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What do you call a busy adult with masochistic tendencies? A student at CUNY SPS! Now that I have your attention… Hello! My name is Milan Fredricks and I am one of the newest masochists at the CUNY School of Professional Studies. If you don’t mind, I’d like to tell you a bit about me…

Nine years ago, I was pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree at CUNY Lehman College, having successfully completed three semesters. It was difficult because I was juggling work and family issues, but finishing my degree had always been a priority for me. Then, in 2008, everything came to a head. I became unemployed and those family issues imploded. My focus was shot and my fire was snuffed out. I missed lectures, didn’t show up for labs, and was generally “not all there” when it came to my classes. By the time mid-terms rolled around I had to admit to myself that this wasn’t working, and so I made the painful but necessary decision to drop out of Lehman.

But even then, in the midst of my unhappiness, I swore to myself “this is only temporary!” I figured that I would find another job quickly, work through my family drama and get back to school as quickly as possible. In hindsight, that was a bit naive of me. 2008 was the recession and the worst possible time to lose my job. For the next three and a half years, I experienced chronic unemployment, and the stress of constantly looking for work severely dampened that initial enthusiasm of returning to school. Worrying about my family, worrying about whether I would make rent that month, and suffering from insomnia and mild depression made school my last priority. I never forgot about the promise that I made to myself, but when faced with the possibility of homelessness and the stress of family turmoil, the importance of finishing my degree simply paled in comparison. Finishing my degree was out and basic survival was in.

Nine years later it’s hard to believe that I lost so much time. But the more time that passed, the easier it was to forget that promise. I think I was humbled by my bad experience and viewed finishing my degree as more of a luxury that I couldn’t afford. Even when things on the work front started to stabilize and the family stuff got resolved (somewhat), I still found it difficult to get back on track regarding my college career. It was fear more than anything else, now that I look back. I just didn’t want to take that risk. I was scared to rock the boat. But a few months ago, things changed for me. A light-bulb went on somewhere deep in the cob-webbed recesses of my brain and I decided to renew that promise to myself.

Today, I am a far cry from where I was nine years ago. My family and work circumstances have vastly improved. I am happily employed with an organization that I am proud to work for and 18 months ago I was promoted to a senior administrative position. In my new role, I get to work on projects that allow me to flex my creative muscles. Most notably is the website re-launch project that I managed and the marketing and branding initiative that a co-worker and I plan to propose. The more creative work I get to do, the more I’m pulled to the visual and the graphic. Design and communications have grown into a passion for me and I started teaching myself how to use creative tools, like the Adobe Creative Suite, in the hopes of improving my skills and broadening my repertoire. I am really interested in learning more about UI/UX design and I even enrolled in a course to learn more about full-stack web development! (Just enough to not embarrass myself.)

My educational journey has come full circle. The pain and shame I felt in abandoning my degree is lessened when I realize that, perhaps, that awful time was actually a blessing in disguise. I wasn’t as passionate about what I was doing back then as I should have been and that may be why I was able to walk away. I am now pursuing a degree that I am truly excited about. The CUNY SPS B.A. in Communication and Media degree will give me the foundation I need to jump-start the career I am falling in love with, one that emphasizes design.

But don’t think that I’m satisfied with just achieving my B.A. I plan to ride this new wave of energy and excitement all the way to my Master’s degree! I know that it will be hard. I mean, I’m only two courses into my first semester and I am still trying to shake off those cobwebs. But I’m getting there. That first step was definitely my hardest so everything else after that is within reach. A CUNY SPS degree is my gateway to the life that I want and the life that I deserve. Years of stagnation and regret have evolved into my renaissance age. With my degree and continued self-learning, I can see into my future. A future that has been nine years in the making.

Milan Fredricks is a born and bred New Yawker, a self-professed tech nerd, self-taught web and graphic design freak and lover of puppies and ice cream (Häagen-Dazs, none of that Turkey Hill garbage, and do not argue with her on that!). Her very large, immediate family drives her to the brink of insanity almost everyday but at least it gives her something to tell her therapist! Milan is currently enrolled in the Communication and Media bachelor’s degree program here at CUNY SPS.

As I write this I am sitting under a hooded dryer, 10 minutes into a 40 minute process involving 2 steps and 3 chemical mixtures to achieve one result: hide my gray hair. To be a successful magician I have to do this every 4 weeks and I am not alone; I am a hairstylist and all but a handful of the color clients where I work come in to get rid of their grays. In fact according to Professional Consultants and Resources’ 2012 research Americans spend $756 million to color annually—as a beauty professional, I can’t say I mind.

I started coloring my hair when I was 13 and have never thought much of it. In my mid-twenties, my want became a need due to the little crop of silver that had sprouted on the top of my head. Again I didn’t think much of it and went about coloring with the same fun and creativity as I had for over a decade, until about two months ago.

