Going to college was always a dream for Zephna “Zephie” Douglas. When life put those dreams on hold, she never lost hope that one day she would be a college graduate. Until then, she put her family’s needs first.
“I always dreamt of going back to college and earning my degree but being a single mother with two children and working 24-hour shifts—and sometimes 48 hours shifts on an ambulance—it just wasn’t my time,” she said. “I was a mother, and my kids came before my dream.”
Since a degree was not yet feasible, Zephie followed in her mother and stepfather’s footsteps and worked in the EMS field.
“I worked in emergency medical services on an ambulance for over 25 years and in safety and emergency management for 15 of those years,” she said. “In 2017, I was offered a position as safety and emergency management director. At the time, my children were young, and it wasn’t time for me to attend college quite yet, so I took numerous FEMA classes in emergency management, homeland security and any safety classes that were available online and in person.”
As time went on, Zephie children grew old enough to attend college themselves, and she passed her dream of going to college along to them.
“Watching my children achieve their success was wonderful a mother, as a parent,” she said. “They were my inspiration for my journey. They both encouraged me to go back to college. It warms my heart to see them as successful adults, and they make me so very proud each and every day.”
Zephie set a new goal for herself and decided now, with the support of her husband, family and friends, it was finally her time.
“I wanted to earn my college degree before I turned 50,” she said. “My children are both successful and I decided that now was my time. I wanted more for myself, and if I wanted to achieve my workplace goal, I needed to earn that degree.”
In early 2022, Zephie started pursuing an associate degree in occupational safety and health at Columbia Southern University. Although the excitement of a dream began, it was soon accompanied by life’s hurdles one after another.
“My journey began after a COVID-19 diagnosis that gave me a permanent heart condition,” she said. “I now have to take heart medication for the rest of my life. My husband and I also sold our home and purchased another and remodeled it one month after I started school, so earning that first degree was no easy task.”
In December of 2022 Zephie earned her degree. It was not long after that, she began a career as a preparedness officer for the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
“I was hired one month after receiving my degree by a company that I had dreamed of working for, a goal that I had set for myself 15 years ago, and I was finally a college graduate at 50,” she said. “It was very emotional to receive that phone call. I literally hung up the phone and cried for almost an hour in disbelief. It was a proud moment for me.”
Zephie realized her journey wasn’t over just yet. In 2023, she re-enrolled at CSU to work on her bachelor’s degree in information systems and cyber security, concentrating in homeland security. Currently pursuing her second degree, Zephie encourages everyone to never let your age define what you can do, and never let your dream go.
“I was a one of those kids in high school who did just enough to get out, but I was capable of so much more,” she said. “I maintained a high GPA at CSU. I received an email from the National Honor Society and that was so mind blowing that I was actually an honor student. I am currently on the dean’s list.”
“Never let anyone tell you that you’re too old, that you’re not good enough or that you can’t do it, because if I can, you can too. Don’t let your dream of earning your degree be just a dream any longer.”