September 29, 2023

Family, CSU help mom achieve education

Andrea StephensChance meetings sometimes yield very interesting results.

So it was for Andrea Stephens while she was writing a story about an education fair for the Arnold Air Force Base newspaper at Arnold Engineering Development Center.

“I had to go and talk with the various schools that were attending. Columbia Southern University was one of those that I spoke with that day,” recalled Stephens, who is an administrative assistant for public affairs. “I was very impressed with how well organized they were and how willing they were to answer my questions. After I completed my story, I decided to check with our education department and see what it would take for me to get signed up.

“The lady I spoke with was currently attending CSU herself and she explained to me how the classes were structured and how easy it was to stay on task because they constantly stay in touch with you. I was very enthused with what she had told me and decided to go ahead and sign up to see if this was something I could do.”

The Cowan, Tenn., native enrolled in 2010 and began a journey to reach a goal she has aspired to for a while.

“I chose an associate degree in business management because I felt that in almost any career field you must have some knowledge of business and how it operates. I believe that this will also open up the opportunity for advancement within the current position that I hold,” she said, adding that she feels a great sense of accomplishment from her work.

“I am always meeting individuals who in some way offer me their knowledge and skills. That in itself is a huge benefit to me,” Stephens commented. “It allows me to develop the type of individual that I want to be not only in my career, but in my personal life as well.”

And her personal life can be hectic at times. A wife and mother of two, Stephens, 32, has had to do some careful juggling of career, family and school.

“I try to keep things separate. After work, I leave it all at the office and don’t allow for it to take time away from my family. As a mother, I arrange for us to have family time where we all do something together whether it is a vacation, dinner, movie or just hanging out at home. This helps my family know just how important they are to me,” she said.

“As a wife, my husband and I set aside time for the two of us to go hunting, fishing or camping. Studying falls in between. I always take my studies with me, and if I have a little down time, that is when I study.”

She recalled that one of her most challenging moments while pursuing her degree was the day that she found out her husband was going to have to go out of state on business.

“That in turn left me with all of the responsibilities of taking care of our children, helping them with their homework, taking them to extracurricular activities, making dinner, cleaning the house and taking care of laundry all the while staying active in Eastern Star and working 40-plus hours a week,” she explained.

“It was quite a struggle at times, but ultimately I looked at what this accomplishment would do not only for me, but my family as well,” she said.

Stephens added that her family is her biggest motivation for completing her associate with CSU. “My family has been a huge inspiration in keeping me going. At points in time when I didn’t think I could take on any more and felt defeated, they would tell me what a great job I have been doing and let me know that they were proud of me,” she said.

And throughout the challenges, she said CSU’s flexibility and connection with its students helped her stay motivated and focused.

“Columbia Southern University has a great structure for students to follow. They continuously follow up to ensure that you know when assignments are due, what paperwork needs to be handed in and deadlines… the assignments for each of the subjects are structured alike so it is easier knowing what to look forward to,” Stephens said, which has helped her tremendously.

“The online program I did at another institution did not allow for students to know what to do next. It was a constant runaround trying to figure out what paperwork needed to be turned in,” she pointed out.

However, at CSU, she has benefited from the structure and the school’s family atmosphere.

“I have to say that the most memorable journey with CSU would have to be the great relationships that I have built, not only with my fellow students and teachers, but also with my Student Services representative. Each has given me guidance that I feel was very beneficial in helping me to ultimately reach my goal of graduating with an associate,” she said.

And at the October 2011 graduation, Stephens added that she’s not stopping with an associate degree. She is now working toward a bachelor’s degree in business.

Stephens said her efforts are also benefiting her children because they “see that no matter what obstacles are put in front of you, as long as you press on, you can accomplish anything.”