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This post was written by Misty Gardner, a recipient of the CUNY School of Professional Studies ACE Scholarship, and representative on the Student Association.

Achieving Goals, One Cliché at a Time
This week, I will graduate from the City University of New York, School of Professional Studies with a B.A. in Psychology. Exactly twenty years ago, in the spring of 1997, I graduated from high school. Twenty years, an Associate’s degree, five colleges, and four degree program changes later I will finally achieve my goal of having completed my Bachelor’s degree. As is the case with so many of my fellow students at CUNY SPS, my journey has been a long one and I have learned some valuable lessons along the way.

Baby steps
When you want something, you have to set goals. Once you have identified a goal, put it in place and commit to achieving it. Set it, and forget it. Often, looking at the big picture leaves you feeling overwhelmed and this can discourage you from even taking the first step. No one gets from point A to point B in one step. Set your goal and then set about achieving it, one step at a time. For me, this began with filling out the application for CUNY SPS. I didn’t know if I had the time, I didn’t know if I had the energy, and I didn’t know how I would afford it. It took a bit of a leap of faith; I’d just have to figure it out when I crossed those bridges. And that’s what I did. I took it one semester at a time, one week at a time. I didn’t qualify for financial aid so I worked to get the best grades I could manage, one assignment at a time, so that I might be eligible for scholarships. Little by little, I did the best I could, focusing on each task at hand. I stopped letting the big picture overwhelm me and I got it done… one step at a time. It doesn’t matter how far you are from your goal right now, moving forward is always better than standing still.

The comfort zone
I can accredit the length of my journey, in large part, to fear. A career in the field that I am most interested requires an advanced degree. The idea of pursuing such a degree seemed just a bit too ambitious and I really wasn’t sure if I could even do it. Well, growth is often uncomfortable. Positive changes are hard to come by without doing something different and “different” is often scary. You must step out of that comfort zone. When your mind says, “I can’t do it,” do it anyway. This negative self-talk is deceitful and it will hold you back. At first, you will just have to ignore it and this will be uncomfortable. Once you begin to surprise yourself with what you are actually capable of (and you will), you will begin to challenge these thoughts. After a while you realize that “I can’t do it” has been replaced with “I’ve got this”. When you’ve given yourself this gift of confidence, obstacles are much easier to overcome.

It takes a village
Of course, getting to this point would have been much more difficult, if not impossible, if it weren’t for the support of others. My family has supported me in every way. They have been my inspiration to keep going, especially during the times that I wasn’t sure if I could. The faculty, staff, and my fellow students at CUNY SPS (some of whom I now call friends) have been instrumental in my success here by offering support, reassurance, or even an occasional needed laugh. In addition to allowing me to focus on my studies, no longer having to worry about tuition, having been chosen as a recipient of the ACE Scholarship has provided so many positive experiences, inspiring me to be my best possible self. This opportunity would not exist without the generosity of benefactor, Alan Fishman. We all have people that help drive us, supporting our efforts to grow. These are the people that push us to keep going when we are at our weakest and inspire us to pay it forward. Take the time to appreciate these people as they are a part of your journey; a part of who you are and who you will become.

The light at the end of the tunnel
As I close this chapter and move on to my next goal of obtaining my Master’s degree, I look back on this experience in awe. It certainly wasn’t easy but I worked hard and committed to finally achieving this goal, regardless of the obstacles that stood in my way. Not only did I get it done, I did so with straight A’s and I earned a full-tuition scholarship; all while being a full-time working wife and mother of three young children. I move forward with so much more than a Bachelor’s degree. Because of my experiences at CUNY SPS, I have grown to be a better version of myself. There was a time when I didn’t think I’d ever get here, but here I am… and if I can do it, anyone can.

Misty Gardner is a recipient of the CUNY SPS ACE Scholarship, a scholarship program designed to support high-achieving undergraduate students Achieve College Education (ACE). She will graduate from the Psychology degree program on May 31, 2017.

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Marcy Lewis graduated from the CUNY School of Professional Studies with a B.A. in Psychology just last week. She shares advice for new students, and talks about how she overcame many obstacles on the way to completing her degree.

Marcy Lewis is a recent graduate from the Psychology program.

1. What was your motivation/inspiration for completing your bachelor’s degree? Why did you choose to continue your education at CUNY SPS?