My life started getting pretty hectic at the end of August 2013. Classes started and the summer lull at work came to an end. My mom’s 60th birthday was coming up and my 33rd was 5 days later. I held off coloring my hair until the end of the month because I wanted the color to be fresh for our birthdays. But things got hectic and it never happened. Then I pushed it a little further because I was going on vacation and wanted it to be fresh for that, but things were crazy and I never got a chance. Before I knew it, 2 months had gone by! Looking at the top of my head, I had so much more gray than I realized. And then it hit me: I don’t know what my hair looks like; I don’t know how I look—naturally. That really messed with my head. I toyed with the idea of letting my hair grow out to see what I look like in my natural state. In a way it was kind of exciting. But could I do it? No, obviously not or else I would be sitting somewhere else right now. I thought and thought, constantly checking out other woman’s hair color. I had thoughts like, “She colors, and she doesn’t look too high maintenance,” and “She doesn’t color and she looks really good.” But ultimately, it came down to looking at gray haired people and asking, do I want to look like them. The answer, for me, was no.

Recently, many women have decided to give up coloring their hair—this emboldened my hemming and hawing about my own color. Less chemicals on your skin, less maintenance and an “I’m beautiful, accept me for who I really am” attitude that seems empowering. People have been coloring their hair for millennia; the cult of youth is nothing new. Ancient Egyptians used henna, and American woman began to color their hair late in the first half of the 20th century when hairdressers started working with caustic chemicals. A quick Internet search shows two distinct points of view: tips on how to be a silver fox and tips on the best ways to hide the ugly, wiry truth. It’s great that we have so many choices, but what are the consequences of this choice?

Apart from social pressure, there is professional pressure to look young. Even in my own hair debate I wondered if a hair stylist should have gray hair. Could it be done? In a world where our personal brand is increasingly more important, and people are staying in the workforce longer, both men and woman feel added pressure to artificially turn back the clock. This is an especially important thing to think about for people returning to school as many of us are entering our second careers and will be competing for jobs against traditional students that are a decade or more younger than we are. We need to look hip and contemporary without looking like we raided a Millenial’s closet—a tricky balance.

What I learned from my great hair crisis of 2013, as I now call it, is that what’s truly important is my ability to be confident and comfortable in my own skin. And right now, part that confidence comes in a bottle, and that’s okay.

 Ligeia Minetta is currently at student at The CUNY School of Professional Studies studying Communications and Media.

Idalia Reyes is a current student here at The CUNY School of Professional Studies, studying in the Online Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and Media. Academic Advisor, Johanna Rodriguez recently had the chance to ask Idalia a few questions about her goals and motivation for pursuing higher education, and here is what she shared with us:

Johanna: What are you hoping to accomplish in the next five years?

Idalia Reyes Online Bachelor's Degree in Communication and Media Idalia: In the next five years I hope to complete my Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and Media. It is not only one of my biggest goals; it is also the most important and challenging one that I have to accomplish.

Johanna:  What or who inspires you and keeps you motivated?

Idalia: The person who inspires me and keeps me motivated is “me.” I push myself very hard.

Johanna:  What challenges do you face as an online student? And how have you overcome those obstacles?

Idalia: Being an online student is very difficult on many levels. One of the biggest challenges that I face as an online student is always getting to know the curriculum in the beginning of the semester. I get so nervous. I overcome my obstacles by printing out the syllabus and the assignments, and then start a schedule for myself. There is not a day that goes by that I do not check my discussion board in Blackboard several times a day. Whether I am on vacation or working, I am constantly checking in.

The online program has made it possible for me to achieve my goal due to the industry I work in, as my schedule can be very unpredictable. The flexibility of going online anywhere and anytime has made it possible for me to complete assignments and keep up with my classes. It is an interesting program, but it requires dedication and discipline.

I will be very honest. I didn’t think that I was going to make it this far. I am still here, in my fifth semester and I enjoy it. What I found to be helpful is to always keep an open line of communication with your advisor. The School of Professional Studies cares about their students and their opinions. If it becomes difficult, the communication lines are open.

Joanna Rodriguez Admissions and Academic Advisor for The CUNY School of Professional Studies Online Baccalaureate Program.

Johanna Rodriguez is an Admissions and Academic Advisor for The CUNY School of Professional Studies Online Baccalaureate Program. When asked to reflect on her work here at SPS, she said:

How do I define advising? It’s funny because I had to explain myself to my older brother when he asked, “What is it that you do again?” I told him I advise students and teach them to become self-sufficient. I got the response “ohhh” and then he told me he was considering going back to school. His question did force me to think about my definition of academic advising.

The Greeks define learning as the process of bringing about self, and as an advisor I am here to help my students develop active leaning skills. I am here to guide students through their academic career and teach them to become independent and successful. Yes, I do make sure my students take on a balanced work load and make sure they contact financial aid on time, but along with those responsibilities I am teaching my students to become more self-sufficient.

To me the best part of my job is helping my students make choices that will in turn guide them on a new career path, and if it wasn’t for their education they would have not taken that step. I must agree with the Greeks because they were on to something, education isn’t just getting A’s but it is the process of developing yourself.

The CUNY SPS Academic Advisement Center for Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs is dedicated to furthering the educational mission of SPS by assisting the academic pursuits of students. The Academic Advisement Center helps students with educational planning, improving study skills, accessing learning support services, and adjusting to the demands facing adult learners.