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IUN’s Class of 2024: Earning a degree on your own time

Stephanie Garcia, a mother of four, earned two degrees in half the time

Apr 24, 2024

A women points to a whiteboard in a classroom.

There might not be too much Stephanie Garcia can put on her plate.

The Griffith native chose to pursue her degree at Indiana University Northwest two years ago. Now, she’s preparing to graduate with degrees in English and secondary education.

That’s right, Garcia completed a pair of four-year degrees in half the time most students take to complete one college degree. And she did it while maintaining a 3.92 GPA and raising four kids.

With such a busy life already, why did she take so many classes at once?

“I don’t know,” Garcia said. “I like a challenge. I set a goal for myself and thought, ‘I can do it!’”

Her heavy courseload began with one additional class in a semester. She then took seven classes and received straight A’s. The next semester, she took eight classes — all A’s. Then, she decided to add one more…

While her advisors suggested against taking so many courses at once multiple times, Garcia’s mind was set before she stepped foot on campus. She was ready to begin her new life as soon as possible and nothing would stop her from quickly becoming the first in her family to get a degree.

“I was tired of working at jobs where I felt like I couldn’t grow,” Garcia said. “I was just working a lot of dead-end jobs, not being able to showcase my skills and use those to better myself or help the company grow. So, I was like, ‘You know what? I need more.’”

Garcia, now 31, hadn’t been in school since graduating high school, when she was nearly nine months pregnant walking across the graduation stage. At 19 years old, she had her first daughter.

For the next decade, she had three more kids, got married and worked different jobs. Every career move, however, seemed to limit how high she could elevate. As someone who always strives for more, Garcia knew she needed something else.

Working as a paraprofessional at Griffith Public Schools piqued her interest. She was helping students with moderate-to-severe disabilities, building connections and trust while thinking, “I can see myself doing this.”

So, she took the leap. Garcia chose IU Northwest because of the proximity and small class sizes, but found more than she could’ve ever asked for.

She found a community where she fit in among a diverse student body; faculty members who were flexible, motivating and caring; and a campus where she felt at home — participating in Student Support Services (TRIO), Sigma Tau Delta and working in the College of Arts & Sciences — and was allowed to push the boundaries of conventional education.

For incoming students, Garcia has this advice: get ahead on assignments when you can. Being a mom of four kids, she can’t choose when there’s a soccer game, emergency or something else, so she had to take care of school when she could.

Thankfully, her professors always understood. She specifically thanked William Allegrezza, Brian O’Camb and Douglas Swartz in the English department for making her classes enjoyable.

Garcia, when asked what she planned on doing next, said “That is the hardest question ever because I have no idea.

“I originally started off with education because I was like, ‘I’m going to be a teacher.’ … But I’m the type of person who needs to keep aiming for something higher. I don’t know, I’m just driven by going higher and higher.”

When Garcia first came to IU Northwest, graduation seemed so far away — even with her expedited schedule. Now, preparing to walk across the stage in front of her family, she can’t believe it’s already here.

While she might not know what the immediate future holds, she’s confident applying to jobs with her IU Northwest education in her pocket.

Wherever she works should be excited, too. Look at what she was able to accomplish in two years. Imagine what she’ll do in her career.

“I wanted to show my kids that, yes, you have a plan for your life and that plan might go off the rails,” Garcia said, “but don’t let that stop you from still pursuing your dreams.”

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