Student Spotlight: Terri Mitchell

Recent Graduates Earns Degree After 22 years of Study

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As a recreational athlete who has ran three marathons, Terri Mitchell (’12 management and human resources) knows the familiar phrase “slow and steady wins the race.”

Her best understanding of it, however, has been in the classroom not the running track.

The Diamond Bar resident – who was a single mother for many years -- waited until her only child was fully grown before she even attempted to go to college. Then, the demands of her job only allowed her to take one class at a time. Undeterred, Mitchell kept her pace until, 22 years later, she earned her business degree. Dean Richard Lapidus was so moved by her perseverance and determination that he shared Mitchell’s life story during his Commencement address.

Shortly after graduation, Mitchell talked with Public Information Officer Marisa Demers about her long, but purposeful, journey to achieving her goals.

Why did you decide in your 40s to start pursuing a college degree? 

Mitchell: My girlfriend and I decided to take a golf class at Crafton Community College in Yucaipa in an effort to better ourselves. I received an A in the class which gave me a confidence boost. Working in the aerospace industry, I interface with engineers, all of whom are college graduates, and my confidence level wasn’t the highest. Getting an A erased the insecurity of never having gone to college. Classes were also affordable so I thought “Why not get back in the groove of learning?” I continued taking one class at a time.

Even taking one class at a time, I faced struggles. I transferred to Los Angeles – near LAX – for work and the commute to Cal Poly Pomona would be exhausting. I would arrive to class on time but be dead tired. I would tell my husband on occasion that I didn’t want to go to class but he would tell me I could do it, so I would go. As soon as the professor started lecturing I would perk up.  

Did you encounter any other roadblocks in pursuing your dream? 

Mitchell: At the beginning of my college career, I had to overcome test anxiety and my fear of public speaking. I would take some tests at the beginning of my college career, and my nerves would overtake me so much that my mind would go blank and then I would run out of time taking the test. I knew I had to take control of this. So, I consistently studied for my tests, sometimes reading the assignments three times and devoting 16 hours of study time on the weekends. With patience and perseverance I would get the best grades I could --not always A’s but still very good.

My fear of public speaking was a little more difficult to deal with.  I would get sick to my stomach the day before and the day of my presentations and it got so bad that a student told me: “Terri you looked like you were having a heart attack.” After practice and more practice and knowing my material, I persisted with my efforts to overcome this obstacle.

What advice do you have for nontraditional age students who want to go to college?

Mitchell: You can almost do anything if you set your mind to it.  Getting my college degree was a good journey, not only of learning, but of finding the motivation to excel, overcome my fears and build my self-confidence. The benefits quickly paid off as I used my management studies to better deal with workplace issues.

I also realized almost all professors have a congenial way about them, and they have time to listen and help with student problems.  Professors do motivate students’ ideas toward higher ones.  

Now that you are a college graduate, what are your plans?

Mitchell: I miss school already.  I was so disciplined in doing my homework with the help of my husband for so many years.  He would do all our chores, so I could focus on my studies.  I guess I will have to help with the chores now.  So sad.  I have three more years until I retire from Northrop Grumman which will give me 28 years with the aerospace industry.   I do want to enjoy some free time with my husband who is retired, but I would also love to volunteer at Cal Poly Pomona and offer my life lessons and skills with the MHR department or library.  Getting to know the Cal Poly Pomona community, which during my colleges years I did not have the time, would be wonderful.

2012-07-31