When Paula Phipps (right) received her bachelor’s degree in June with a handshake from Interim UC President Monica Rimai (left), she says it still didn’t feel entirely real. She is now entering graduate school.
Paula Phipps has sat through many first days of school—but it has taken her many years to see the one she’ll attend this month.
Phipps, 37, is starting graduate school in the speech-language pathology program at the College of Allied Health Sciences, after graduating from the college’s communication sciences and disorders undergraduate program in June.
She was the 2009 Allied Health flag bearer marshal and recipient of the 2009 Katie Haumesser scholarship. Her professor Carney Sotto, PhD, describes her as an enthusiastic student, good collaborator and “a really special person.”
But Phipps did not have the smoothest path to her degree.
The daughter of a teenage mother, she grew up in the home of her grandparents, who did not finish formal education. She says they both pushed her—Phipps’ grandmother taught her to read at an early age and her grandfather’s leadership inspired her to apply for college.
After first enrolling in higher education in 1992, she attended three different schools and worked several jobs before leaving.
“It was really a struggle for me,” she says. “I was having a terrible time trying to pay for school and work full time.”
In the ensuing years, Phipps earned her real estate certificate, worked as a mortgage loan officer and spent a year in AmeriCorps.
She also started a family, first as a single mother. But Phipps says that having her daughter, Ella, now 5, put more emphasis on her education.
“My line became a lot straighter after my daughter,” she says. “I think that she helped to make me focus. Now that I know there’s another person who is going to be depending on me, I have to plan for her future.”
Phipps says she endured “a lot of late nights and a lot of early mornings” to get her degree. She returned to Cincinnati State and then Raymond Walters College, where she learned of UC’s speech pathology program.
“I’ve always been a person who really enjoys reading and communication … but I never thought it could lead to a career,” she says.
With this goal, Phipps set a path to complete her degree, arranging work schedules and relying on her family and fiancé for encouragement and support. She placed on the Dean’s List for five of her final quarters.
“I think she finally knew what her goal was, to be a speech pathologist, and she was going to do it,” says Sotto, who aided Phipps with her application and essays, which Phipps says helped a lot.
“Through the application process, I didn’t have other resources to go to, to ask ‘What was it like for you when you were in graduate school?’” she says. “That person doesn’t exist in my family.”
“It’s up to people like us to recruit or mentor students in her situation,” says Sotto, who serves as the director of first year experience at the College of Allied Health Sciences.
“That’s part of our job. We’re not just there for teaching or research; this is part of the service that you’re not taught in school.”