Bachelor of Arts in Social Science with Education concentration, 2010
"I know I have inspired many of the women I have worked with to continue their education."
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" For DeNeal Ericksen, 53, of Racine, Wisconsin, the answer to that question was always, "I want to be a teacher." However, after high school graduation, DeNeal opted for a more practical career, and pursued a degree in computer science. "At that time the computer industry was the new, hot trend, which offered the best jobs. And it worked: I was a programmer, eventually becoming the supervisor of the entire operation."
When her company sold the division in which she worked, DeNeal decided to pursue new opportunities, and landed a job with the State of Wisconsin's Department of Corrections. Each of her duties in this new position contained elements of teaching, and DeNeal found herself returning to her childhood dream. "In 2000, I took a position teaching microcomputer courses to incarcerated young adult men and eventually transferred to my current position of teaching Computer Software to incarcerated adult women. During these years, I also worked as an adjunct instructor at the local technical college, and the head of the department kept encouraging me to obtain my teaching license so that I could be a full-time faculty member."
Though it took some time, DeNeal listened to the department head, gathered her courage, and began researching universities. "I did not know anything about Ashford University, but everything I read about was positive, and Ashford was on Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction's list of approved colleges for obtaining a teaching license."
Like most adult learners, one of DeNeal's greatest challenges while pursuing her degree was balancing her school, her work, her family, and her involvement in her community. Family is of particular importance to DeNeal - she has five children and eleven grandchildren, with a twelfth on the way! DeNeal explains that her trick in achieving balance was prioritizing. For example, she allowed her hobbies of reading and quilting to take the back burner to the hobbies she could also enjoy with her husband: watching football (she likes the Packers and he likes the Cowboys) and riding motorcycles (which they bought together after the last child left the house).
DeNeal's perseverance proved worthwhile, and in June 2010 she graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Social Science with an Education concentration. "I now have the opportunity to teach HSED (High School Equivalency Degree) courses in the Department of Corrections, or I can obtain my Wisconsin teaching license and teach in public schools." For the moment, DeNeal will continue working with incarcerated persons. "I truly believe education makes a difference in offenders' lives, and I know I have inspired many of the women I have worked with to continue their education upon release. Just last summer I attended a former student's college graduation."
DeNeal's experiences before, after, and during her time with Ashford have left her with one very strong understanding: "Anytime you learn something new, your life will change."