received his B.A. in organizational leadership from Simpson University’s School of Adult Studies ASPIRE degree-completion program. He also became the first member of his family to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Arndt, a 28 year-old Redding resident, chose organizational leadership as his degree because of his experience at U.S. Bank in Redding, where he has worked for the last seven years in different roles, including being a member of the wealth management team, a banker, and a teller.
“The experiences and knowledge I have gained because of the program have already helped me in my career,” he said. “I feel much more equipped for any challenges that may come my way.”
While in ASPIRE, Arndt was part of a 16-monthlong online degree program. He stayed connected with professors and classmates by using Skype and Moodle, Simpson University's online learning management system. In addition to organizational leadership, the ASPIRE program offers an online B.A. in psychology.
“The flexibility is by far the best thing about the program,” he said. “I could log on whenever and wherever and knock a few assignments out, though the weekends are when I took care of the bulk of my assignments.”
Arndt first attended college after he graduated from high school in 2004, but he had to stop in order to work. He later transferred to Shasta College in Redding, where he took online classes and the prerequisite courses needed to enter the ASPIRE program.
When Arndt started taking classes at Simpson, he was hoping to further his career. Shortly after starting the ASPIRE program, however, he received a job promotion, and his desire for a college degree changed.
“Now my degree is for me, a trophy that signifies my completion and determination to finish school,” he said.
After graduation, Arndt plans to continue working at U.S. Bank and eventually pursue his M.B.A. He also plans to spend more time with his wife, Rebekah, and son, Leon.
Arndt said one of the best parts of the ASPIRE program was the group projects. “They were the most rewarding, as they challenged me to work with people with completely different backgrounds, ideals and expectations,” he said. “More importantly, I made friends because of those projects, and that is priceless.”
Based on his experience, Arndt said he would recommend the ASPIRE program to others. “While I sometimes feel like I ‘missed out’ on the college experience, I got a lot of life experience instead,” he said. “The ASPIRE program is great for anyone with a career, a family, or anything else that makes traditional classes inconvenient or unattainable.”
John Cravens, class of 2014, psychology
Redding resident John Cravens has a desire to counsel people going through the process of overcoming and recovering from addictions, so he attended Simpson University’s School of Adult Studies, ASPIRE program, to earn his B.A. in psychology.
“I chose the psychology major because I wanted to better understand human behavior and why people do what they do in order to gain knowledge about how to help them,” he said.
On April 26, Cravens was one of 200 students who received their diplomas at Simpson’s spring commencement.
Cravens, 44, first started attending Shasta College in 2007 and decided to return to school and enroll in Simpson’s degree-completion program in 2012.
“I decided to return to college so that I could go further in a career where I have the opportunity to help people who are struggling,” he said. “I chose Simpson because it is a faith-based university.”
One of the challenges Cravens faced in pursuing his education was time management. He had to balance working full time with family, church, and school responsibilities. He also struggled with health issues, undergoing surgery a few months ago, but he only missed one class.
After graduation, Cravens plans to continue working as a case manager in the residential drug and alcohol program at the Good News Rescue Mission in Redding. He counsels men going through the mission’s 18-month-long New Life Recovery Program, helping them with relapse prevention and personal life struggles. He also teaches several classes, attends various house and staff meetings, and participates in case management of the students.
“I have lots of life experience and have been through the New Life Recovery Program myself,” he said. “This, along with my relationship with Jesus, made me a prime candidate for counseling men in the mission’s recovery program.”
Cravens is also planning to attend classes through the California Association of Addiction Recovery Resources in June and is considering pursing his master’s degree.
Cravens said he enjoyed many things about the ASPIRE program, including the accelerated schedule and night classes. One of his favorite parts about the program was the cohort structure.
“Having the cohort has helped me to not feel alone in my endeavor,” he said. “The camaraderie has been very helpful.”
He also enjoyed the faith-based aspects of the program.
“It has been awesome to attend a Jesus-believing university where prayer and devotions are often a part of the classroom experience,” he said.
Based on his experience, Cravens said he would recommend the ASPIRE program to others.
“It is a great way to get a degree in a shortened period of time,” he said. “The fast pace and intensity are well worth it. Also, the class size and cohort structure is exceptionally valuable and helpful.”
Timothy McBrayer, class of 2014, business management
On April 26, Redding resident Timothy McBrayer achieved a dream he has had for almost 40 years. After years of hard work, he received his bachelor’s degree from Simpson University’s School of Adult Studies, ASPIRE degree-completion program.
“The biggest goal that I have had for most of my adult life has been to earn a bachelor’s degree, and I have achieved that goal,” he said. “I don't know what difference it will make in my life, but I know it will be a great satisfaction to know I have achieved it.”
McBrayer, 57, received his B.A. in business management at Simpson’s spring commencement ceremony. He was also inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society for continuing education students who maintain at least a 3.8 grade-point average.
“I decided if I was ever going to finish my bachelor’s degree, I had better get serious about it,” he said. “I looked into ASPIRE, and the Business and HR Management degree program seemed like a perfect fit.”
McBrayer started his college education at Shasta College in 1974 and had completed two associate degrees by 1978. He decided to return to school in 2013 to further his career.
“I thought two two-year degrees would be good enough for any future career,” he said. “However, I found out years later two two-year degrees do not equal a four-year degree. Several positions I applied for required a bachelor’s degree, and I was passed over. Also, in some positions I held I was not paid as much as I would have been if I had had a bachelor’s degree.”
McBrayer said the biggest challenge he faced while in the ASPIRE program was working full-time while going to school.
“Even though the courses are only one night per week for five weeks, there is still quite a bit of outside class work that is required,” he said. “Finding time in the evenings and on weekends is not easy at all. It is worth it, though.”
After graduation, McBrayer plans to continue working full-time as the staff accountant at Neighborhood Church in Redding, a position he’s held since 2010. His job includes bookkeeping, accounting and human resources responsibilities. He also plans on attending his 40th high school reunion at Enterprise High School this summer.
McBrayer said he likes many features of the ASPIRE program, including the class schedule and being in the same cohort throughout the program. He appreciated how the ASPIRE program helped him develop his conversational skills and equipped him with tools he can use in his career.
Based on his positive experience, McBrayer said he would recommend the ASPIRE program to others.
