Jennifer DePeel will tell you: Be careful what you say out loud.
She was sitting by her mother’s bedside at University Hospital when she unexpectedly blurted out: “Mom, I think I need to go back to school.”
“She was my biggest supporter,” DePeel says of her mother, who passed away in 2003.
DePeel had the education revelation knowing full well what the future held if she followed through.
She’d already used the piecemeal method to complete her associate’s degree (physical therapy assisting) at UC’s College of Allied Health Sciences.
A single mother of two, she’d squeeze a class in here and there sometimes working three jobs to pay tuition and keep the household running. But she decided to do it again. Fast forward to today, and DePeel is one class away from a bachelor’s degree in health sciences and contemplating graduate school.
“Thank God I had UC. Without the education and flexibility it would have been a whole lot harder,” she says of carving out a professional identity when it could have been so easy to just shrug her shoulders and say it’s impossible.
“I just started taking one class at a time—tediously,” she jokes when chronicling her years at UC.
The outcome has been well worth the effort. Her associate’s degree led to a full-time position as physical therapy assistant at the Drake Center’s Rehabilitation Lab, and the pursuit of a higher education positioned her as a research associate in the application of neurorobotic limbs.
And as if she wasn’t stretched thin enough, she’s traveled three times to underdeveloped countries where she teaches modern physical therapy practices. The greatest reward, however, is the positive impact it had on her children, DePeel says.
“They both definitely saw the value of education. They saw me struggle so they understand the sacrifices Imade. I was always working or studying.”
It’s this type of dedication as well as her commitment to her children which has allowed her to stay with this and eventually get to her goal, says Tina Whalen, PhD, head of rehabilitation sciences.
Whalen adds: “Most people wouldn’t have the persistence or the tolerance to stay with it. She’s inspiring.”