I have had so many things that have motivated me to complete my bachelor’s degree. Coming from a broken family of low socio-economic status and having my first child when I was very young created a desire for me to show my children that stereotypes do not define who you are or what you can accomplish. I wanted to do better for myself as well as my children and to inspire them that even in hard times you can still achieve your dreams.

I chose CUNY SPS because it offered me the complete package of what I was searching for in a University: flexibility, accreditation, affordability, positive reputation for online programs and a strong background in the academic success rates.

2. What is it like to earn a degree fully online?

Earning a degree online has been a mixture of ease and difficulty. I find that I learn better using this method of instruction yet when speaking with those who attend “traditional” classes it seems there is often a greater work load in online classes. I have found that it is crucial to be somewhat ahead of the game; slacking is just not an option as it will pull you behind faster than you could imagine. It really takes commitment, self-discipline, and structure to stay on top of all of your assignments. Being late can really affect not only your work but the work of the entire class. However, despite these difficulties I would not have taken any other route in getting my degree as it truly was the best fit for me.

3. What is the greatest piece of advice you received while at CUNY SPS?

Many of the professors I had here at CUNY SPS offered a similar piece of advice that I found to be quite crucial throughout my college path; taking care of yourself is vital to not just the body but the mind as well. Being someone with a chronic illness, Multiple Sclerosis, this can be quite difficult but I was able to incorporate much of the knowledge and skills I gained through my studies in increasing my overall wellness. By doing so I was able to significantly decrease the stress of being ill, taking care of a family, and taking a full course load each semester. To me, this was crucial in completing my degree.

4. What advice would you like to extend to someone considering entering the Psychology program at CUNY SPS?

The greatest piece of advice I could offer someone considering entering the Psychology program at CUNY SPS would be to interact as much as possible with your professors and classmates as this is how you will get the most out of your academic journey. Asking questions for clarification or direction as well as checking in regularly and participating in the class or group discussions are all vital in achieving greater learning in the online Psychology program. One of the main focuses I found in my online classes was concept of learning not just from the professors but from fellow classmates as well; we learn from each other and we succeed with each other.

5. In which ways have you grown as a result of your studies at CUNY SPS?

As a result of my studies at CUNY SPS I have grown intellectually through the new knowledge I acquired from professors and classmates. I have grown more confident in my abilities and with myself, not just in a professional manner but in personal matters as well. Most of all, I have learned that living with a disease that I cannot control does not mean I have to succumb to its disruption. It is empowering to know that you can take control over something so destructive and that is something that I do not know if I would have learned had I not continued pursing my education here at CUNY SPS.

6. What does earning a bachelor’s degree mean to you?

To many people earning a bachelor’s degree means a higher salary and greater prestige. Those, after all, were some of the reasons that enticed me to start undergraduate school. However, during my second semester I became ill and everything changed. I could have just quite when my doctor said I was unable to work. Why continue if I will never be able to use a degree? The answer is this; a bachelor’s degree meant so much more to me. It meant showing my children that no matter what life deals you to never give up. It meant keeping faith that maybe I can beat the illness and not let the illness beat me; maybe someday I CAN put it to use. It meant showing those nay-sayers that people can overcome adversity no matter how big or small and to never underestimate the underdog. It meant proving to myself that I can accomplish whatever I put my mind to.

7. What kind of impact do you think your degree will have on your professional and personal lives?

Having my bachelor’s degree will most definitely have beneficial impacts on my professional and personal life… if I am able to return to work. Before school I was a waitress, working long hours/weekends/holidays, constantly missing out on my children’s lives, living day to day on tips never knowing how much I would make; thankfully, those days are over. A bachelor’s degree in Psychology increases my job prospects in such a wide array of professions. Living in North Carolina I am able to take the needed exams to secure a teaching license or I can opt to work in my chosen field and assist with grief counseling for military families in my area… the options are quite plentiful as a Psychology degree is so versatile and can be beneficial in social work, business management, customer service, education, mental health etc. etc. etc… My degree has also benefited me personally because I have been able to incorporate skills I have gained to help family and friends during difficult times.

8. What do you hope to do after graduation?

After graduation I would like to work on getting stronger both physically and mentally so that I can return to work. I am hoping to either work with children and families in crisis or become teacher at the elementary level. Perhaps one day I will return to school; however, for now I would like to focus on my health and re-entering the work industry. But first I am going to take a little R&R and enjoy life, my family, and yes… the beaches of Coastal North Carolina.