“I believe ASPIRE is a worthwhile degree program for those, like me, who have earned other college credits and work experience, to earn a bachelor’s degree while still working,” he said.
Katherine Kelly, class of 2013, liberal studies
Twenty-four-year-old Redding resident Katherine Kelly has known since fifth grade that she wanted to be a teacher and help students realize their full potential. She enrolled in Simpson University’s School of Adult Studies, ASPIRE program, as a liberal studies major to help her reach that goal.
“I have always loved teaching and school,” she said. “I get along really well with kids. I want to teach a generation dedication and hard work and show them that they can combine all the parts of their life to be who they want to be.”
On Jan. 11, Kelly was one of 195 students to receive their diploma during Simpson’s winter commencement.
Kelly’s 16 months in the ASPIRE program were full of stress and hardship. During her first semester, she and her husband, Kenny, had to move because of break-ins at the house they were renting. They also switched church families, which turned Kelly’s social life upside down.
In February 2013, Kelly gave birth to their son, Lucas. The next month, her husband lost his job, so she went to work at an after-school program. After finding and losing a second job, Kenny found a job out of state in Oregon, so Kelly and Lucas traveled to see him when she wasn’t in class.
“I had tons of support from my friends and family,” she said. “I couldn’t have got through this without them.”
Despite her struggles, Kelly enjoyed attending the ASPIRE program. She appreciated the small class sizes and getting to know other students.
“I got really close to three of the girls in my cohort,” she said. “We had an amazing camaraderie and got to see each other at the same time each week for a year and a half. We did homework together. They prayed for me, shared books, and offered housing during my hard times.”
She also liked the class structure and affordability of the program. Since classes were only once a week, Kelly didn’t have to spend extra money for a babysitter or for gas to get to school.
“I love the acceleration and one class at a time,” she said. “I loved that there’s not busy work and that everything I learned was applicable to my degree. Simpson is the best deal as far as time and money.”
Based on her positive experience, Kelly said she would recommend the ASPIRE program to others.
“I think it is a great program,” she said. “It is great for anyone with a complicated, busy life.”
Before enrolling at Simpson, Kelly attended Shasta College in Redding. She also ran her own business as a Premier Designs Jewelry consultant, taught Sunday school for 10 years, and taught in after-school programs for four years.
Kelly started credentialing classes through Simpson’s School of Education the second week of January. She hopes to graduate with her multiple-subject teaching credential in April 2015 and eventually teach math or science at the middle-school level.
Sarah Lawhorne, class of 2013, organizational leadership (online)
Sarah Lawhorne’s journey to earn her bachelor’s degree took her over 40 years. She started her undergraduate education at the University of Maine in the 1970s, and she completed it on April 27, when she graduated with a B.A. in organizational leadership from Simpson University’s ASPIRE degree-completion program.
Lawhorne, a 60-year-old Redding resident who grew up in Maine, first applied and was accepted to the ASPIRE program in 2006, but due to life circumstances she postponed finishing her degree. By the time she returned in 2011, the university was offering an online organizational leadership degree.
“There are many advantages to online education,” Lawhorne said. “Despite its requirements of discipline and dedication, you can acquire a degree from anywhere in the world that has Internet connections.”
The past 16 months have offered many challenges for Lawhorne. “When I began this educational journey I had very limited abilities,” she said. “The last time I wrote a paper was 40 years ago in long-hand. I barely typed, I had never used Word, never done a PowerPoint or used YouTube.”
Lawhorne admits that she was never very successful at academic learning and was usually a C student. That changed when she entered the ASPIRE program.
“I wanted to give it my all, so I could finally feel accomplished in my academic endeavors,” she said.
Her hard work paid off, and she graduated with a 4.0 GPA, making her eligible for Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society for continuing education students who receive a GPA of 3.8 or higher.
Like many women, Lawhorne said, she delayed getting her degree in order to focus on family responsibilities. She worked at various jobs, including being a special education tutor, running an inn on the coast of Maine, and teaching skiing for over 35 years.
Ever since childhood, she has had a passion for the Middle East; in 2009, Lawhorne made her first trek to the region to attend the King of Kings Media School in downtown Jerusalem.
“It was an amazing environment,” she said. “Living in such a diverse community was fascinating. I learned that when we demonstrate honor toward others no matter where they come from or what they believe, we honor God, and our behavior opens doors and hearts to share his love.”
In 2010, she attended Youth With A Mission’s (YWAM) Marriage of the Visual Arts Discipleship Training School, in Herrnhut, Germany. She and a small team of students spent two months in the nation of Jordan teaching English and computer skills. She also participated in a Middle Eastern prayer summit in Cairo, Egypt, a few weeks after the Arab Spring uprising.
Lawhorne made her third visit to the Middle East in spring 2011, when she visited Tunisia, a nation in North Africa, on another YWAM outreach trip. After finishing this trip, she felt it was time to return to California and finish her bachelor’s degree.
Now that she has graduated, Lawhorne is considering several opportunities, including graduate studies at the London School of Theology, where she could learn more about the Middle East at the school’s Islamic Institute. She is also investigating positions at YWAM and other non-governmental organizations where she could utilize her organizational leadership degree.
“The ASPIRE program not only helped me realize my educational goals, but it also gave me the desire and confidence to expand the scope of my dreams,” she said.
Leah Moua, class of 2012, psychology
Leah Moua made family history when she accepted her college degree during Simpson University’s spring commencement on April 28. Though others in her family have earned two-year degrees, Moua was the first to earn a bachelor’s degree – and she did it with honors.
Moua, a Redding resident, was among more than 250 graduates and one of 76 students who graduated from ASPIRE, Simpson’s degree-completion program which allows working adults to finish their degree in 16 months. Her high GPA made her eligible for Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society for continuing education students who receive a GPA of 3.8 or higher.
Moua’s determination to earn her degree was not only because she wanted to advance in her career. The mother of three, ages 3, 6 and 9, wanted to communicate the importance of higher education.
“My main drive in getting a college education was for my children,” said Moua, 30. “I wanted to set a different example for them and have them see the benefit of working hard for a degree.”
Moua said her kids were excited about the idea of her going back to school, and she hopes that her determination plants a seed in their young minds that education is important.
“My oldest son said to me, ‘Mom, when you get your graduate degree, I’m gonna call you Master Mom, and then when I grow up and get my doctor degree, you have to call me Dr. Son,” she said.
