Distance graduate overcomes obstacles to earn her master's degree

October 12th, 2011 | SMWC

After a day filled with paperwork, testing and tutoring special needs children, Kathryn Vickers Rea '10 goes home, sits down, and dives into her own studies, projects and paperwork. Working full-time, while pursuing her Master of Education degree at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is a challenge, but one she is well prepared to tackle. After all, as a graduate of SMWC’s distance education program, Rea knows the quality of her education is worth the extra effort.

“The Woods has been a huge blessing to me,” said Rea, who will complete her master’s degree in February 2012. “You feel like you’re a part of something bigger.”

Rea always wanted to earn her four-year degree but, like many students who choose a distance education program, life had to come first. Her priorities had faces, like her husband, Charles, dealing with a back injury and a learning disability, and her three children, Lora, Jessica and Charlie, who needed her more than she needed a degree. Eventually, though, she knew she would accomplish her goals. She just had to be patient.

“I always had the potential, I just had a life happen before it was my turn to shine,” she said. With her children all grown up, she decided to pursue her associate degree from Ivy Tech Community College. Once she finished, Rea could barely contain her excitement. Even though those first few years were a struggle, she could almost feel her bachelor’s degree resting in her hand. “We are poor people,” she acknowledged. “It was a big step for me.” When she was accepted to a large state university, her enthusiasm was palpable. She was going to have a bachelor’s degree sooner, rather than later.

Then that excitement dissipated. She watched, aghast, as her GPA began to plummet. Straining and sweating at this new university, she felt all her hard work at her Ivy Tech days was just swept under the rug. “I never saw a teacher,” she said, shivering at the memory. “I was isolated, working completely on my own.” Rea knew that this impersonal style of distance education was not where she could flourish. She needed a flexible distance program with a network of support.

Kathryn Vickers Rea '10 finds serentity on the beautiful SMWC campus, like this spot in Saint Ann's Shell Chapel.

She knew about The Woods, but thinking the price tag would be too high to even consider, she cast the College’s flyers aside. Now, hopeful, but cautious, she went to the SMWC website and discovered what she had been missing. “It just clicked,” she said, elated. “Everything fell into place.”

As the first person in her family to go to college, Rea had their unwavering support, but she was still nervous. She didn’t have a mother who could show her the ins and outs of college life or an older brother who could help explain algebra. At The Woods, though, she found a family of faculty, staff and students ready to help her tackle the challenges and celebrate the successes of her education.

 “Kathy was always willing to see the best in people, and to make the absolute best out of any situation,” said Glenna Simons, chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Rea’s positive attitude shown through both personally and professionally, Simons added. To Rea, Simons was that person standing at the finish line, clapping, cheering and believing she could do it.

This is exactly what has led Rea back. 

Less than a year after earning her bachelor’s in psychology, Rea found herself ready to take another big step and knew just the place to do it– The Woods. During her undergraduate internship, she developed a passion for working with children with special needs. As the special needs job coach at Whitewater Technical Career Center, Rea discovered that her place is in a classroom, building these special children’s abilities and confidence, just as SMWC did for her. In just a little more than two years total, Rea, who spent decades dreaming of a four-year degree, will have exceeded all of her expectations by earning her master’s.

“The Woods gave me a stronger voice,” she began. “The key is to never give up on yourself. There are those out there who think it just can’t be done, but at SMWC, it can.”

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