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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement.
By the time Kristina Cates decided to go back to school, nine years had passed since she first set out for her degree. The first in her family to go to college, Cates was accepted into a number of top universities directly out of high school. Unfamiliar with the financial aid process, however, Cates selected her local community college.
Over the next two years, Cates met her husband, moved from Florida to Atlanta and — just one semester shy of earning her associate degree — began losing her eyesight due to multiple sclerosis. While her eyesight eventually returned, Cates was already working in a career in the nonprofit sector and didn’t foresee returning to school.
“I withdrew from school in January 2005 and didn’t return until 2014. I figured I didn’t need to go back,” said Cates. “I had two years of school, two years serving in AmeriCorps and was well into my career. It wasn’t until my husband became ill in 2013 that I decided it was time.”
By this time however, Cates also had two small children, a daughter (now 10) and a son (now 5) with autism. With a young son at home who was not yet ready to be away from her, Cates knew an online program was the only option.
After learning about ASU Online through her own research, which consisted of comparing the number of different programs, Cates realized ASU was the perfect choice.
“The Organizational Leadership degree program had everything I needed,” she said. “It was fully online and allowed me to build on the knowledge I had already learned.”
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: At 36, I am an older student. After having to withdraw from school due to my eyesight, I never thought I would go back. After leaving school, I did two years of service with AmeriCorps and started my career in the nonprofit sector. I figured I didn’t need to go back to school. But when my husband became ill in 2013, I realized I needed to be the alpha income and decided to go back to school. When deciding on a major, it was my experience in nonprofit management, research allocation, relationship building, etc. that lead me to organizational leadership. It matched with that I had done in the past and where I wanted to go in the future.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: So much of what I learned had been practical, more of the nuts and bolts, to organizational leadership. It was not until this last semester that I was able to get a wide view of the work I had been doing, and find real-life themes relating to what I learned while at ASU. I saw the skills that I had and how I could go forward in a totally new way. My background is in nonprofit management, and I thought I would move forward in that field following graduation. But through this experience, I learned my strengths include communication, writing developing storylines. It changed my direction. I am now looking at more copywriting and content writing opportunities in ways that I have never done before.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I needed a program that was entirely online. My son has autism and is still very young. When I started to think about going back to school, he was not ready to be away from me. So I needed something that fit to my schedule. I learned about ASU Online through my own research. I spent a lot of time looking at different programs, and ASU’s Organizational Leadership program had everything I needed and really spoke to me. With this major, I didn’t have to start over completely, but felt that I could also deepen my knowledge. It really was the perfect program.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: I would tell them to ask for help when you need it. The only real hiccup I had once I went back to school was with my health; my MS relapsed twice when I was at ASU. There are resources out there, but I didn’t know about them or ask for help. Throughout this, the Success Coaches were awesome and knew everything. They were great about helping out when I needed it.
Q: What was your favorite spot, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: Much of my studying took place at home, as getting outside the house does not happen very often. But when I can, I loved going to my local bookstore down the street from my house. They have a coffee shop inside where I could be alone with caffeine and Wi-Fi.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I am looking at a couple different options. I am applying for jobs, including one in the nonprofit sector. The job is remote, which would be perfect as I transition my son to school. I am also looking at a graduate program with Creative Circus, which is a creative portfolio school here in Atlanta. They offer a Copywriting Portfolio Program, which takes about a year and a half, and I think would be a great opportunity that I am really excited about.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would say access to food. There are approximately 3.1 million children that die each year from starvation. We have plenty of food to go around, but there are issues with distribution, equality and access that could be addressed with $40 million.