Moua’s parents were also supportive of her earning her degree. Her dad, Teng Moua, said, “Leah is the first of my 10 children to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. This makes her mother and me very proud. We had always hoped our children would choose a higher education, and now Leah has done it. I am hopeful that she has influenced her family and friends in pursuing educations as well."
While she was in the ASPIRE program, Moua worked full-time as an intervention specialist at Parent Infant Programs, a non-profit organization in Redding that provides services to families with children with social and communication delays. Majoring in psychology proved beneficial as she works with young children, ages 0 to 3, who are at risk for autism.
“Between working and being a full-time mom, I needed a program that worked for me,” said Moua. “The ASPIRE program worked so beautifully for my life. It’s a misconception that you can’t go back to school if you’re older, or if you have kids or a full-time job. It’s not a factor. The program schedule makes it possible.”
Moua plans to apply for Simpson’s Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology (MACP) program next fall. She hopes to continue working with children and would like to someday open her own practice and teach psychology at a junior-college level.
Summer Pansariang and Heidi Redmon, class of 2011, organizational leadership
Siblings Summer Pansariang and Heidi Redmon celebrated together as they graduated with honors at Simpson University’s winter commencement ceremony on Jan. 21.
“Going through the ASPIRE program was another life experience that we were able to share together,” said Pansariang. “It brought us closer together.”
The two sisters were among 117 graduates who earned their B.A. degree from ASPIRE, Simpson’s adult degree-completion program. Over 67 students graduated from other programs including traditional undergraduate studies, the School of Education, Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology, and A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary. Simpson holds two commencement ceremonies a year.
The sisters, who both graduated with a 4.0 GPA, were eligible for Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society for ASPIRE students who receive a GPA of 3.8 or higher.
Growing up, the sisters’ nearly five-year age difference seemed like a lot. Pansariang moved away from home when her younger sister was entering high school, and life took them in different directions. Years later, circumstances brought them closer together.
After relocating from different states to Redding, the sisters, who are both single parents of two children, found themselves at the same point in their lives: wanting to finish their college degree to fulfill a personal accomplishment, and pursue a career path that would provide stability for their family.
The sisters enrolled at Simpson at the same time. Pansariang, 32, who works part-time for Comfort Keepers, and Redmon, 28, who works part-time at From the Hearth Café, chose to earn their degrees in organizational leadership, a major that offers an every-other-Saturday format, allowing them to continue working.
“The ASPIRE program is perfect for working adults and people with children,” said Redmon. “It’s more doable than a traditional format, and because you stay with your whole class through the program, you end up feeling like family.”
During the 16-month program, the sisters spent most of their time together and supported each other through exams and studies.
“We were always side-by-side,” said Pansariang. “We supported one another through the program. We’d keep each other on track and bounce ideas off each other. The nights before big exams we would text each other all night. I loved it.”
Watching them cross the stage at graduation were their four children and parents.
“Our kids were excited for us,” said Pansariang. “Our motivation was to be a good example to them. In order to provide them with a better future, we needed to complete our college degree.”
Though the sisters share a similar career goal, they will likely use their degree in different areas. Pansariang hopes to find a job with a non-profit organization that helps women overseas, and Redmon will look for employment with a business doing good works in other countries.
Dale Sorling, class of 2010, psychology
More than a half-century after Dale Sorling graduated from high school, he earned a bachelor's degree in psychology through Simpson University's ASPIRE program.
The 72-year-old honor student is the oldest student to graduate in Simpson's 90-year history. He was among 133 graduates at Simpson's winter commencement on Jan. 22, including 103 from the Adult Studies (ASPIRE) program.
Despite his successful career as an engineer, a business owner, and a minister, Sorling said that earning his college degree was always a dream of his.
After marrying his childhood sweetheart, Carol, and raising four children--who have given him ten grandchildren and six great-grandchildren--Sorling decided to take classes at Shasta College to begin his college education.
"It's been a long road," he said. "I'm not as young as I used to be. Health injuries and surgeries caused me to postpone my degree. There were some times I thought about giving up, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it."
With a 3.8 grade-point average, Sorling was eligible for Alpha Sigma Lambda, an honor society for ASPIRE students.
Sorling said he had some trepidation about returning to school later in life, but relationships with fellow classmates and professors made it easier.
"ASPIRE had great professors that inspired me, and I developed close relationships with classmates. One of them calls my wife and me 'mom and dad'."
In August, Sorling plans to begin the Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology program at Simpson. He plans to become a psychologist to troubled youth.
"I am 72 but I still have potential and I'd like to utilize that to help someone else," said Sorling.
When asked what he would tell others who are on the fence about earning their college degree, Sorling said, "There's no excuse not to do it. Financial aid is available, and it's worth it. Education is something that can never be taken away from you."
Regina Weston, class of 2016, organizational leadership
After being out of school for 10 years, Regina Weston challenged herself to pursue her dream of finishing her college degree. Between working full-time, spending time with her family, and being a member of her local roller derby team, Weston needed a degree program that fit her active lifestyle.
"I decided to apply to Simpson because the ASPIRE program was the perfect fit for me,” she said. “I needed something that would allow me the flexibility that the ASPIRE program does.”
Weston, 38, of Weed achieved her dream by receiving her bachelor of arts in organizational leadership at Simpson University’s spring commencement ceremony on April 30. She was also inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society for continuing education students who maintain at least a 3.8 grade point average.
Prior to enrolling at Simpson, Weston was working full-time as a resource and referral program specialist at Siskiyou Child Care Council, a non-profit organization that helps families find quality childcare.
Her desire to take on a greater leadership role within a non-profit was another reason she returned to school.
“Working in the non-profit field for the past 10 years, I knew that eventually I would like to become an executive director,” she said. “I knew I would need to have the skills and education to take on such a challenge. After reading more about Simpson’s organizational leadership program, I felt it would give me the tools I would need to become an effective leader.”
While in the ASPIRE program, Weston was part of a 16-month-long online degree program, which she started in January 2015. She stayed connected with professors and classmates using Skype and Moodle, Simpson’s online learning management system. In addition to organizational leadership, the ASPIRE program offers an online B.A. in psychology.
“Living in Weed and having a full-time job and family made it impossible for me to attend traditional on-campus classes,” she said. “Simpson does an amazing job of creating a really immersive online environment; even though you are not in a classroom, you still are able to interact with your professors, as well as classmates, through forums, and group assignments.”
