Debra Stevens, Instructional Specialist Department of Adult Education, Cecil CollegeJun 02, 2021 01:13PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
Cecil County Life: Your path forward, to say the least, has been an extraordinary one – an arc that began when you dropped out of high school to the pursuit of your Doctorate in Business Administration from Wilmington University. What have been the predominant factors that have enabled you to keep your eyes on the prize, and those that you wish to share with others?
Debra Stevens: I want to start by saying that during the journey to finish my Doctorate, there were times when I would wonder why I was working on this degree. Then the thoughts come to me of why someone sets out on their journey.
For those on any kind of personal journey, it is important to reflect on the reason for the journey in the first place. Think of what you wanted to accomplish and why. That constant reflection is a chance to think about your goals and how you are taking action to align the work you are doing with the achievement you want to accomplish.
Let’s start at the beginning of that arc. What was happening in your life that contributed to your choosing to drop out of high school?
I always had good grades in school and made the honor roll. When I got to high school, it was more anxiety of over the non-academic parts of school and I felt out of place. In hindsight, I realize I was not the only one who felt that way and began to see that most push through to find their path.
Instead of choosing to return to high school, you earned your GED from Cecil College in April of 1986. What led you to making that decision, and describe what earning that diploma did for your self-confidence.
After withdrawing from high school, I started looking for a job, but without a high school diploma, my options were limited. I soon realized I needed to finish my diploma to have more options available.
Instead of returning to high school, I decided to go ahead and try to pass the GED Test. I had several family members that got a GED and they were supportive of me taking the GED Test. When I received the envelope in the mail that had my GED, I was so excited I had passed the test and made that first step. At the time, I knew I wanted to do more, but it took me a couple of months to figure it out.
You then received an Associates Degree in Business Administration from Goldey Beacom College, a Bachelors Degree in Business Management from Goldey Beacom in 1996, and in 2008, you earned a Masters in Business Administration from Wilmington University. This period of your arc certainly had its challenges, but yet you remained true to your goal. Talk about the support that you received from others during this period of your education.
My parents and my husband supported me as I worked through obtaining my degrees. Along the way, there were times I stopped taking classes, which was usually between degrees. I found once I finished a degree, I needed to take a break and reassess where I was personally, with my job, and with my family. I wanted to make sure that continuing was the right goal and that I was continuing on the right path. I had discussions with my family, advisor, and instructors who helped me find my way.
Your arc may bend forward but it also bends toward a part of your past. As you pursue your Doctorate in Business Administration, you are also applying your life experience and education as a teacher for Cecil College’s adult education program. What inspired you to dedicate your time to helping others achieve their goals at Cecil College?
I feel that at this point in my life, I have come full circle. It is rewarding to put my energy and passion of education to work to help others achieve their goal. We all have different goals and different ways of getting there. I know from experience that it can be a long and winding path, and most students need some help along the way to see where the work finally helps them achieve their ultimate goal.
In a recent online article published by Cecil College, you said, “I tell my students, 'You must search for what is right for you and remember nothing worth having comes easy.’” It is safe to say that each one of your students is engaged in a giant self-balancing act of dreams and responsibilities, hopes and obligations. Do you ever look at the journey your students are on and reflect that your own journey greatly overlaps theirs?
I see the students I work with juggling some of the same situations I did during my educational journey. They have jobs, other obligations, children, and school. I feel there are some situations I can share with them to give them just a little bit of motivation to continue and to not feel alone or as if they are the only ones that have these struggles. Our other staff, faculty, and I are there to help them anyway we can to help them achieve their goals.
For those who may be reading this article and are struggling to make their way in the world, what can you take from your own experience and give to them as a gift to use on their journey?
Even though everyone’s goals and dreams are different, many face similar struggles along the way. Facing and overcoming those struggles to reach a goal makes achieving that goal ever better. Also, try not to focus on all the work needed for the final outcome, but break it down in smaller pieces and just focus on this one class, or that one homework assignment. Literally, take it one step at a time. You may have to stop and take a breath but keep climbing.
-- Richard L. Gaw