Bachelor of Arts in Health Care Studies, 2011
Graduate student and aspiring domestic abuse advocate
“My Ashford experience is opening doors left and right for me."
Ashford alumnus Michelle Dahlum, a 30-year-old mom from Los Angeles, CA, is talkative and bubbly as she shares her story. “My Ashford experience is opening doors left and right for me. I have had the chance to meet so many wonderful life-changing people at Ashford online and on campus.”
From her upbeat personality, you would never guess that she has overcome significant odds to get to where she is today. But her tone becomes serious as she says, “I want my children to hear my voice and to see my accomplishments in spite of the cycles of violence, living in fear, and my being told I was worthless. I am a stronger woman today because I refused to submit to being a victim.”
Michelle got married shortly after graduating from high school. She was enrolled at the local community college to earn her Associate’s degree, but it soon became clear that her new husband wasn’t very happy about his wife continuing her education. Unfortunately, his unsupportive attitude was a hint of the verbal and physical domestic abuse to come, which escalated until Michelle eventually had to leave in the middle of the night with their three kids in tow. “It’s uncomfortable for me to talk about,” she admits, “but this issue changed my life and motivated me to be strong and pursue the hope of making lives better for those who have been victimized.”
After leaving her abusive marriage, Michelle found herself with a newfound sense of purpose – and the courage to enroll in Ashford University’s Bachelor of Arts in Health Care Studies program. She credits her original Admissions Counselor, Matthew Hawkins, for making the enrollment process easier. “Going to school with three children was not easy, but I did it, and I did it well,” she says proudly. She admits that she was usually one of the first in her classes to post on discussion boards and submit her papers. “Okay, call me a nerd, but I liked all my courses and subjects! While I was at Ashford University, I was an honors student with membership in the Alpha Sigma Lambda honor society and the Golden Key International Honour Society, and I graduated Summa Cum Laude.” She also notes that she enjoyed her frequent phone conversations with Ashford’s Lead Student Development Specialist Vanessa Schoenherr, adding, “She knows me by voice!”
Michelle took the opportunity to attend the commencement ceremony for online students at the campus in Clinton, IA. “Everybody was so kind and warm at the graduation that I will never forget a few faces,” she says. “One especially great moment was meeting University Provost Dr. Wardlow at all three honor society events I attended. She told me, ‘You are an inspiration.’ Wow, I couldn’t speak for a second – and for me not to talk! She took my breath away.”
As she stood proudly in her cap and gown with her fellow Ashford graduates, the significance of having gone from running away in the night to the momentous day at which she had arrived didn’t escape Michelle. “It was a moment for me to hear my internal voice rooting for every battered woman out there breaking the cycle of domestic violence.”
Today, Michelle is earning two Master’s degrees, one in business and one in public health, at an Illinois-based university, with the goal of teaching online for Ashford herself one day, as well as working with women who find themselves in the position she once was in. “I think there is greater need for more stringent public health programs to educate people about intimate partner violence,” says Michelle. “I intend to use my degrees to help foster awareness of these issues by developing plans to educate community organizations, hospital staff, individuals, college students, and all who will listen.” With the courage and tenacity Michelle has shown, it’s likely that her voice will be heard.