One of the challenges Weston faced in pursing her education was time management.
“The most challenging part was figuring out how to juggle everything and make time for school,” she said. “It was definitely an adjustment for me and my family, especially since ‘school’ took place at home. I learned very early on the importance of planning my weeks so I allowed ample time to study and complete my homework assignments.”
Weston works full-time as a program director at the Family and Community Resource Center of Weed. She said she applied for the job last summer because of the skills she had already gained from classes.
“I can honestly say that I would not have even applied for this job if it had not been for the organizational leadership program and the confidence that I had in myself and my abilities to be a successful leader,” she said.
Weston said she enjoyed all aspects of the ASPIRE program, including being part of the Simpson community and getting to know her academic advisor and professors.
“Everything about the process has been rewarding, from my new-found confidence in my abilities as a leader to the tools that I have gained that will help guide me through my future endeavors,” she said. “Also, being able to show my daughters that even though it took me this long to finish my degree, I never gave up hope or the belief that one day I would.”
Based on her positive experience, Weston said she would recommend the ASPIRE program to others.
“I have recommended the ASPIRE program to anyone who is thinking of returning to school,” she said. “The ASPIRE program works. So, I have and will continue to recommend it to anyone who is considering getting their degree.”
Weston said she was also impacted spiritually while a part of the ASPIRE program.
“As someone who grew up in a very religious home, I rebelled a bit against that after leaving home,” she said. “My time at Simpson has brought me back to my faith, and I appreciate that more than words can express.”
Weston plans to continue her journey of becoming a non-profit executive director by pursuing her master’s in organizational leadership with an emphasis in non-profit management through Simpson’s School of Graduate and Professional Studies.
Joseph Reynolds, class of 2016, business management
Joseph Reynolds has a knack for making family history. Through an educational journey that spanned 20 years, he became the first person in his family to earn a high school diploma, attend college, and earn a bachelor’s degree.
Reynolds, a 53-year-old Red Bluff resident, was one of more than 160 students who graduated during Simpson University’s winter commencement ceremony Jan 21. He received a degree in business management with a concentration in human resources management from Simpson University’s School of Adult and Graduate Professional Studies, ASPIRE program.
Reynolds first attended Shasta College in 1986 and received vocational training as a heavy-duty mechanic. After suffering a work injury and going on permanent disability in 2002, he returned to Shasta to find a new career path.
“I always knew that continuing my education would be the way to get beyond my disability,” he said. “Once I headed down the path of business management, I knew it was the right fit for me.”
It was while he was attending Shasta that he learned about Simpson’s ASPIRE program.
“I kept hearing people saying they planned on enrolling in the ASPIRE program at Simpson, and I was very curious what the program was and what it had to offer,” he said. “After doing some research, I knew that I also wanted to transfer into the program because it sounded like a perfect fit for me.”
Once he had completed his general education requirements, Reynolds enrolled in the ASPIRE program’s 12-monthlong business management degree program in the fall of 2015. He attended classes on Simpson’s campus one night a week on Tuesdays, with each course lasting five weeks.
“Simpson provided an excellent on-campus experience that I would not have traded for any solely online option,” he said. “There is nothing like being able to interact with your fellow students and your professors, or to sit through an interesting lecture. To miss out on these things would have diminished my college experience.”
Reynolds said one of the best features of the ASPIRE program was the group of students he went through the entire program with, called a cohort. He liked the relationships that he was able to make.
“You really get to know your cohort and feel very comfortable working with them in any situation that may present itself,” he said. “You are able to develop a respect for your cohort’s capabilities and limitations.”
While in the program, Reynolds struggled with health issues, including an undiagnosed heart condition. He was able to overcome this challenge with the help of his cohort, professors and family.
“If it had not been for the support that I received from everyone at Simpson I might not have finished my education at this time,” he said. “Without the help of my family, I would not have been able to complete the program.”
Reynolds also said that he was challenged in his faith journey by attending the ASPIRE program.
“My time at Simpson allowed me to renew and develop my faith to a new level,” he said. “The religious studies courses that I took and the openness of my cohort and professors about their faith helped to open my eyes to the realities of a relationship with God.”
Reynolds’ short-term goal is to find a job where he can apply what he learned in the ASPIRE program in a real-world setting. His long-range goals include finding a job with the potential for advancement, pursing his master’s degree, and opening his own business.
“My business management degree has given me the skills, knowledge, and abilities that I need to succeed in the business world and are applicable to a wide range of businesses,” he said. “I have never had a skill set with so many possibilities.”
Marybel Torres, class of 2014, liberal studies
Marybel Torres’ desire to teach and help the children in her Tehama County community took her on a journey to earn her B.A. in liberal studies through Simpson University’s School of Adult Studies ASPIRE degree-completion program. In addition to being a full-time student, she works multiple jobs and is busy raising her children, Deanna, 6, and Jesus Jr., 5.
“Teaching has become my passion, and Simpson is that big step which will allow me to achieve my dream,” the Gerber resident said.
Torres, along with 146 other students, received degrees during Simpson’s winter commencement ceremony on Saturday, Jan. 10. Students from the traditional undergraduate degree program, ASPIRE, the School of Education, the School of Graduate Professional Studies, and A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary participated in the graduation proceedings.
Torres was part of a 16-monthlong liberal studies degree program that met one night a week, a typical format for the ASPIRE program, which is designed to provide affordable and convenient schooling options for working adults to complete their bachelor’s degrees.
“The ASPIRE program allowed me and fellow students to focus on one subject at a time, allowing us to retain information so much better than with traditional schooling,” she said. “The hours were reasonable and allowed us to be employees, parents, or even volunteers.”
Torres also enjoyed the cohort set-up of the ASIPRE program.
“The relationships made in the cohorts are relationships for a lifetime,” she said. “We found many similarities in our lives; our cohorts are like an extended family. Support for one another was always there.”
One of the biggest obstacles Torres overcame in obtaining her bachelor’s degree was finances. “As a single mother, the cost of a higher education is expensive,” she said. “I was lucky enough to receive several scholarships which allowed me to focus on my schoolwork and not the financial strain of college.”
Before the 31-year-old started college, Torres worked as a waitress to help support her family after her father suffered a serious back injury. When she was 21, she was hired to work in the SERRF (Safe Education & Recreation For Rural Families) Afterschool Program at Los Molinos Elementary School. Even though she had no teaching experience, Torres’ bilingual skills as a Mexican-American made her an asset in the classroom.
In order to advance in her career, Marybel started taking classes at Shasta College in Redding in 2003, and over the course of 10 years, she earned associate degrees in human development and language arts. She was the first person in her family to go to college.
Torres planned to transfer to Chico State to finish her bachelor’s degree, but ever-changing transfer requirements kept putting that goal out of reach. “I felt disappointed,” she said. “Being a single mother of two children and working two jobs, I felt defeated.”
Torres first visited Simpson in April 2013 when one of her classes at nearby Shasta had been cancelled and she had time before her next class.
“I was introduced to a calm and loving campus with welcoming staff,” she said. “I was given the best information and introduced to the ASPIRE program. I left the coffee shop with my heart telling me, ‘this is where you need to be.’”
That same day, Torres decided to transfer to Simpson. She started ASPIRE classes at Simpson in May 2013. She began credentialing classes through Simpson’s School of Education in fall 2014 and hopes to do her student teaching at Los Molinos Elementary School or Gerber School in Tehama County. Her ultimate goal is to teach in Tehama County with an emphasis on English language development.
“I want to be a positive role model for Hispanic students in Tehama County,” she said. “I want to change the lives of students and encourage them to attend college and be an active participant in their local community.”
Marybel also said she was challenged in her faith journey through the ASPIRE program.
“Professors starting class with prayer allowed the Holy Spirit to guide me and help me learn,” she said. “Attending Simpson reminded me that God has faith in me. He has given me so many blessings this past year in ASPIRE, I found myself reconnecting my faith in God and returning to church.”
DeeDee LaChance, class of 2013, psychology
Red Bluff resident DeeDee LaChance has a heart for troubled youth and children in the foster care system. In order to help counsel them, she attended Simpson University’s School of Adult Studies, ASPIRE program, to earn her B.A. in psychology.
“I have always been interested in what made people ‘tick,’ and since I wanted to work with troubled youth it only made sense,” she said. “It is my belief that the children of today, who are the future of tomorrow, need to know that someone cares for them.”
On Jan. 11, LaChance was one of 195 students who received their college degrees during Simpson University’s winter commencement.
LaChance faced obstacles while earning her degree. In order to fund her education, she had to take money out of her IRA. She also struggled with a medical issue that affected her academic progress.
Despite these struggles, LaChance persevered and completed her degree.
She said she enjoyed many aspects of the ASPIRE program, including going to class in the evening and praying before class. One of her favorite things about the program was her professors.
“The encouragement that I received was powerful,” LaChance said. “I had some amazing professors who have no idea what a positive influence they had on me; they kept me going without even knowing it.”
A combination of things motivated LaChance to earn her degree. Before going back to school, she worked as a travel agent and spent time with her twin grandsons. As the economy went downhill and her grandsons got older, she said she realized it was time for a change.
Her volunteer work with youth at the juvenile hall in Red Bluff also factored into LaChance’s desire to earn her bachelor’s degree. “I had a strong desire to be able to counsel them, but without that degree I knew it was impossible, so I got serious about pursuing higher education,” she said.
Now that she has finished her degree, LaChance is writing a non-fiction story about part of her life. She hopes the story will be in print by June of this year.
LaChance is also going to work as an advocate for foster children through a program called Court Appointed Social Advocates (CASA), which she spent nine years working to bring to Tehama County. She first got involved in the program when she lived in the Monterey Peninsula and worked with CASA as a volunteer.
“I have a heart for children and wanted to be part of a solution and so when I had the opportunity to become an advocate I jumped right in,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade my time with a child for anything. It grew my heart and made me more compassionate for the less fortunate.”
If her health and finances allow, LaChance would like to earn her master’s degree.
“If I were to get my master’s, I would work with the youth of my community to make a difference in their lives,” she said.
Melinda and Robert Richardson, class of 2013, liberal studies
Red Bluff residents Melinda and Robert Richardson went on unique dates during the past 16 months. Instead of going to dinner or a movie, they commuted to Redding most Thursday nights to attend class through Simpson University’s ASPIRE degree-completion program.
On April 27, they will both graduate with bachelor of arts degrees in liberal studies. They will be among 214 Simpson University students—including more than 50 in the ASPIRE program—who will walk across the stage during an outdoor spring commencement ceremony.
The biggest challenge the Richardsons faced in continuing their education was time management. While they were in school, Robert worked full-time at the Walmart distribution center in Red Bluff, and Melinda stayed home with their three sons: Robert, 8, David, 6, and Elijah, 4. She also helped with language arts and math groups at her sons’ school and took care of her aunt with special needs.
“We had to balance going to school together, being ready for the babysitter, getting work done at home and doing school work,” Robert said.
Robert began his college education in 2008 after being honorably discharged from the Air Force in 2007. While attending Shasta College and Chico State, he realized he was looking for a different type of school setting. When he started the ASPIRE program, he knew he had found the right fit.
“The whole experience doesn’t have a young college feel,” he said. “It is an older crowd focused on school. The teachers cared and were more available than others I’ve had. They were so knowledgeable.”
Melinda started her college education after graduating from high school in 1999. She attended Shasta College, San Jose State and Chico State before taking a break from school when she got pregnant with her oldest son.
She recognized the need to finish her degree when she could not make more than $10 an hour while transitioning back to life in the States after Robert was discharged from the military. The family had been living in England. “Even though I had completed four-and-a-half years of schooling, it meant nothing without a degree,” she said.
Robert and Melinda plan to start teaching credentialing classes through Simpson’s School of Education in May. Robert hopes to teach junior high or high school history. Melinda wants to share her love of math with junior high or high school students. They have considered teaching in the north state or internationally at military schools.
“I always wanted to teach,” Robert said. “I want to do something for others like I did in the military. I want to help someone else have a better life.”
“I want give back and help out my community,” Melinda said.
Photo: Melinda and Robert Richardson with sons David, Robert, and Elijah. Photo by Eric Leslie.
Jason Beeman, class of 2012, business management
Twenty years ago, Jason Beeman had five classes left to graduate from Sacramento State University. Then the opportunity of a lifetime crossed his path – the chance to play pro baseball in Canada.
“It was always my dream,” the 40-year-old Red Bluff resident said.
He dropped out of college and moved north. Two years later his baseball career ended, and instead of returning to college, he started working.
“That’s been one of my biggest regrets,” he said. “A college degree was always in the back of my mind.”
Sixteen months ago he returned to college, enrolling in Simpson University’s ASPIRE degree-completion program. On April 28, he was one of more than 250 graduates (including 76 ASPIRE students) honored during Simpson’s spring commencement.
When Jason started with the ASPIRE program, he was working for the Red Bluff Police Department and knew he wanted to make a career change. He got a sales job with Lithia Toyota.
“I had a desire to progress through their corporate structure,” he said. “I wanted to get a degree in a field where I could apply my learning.”
Jason knew it would be a challenge to jump back into studies. ASPIRE classes meet one night a week, or on weekends, for 16 months.
“Before enrolling I went back and forth on whether I should do an online course or ASPIRE,” he said. “The instruction with professors was so excellent that I know I made the right choice.”
His wife and teenage daughter and stepdaughter were supportive as he tried to balance work and homework.
“It was helpful for (the girls) to see me practice what I preach about the importance of a college education,” he said.
Jason graduated with honors, qualifying him for membership in Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society for continuing education students.
“I feel an amazing sense of accomplishment,” he said. “The key is knowing that it’s never too late. The fact is, you can do it.”
Lisa Kassik, class of 2011, psychology
For Lisa Kassik of Corning, earning her college degree was a lifelong goal two decades in the making.
The 47-year-old mother of three first began college courses nearly 23 years ago, and even though she has gone through difficult times, she holds firm to her motto: everything we go through can better prepare us to help others.
Kassik was among 184 graduates at Simpson’s winter commencement on Saturday, Jan. 21, including nearly 120 from the ASPIRE program.
Kassik always considered herself to be a good student. Studies came easy to her, and friends and family always thought she would go to college. After high school she enlisted in the military until she became pregnant with her son. After the birth of her son she began taking college courses and graduated with her A.A. degree. But years later, Kassik’s life began to spiral out of control due to substance abuse. At her lowest point, she said she was homeless and living under a bridge and her mother took custody of her son.
Her struggle with substance abuse continued for several years until she found help at the House of Mercy, a women’s rehab center in Oroville.
“It was at that time, my life started over,” she said. “I was transformed and have never looked back. My life has been moving forward in the right direction ever since.”
After she worked as a waitress and cleaned hotels, Kassik’s husband, Lee, encouraged her to apply for a job at Sierra Pacific, where he had been working. She was offered a full-time position in the window division of the company.
With her life back on track and her three kids out of high school, Kassik knew that it was the right time to finish her degree. But just before enrolling in college, Kassik’s dad lost a long battle with cancer.
“The goal of finishing my college education was always in my heart,” she said. “My dad accepted the Lord before he passed away, and he had always pushed me to go back to school. I’m doing this not only for myself, but as a way to honor my dad.”
“When I dropped out of school, I was a good student,” Kassik said. “For me, coming to Simpson University was a way for me to prove to myself that I could still do it. I needed to come full circle.”
Kassik, whose three kids are attending college, said she hopes she inspired them to earn their degree. “Hopefully they think, ‘If mom can do it – so can I.’”
After graduating, Kassik will continue working at Sierra Pacific, where she has been for 13 years, and continue volunteering at PATH, the Tehama County homeless shelter. She plans to look into becoming a social worker or community advocate.
“Completing my education was very dear to my heart,” she said. “The Lord has had His hand on this journey, and I want to do what He has planned for me. I believe everything I’ve gone through was so I could better serve others.”
Dana Thomas, class of 2011, psychology
For Red Bluff resident Dana Thomas, earning a college degree was always a goal, but after high school, life put her goal on hold. After her husband passed away in 2004, she was unsure if she would ever earn her degree while being a stay-at- home mom.
"I never thought I would earn my degree, but I'm really relieved I did," she said. "If I can do that, then maybe I can do the next step."
On April 30, the 41-year-old mother of two fulfilled her goal, graduating with honors with a B.A. in Psychology from Simpson University's Adult Studies (ASPIRE) program.
In 2005 Thomas returned to school to earn her bachelor's degree. Somewhat unsure if she could succeed, she started by taking classes at Shasta College. There, Professor Peter Young told her about ASPIRE and encouraged her to enroll. Having done well at Shasta, she gained the motivation and self-esteem she needed to enroll in the 16-month degree-completion program.
While in the ASPIRE program, Thomas was faced with many obstacles. Her dad was diagnosed with brain cancer in July 2009, and her stepmother had a stroke a year later.
"ASPIRE allowed me the flexibility to be there for my family and still get my work done," she said.
Thomas said that while earning her degree was no easy task, she feels relieved and would tell anyone who is on the fence about earning their college degree, "If I can do it, you can do it!"
Thomas is considering a master's degree in marriage and family counseling through the University of San Francisco.
Julie Trujillo, class of 2016, business management
Julie Trujillo returned to school to pursue her bachelor’s in business management from Simpson University’s School of Adult and Graduate Professional Studies, ASPIRE program, in order to provide a positive example for her two children that hard work pays off.
“Showing my children that hard work will provide the best future for themselves will hopefully encourage them to be the best that they can be,” she said.
Trujillo, a 28-year-old Weaverville, Calif., resident, was one of more than160 students who graduated during Simpson University’s winter commencement ceremony Jan 21.
Trujillo first attended Shasta College in Redding in 2007. She decided to earn her bachelor’s degree from the ASPIRE program because it accommodated her lifestyle.
“I feel that is geared toward most people who have a family and work full-time,” she said.
Trujillo enrolled in the ASPIRE program’s 12-monthlong business management degree program in January 2016. She attended classes on Simpson’s campus one night a week on Tuesday nights, with each course lasting five weeks.
“I chose a major in business management because that is the field I have been working in for many years,” she said. “I felt the education I was provided would be more beneficial for my future.”
Trujillo said one of the features she liked most about the program was the relationships she was able to build with her professors.
“They all knew what kind of lifestyle I had, and they worked with me,” she said. “The best part was that I was able to communicate with my professors openly about any issues I was having in regards to life or my education concerns.”
In addition to going to school, Trujillo worked full-time as an accountant for the Trinity County Department of Transportation, juggled family life and work schedules, and planned her wedding. Balancing all these responsibilities proved difficult at times, but the outcome was worth it.
“I found the most rewarding part of this whole program was overcoming all those challenges and completing something I started,” she said.
Julie Marsh, class of 2016, organizational leadership (online)
When Julie Marsh decided to complete her bachelor’s degree through Simpson University’s School of Adult and Graduate Professional Studies, ASPIRE program, she considered majoring in either business management or organizational leadership. After looking into both programs, she chose to pursue organizational leadership because it complemented the business experience and background she already had.
“I felt that the organizational leadership degree would add more to my resume,” she said. “It is also a personal passion to bring elements of psychology and personal development into business.”
Marsh, a 45-year-old former long-time Lewiston, Calif., resident, was one of more than 160 people who graduated from Simpson University during a commencement ceremony on Jan. 21.
Marsh first attended college in 1989, where she earned an associate’s degree in 1991 from Shasta College in Redding. When her husband had major surgery in 2015 and couldn’t return to his job, Marsh decided to go back to school.
“I knew I needed to create options for our family,” she said. “I had all the skills for senior level jobs, but I just couldn’t check that ‘degree required’ box.”
When it came time to choose a college, Marsh said picking Simpson was an easy choice.
“Not only am I a Christian, but I also have many friends who work at Simpson,” she said. “I also wanted to finish my degree quickly, and Simpson had a one-year program.”
Marsh had the opportunity to be a part of both the on-campus and online organizational leadership programs. When she enrolled in ASPIRE in January 2016, she started in the on-campus program. She took classes on Simpson’s campus one night a week on Wednesday nights, with each class lasting five weeks.
“I loved being in the classroom and interacting with my professors and peers,” she said. “I received strong positive feedback on my work which made me feel great and increased my confidence.”
When Marsh and her family moved to Portland, Ore., in October 2016, she began taking classes online.
“I was a little nervous about switching to the online degree,” she said. “What I discovered was the greater flexibility worked really well for my life. I also learned some new skills related to technology, and that was a benefit to me in other areas of my life.”
While in the ASPIRE program, Marsh balanced her school responsibilities with her freelance writing career and homeschooling her teenage-age son. She also dealt with financial challenges and moving to another state.
Marsh learned she qualified for financial aid, which helped offset some of the financial strain of going to college. In additional to federal aid, she was awarded two scholarships.
Based on her positive experience, Marsh said she would recommend the ASPIRE program to others.
“It is affordable and fast,” she said. “It is also geared toward adult learners with the understanding that the students are working and have family responsibilities.”
Since moving to Oregon, Marsh has continued working as a freelance writer. She has also started an online magazine called Forty and Flourishing and is looking for a job.
“Having this degree allows me to pursue high-level jobs with confidence,” she said.
Stephanie Rebelo, class of 2013, organizational leadership
Weaverville resident Stephanie Rebelo was motivated to earn her B.A. in Organizational Leadership from Simpson University’s School of Adult Studies so she could be an example to her son and the teens she works with at a local youth center called The Factory.
“The accelerated program that is offered through ASPIRE was very appealing,” Rebelo, 29, said. “When I found out more about the college and that it was a Christian college, I was very excited to experience Christ in higher-level academia.”
Rebelo enrolled in the ASPIRE program in August 2012 and was one of 195 students who graduated Jan. 11 during Simpson University’s winter commencement. She was also inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society for continuing education students who maintain at least a 3.8 grade-point average.
Rebelo’s road to earning her degree was not an easy one. Two weeks after delivering her son, Maximus Adonai, via C-section, Rebelo attended the ASPIRE orientation.
“Strategy with a new baby was tricky because my husband travels for work and is in the process of finishing his doctorate program,” she said. “Orchestrating our school loads, work, and one amazing blessing—our son—was sometimes a challenge.”
Rebelo also works as the operations manager at the teen center she and her church, Weaverville Church of the Nazarene, started in October 2011. Her job responsibilities include working directly with teens, volunteers and community members, and creating events and an overall atmosphere where all teens feel welcome.
In addition, she had to travel 90 miles round-trip every other week to attend class. Over the course of the program, she had to deal with construction delays and bad weather during the winter.
Even though she faced difficulties, Rebelo enjoyed being part of the ASPIRE program.
“The thing that I found most rewarding was my cohort,” she said. “We really connected and bonded as friends. My cohort shared 16 months that we won’t soon forget. I am blessed to have had this experience, and I only hope to take this knowledge and bless others with it.”
Rebelo was also encouraged by her professors.
“The life experience of the professors who are teaching the material is enough to give a person training to stand out in the world,” she said. “I hope to make them proud with the leader I will become.”
After finishing her bachelor’s degree in August, Rebelo started taking classes for her M.A. in Organizational Leadership through Simpson’s School of Graduate Professional Studies. She has also continued working at the teen center in Weaverville.
Tiffany Wright, clas of 2013, psychology
A desire to help children succeed in life inspired Weaverville resident Tiffany Wright to enroll in Simpson University’s ASPIRE degree-completion program in the spring of 2012.
“I chose to attend Simpson because I knew it was time to follow my passion of working with children and families,” she said. “I decided to major in psychology, a subject that I have loved since high school.”
On April 27, Wright graduated with her B.A. in psychology. She was one of 214 students who received diplomas during Simpson’s spring commencement ceremony.
Wright’s journey to obtain her degree has not been easy. She planned to start the ASPIRE program in the fall of 2011 but delayed returning to school when her father-in-law passed away from cancer.
“I wanted to be fully focused and energized for my new adventure,” she said. “I started in the spring of 2012, which I believe was God’s plan for me so I could meet my fellow cohorts. I can’t imagine what this program would be like without my cohorts. They have become like family to me.”
Nine months into the 16-month-long process to earn her degree, Wright’s garage burned down. She lost many personal belongings, but her home, family, and pets were protected.
“Losing those sentimental things that could never be replaced was tough to digest. But, in reality, it was all just stuff,” she said. “Now more than ever I realize that God has blessed me with gifts. and I intend on using those gifts to serve him.”
Wright began her college education at Southwestern Oregon Community College in Brookings, Ore., in 2003. She started to pursue her associate’s degree in early childhood education but put her schooling on hold to work full-time as a manager a of cell phone store.
“I have a thirst for learning, and I think I always knew I would return to college someday. I just wasn’t sure when or how or where,” she said.
Wright realized she wanted to further her education while working at a preschool for autistic children in Sacramento.
“I discovered that I had a passion for working with children,” she said.” “I wanted to understand their behavior and learning processes.”
Now that she has her bachelor’s degree, Wright hopes to go into social work or pursue a teaching credential or a master’s degree.
“I want to find myself working with young children and help them reach their potential,” she said.
Carol Scherf, class of 2012, organizational leadership
A heart for underprivileged children motivated Trinity County resident Carol Scherf to return to college in her mid-60s to complete her bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership.
Scherf, 65, watches three children two days a week while their mom teaches. She and her husband, Tom, have raised four children of their own and assisted 17 other children during their five decades together. They have been 4-H leaders for 41 years and very involved in county, state and national committees for the development of youth programs.
“I want to be a voice for these kids with no voice of their own,” Scherf said. “These children go through hell, and they’re amazing and will give so much to our world.”
Scherf, affectionately called “Grandma” by her classmates, was one of 162 students who graduated Jan. 12 from Simpson University in Redding. The university holds commencement ceremonies in January and April. Scherf and 100 others earned degrees from the School of Adult Studies (ASPIRE program).
The Scherfs moved to Hayfork nine years ago. They run a cattle and sheep ranch for Mike and Polly Sumner and work three vineyards. Scherf does bookkeeping for the business.
Two friends who earned their degrees through Simpson’s ASPIRE program recommended it to Scherf, who had “returning to college” on her bucket list, along with traveling and writing children’s books.
“One friend kept saying you’ll never find people as concerned about your mental and spiritual being as you do at Simpson,” Scherf said. “I found that to be the case.”
For 16 months, Scherf drove the winding roads to Redding to spend eight hours in class on Saturdays. In snowy weather, Tom went with her, and they would stay overnight. What seemed a daunting timeframe at the start ended up flying by, she said.
“Every teacher told us you don’t think it will ever end, but it will pass by so quickly you’ll be amazed,” she said. “It’s true.”
Scherf already had a two-year degree in horticulture and another in accounting. When she first saw her ASPIRE classmates, who ranged in age from 18 to early 40s, she thought how much they had to learn about life.
But they surprised her. “These are amazing, talented people,” she said. “These kids gave me so much more than you could ever imagine.”
Scherf appreciated the closeness of class members, who encouraged and supported each other in their studies and life events. “That was probably the thing I’ll treasure most,” she said. “The sharing with teachers and the cohort.”
She also gained increased self-confidence and motivation to reach her goals.
“I have no hesitation now,” she said. “I’m already writing some kids’ books. You feel like you can conquer the world.”
Tom Bradford, class of 2011, psychology
Weaverville resident Tom Bradford proves that no matter how busy life is, it is not impossible to finish your college degree.
“At times it was hard to balance everything, but I knew a degree would allow me to advance in my career and be assigned more responsibility,” he said. “During the challenging times, I’d remember that, and it would keep me going.”
On April 28, Bradford was among more than 250 graduates at Simpson University’s spring commencement ceremony, including 132 from the School of Traditional Undergraduate Education, 76 from the School of Adult Studies, and 41 graduate students.
Bradford enrolled in ASPIRE, Simpson University’s adult degree-completion program, 16 months ago after he transferred from Shasta College. The psychology major wanted a degree in a field related to his work, but most importantly, he needed a flexible schedule that would allow him to focus on life’s other priorities.
Over the last year and a half, Bradford commuted to Redding one night a week to attend classes.
For the last three years, Bradford has worked as an assistant probation officer for Trinity County. Under the direction of his supervisor, Chief Terry Lee, his responsibilities include providing services for juvenile courts, supervising cases, preparing court documents and appearing in court. Bradford said Lee supported his decision to finish his degree.
“My supervisor was fully supportive of me earning my bachelor’s degree,” said Bradford. “He saw potential in me and encouraged me to go for it. He gave me a lot of motivation.”
Since 2008, Bradford has been active in the U.S. Army Reserves, which requires travel and training one weekend a month through the end of his contract in 2014. In July 2011, Bradford was appointed by his platoon to compete in The Best Warrior competition, where he won first place and went on to compete in Utah. After winning that competition, he competed again in Missouri. Though he placed second, he will be competing in Kentucky in May after the first-place winner became unable to compete. The competition includes physical and mental tests as well as a written exam.
Last November, Bradford also became a father.
“It was an exciting year, and I had a lot going on,” he said. “But I had this drive to keep going because I knew people were counting on me."
Bradford said what was most helpful to him was receiving support from his supervisor, family and Simpson staff. “Life can be busy, but there’s always an hour a day that you can dedicate to schoolwork. Even though it was challenging, it was well worth it,” he said.
Letty Garza, class of 2011, organizational leadership
For 47-year-old Letty Garza of Weaverville, earning her degree from Simpson University fulfilled one of her lifelong dreams.
The university's spring commencement, held on April 30, graduated 206 students, including 126 from traditional undergraduate studies, 50 from the Adult Studies (ASPIRE) program, eight from A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary, and 13 from the School of Education.
"As a single mom, ASPIRE offered me a convenient weekend format that made it easy for me to earn my degree," said Garza, who works for Trinity County's Health and Human Services.
Garza's daughter, Victoria, watched her graduate along with other family members from the San Joaquin area.
"My daughter was a good supporter while I was in ASPIRE," she said. "She would quiz me on information to help prepare me for exams, and she'd let me practice my Power Point presentations with her."
While the ASPIRE program has seen an increase of adults returning to school so they can stay competitive in the job market, Garza's reason for earning her college degree stems from a dream she had postponed for several years.
"I've always had the desire to earn a college degree," she said. "I enjoy learning, and I wanted to grow personally and professionally.
ASPIRE professors had positive things to say about Garza. Adjunct Professor Mike Borgaard said she often went above and beyond.
"Letty set a very positive tone in the classroom," he said. "She was enthusiastic, prepared and collaborative, and distinguished herself as an excellent student."
Garza has been a full-time deputy director for Health and Human Services for eight years and says her degree will help her be a more effective manager.
"I feel very appreciative to the ASPIRE program," she said. "It's great for single parents."
Garza is the youngest of nine children and the first in her family to graduate from college.