Degree begins a new tradition for the family of School of Management graduate
Degree begins a new tradition for the family of School of Management graduateMay 06, 2002Sara Millersemortim@syr.edu
Lower your expectations of the job market? Don’t tell Stephanie Riley that. By raising expectations of herself instead, this single mother has been able to escape the patterns of poverty, earn her college degree, and land several attractive job offers.
After graduating from high school and having little direction, she enlisted in the Army and served for three years in Texas, before returning home to California. But the memories of troubled childhood and the desire to help herself and her family break the pattern of abuse and financial distress prompted Riley to leave California in 1997. She set out on her own in 1997 and moved cross-country to Syracuse to earn a college degree.
“My mother sees herself as a failure, but she’s one of the main people that said you have to get an education otherwise you’re going to end up like me,” Riley says. “She thinks that’s the only way she’s served me, but I don’t believe that.
“She was very, very loving, but sometimes physically abusive during childhood. That’s because she was physically abused and that’s the pattern that many of the women in my family follow,” Riley says. “But emotionally, she was very loving and I never doubted that she loved us.”
The better life she envisioned did not happen immediately. Once here, she became pregnant and struggled through yet another difficult relationship with the father of her child. Her daughter, Kiara, was born in 1998, during her first week of classes at Onondaga Community College. Shortly after giving birth, Riley split from her daughter’s father and lost her full-time job to company downsizing while she was on maternity leave. Riley was left without child support or financial assistance from the government.
Her sister, LaMonica, escaping the same financial and family situations in California, also decided to move East, and she came to live with Riley. She now had custody of and responsibility for her baby and her 15-year-old sister.
At this point, Riley decided to change things for the better for her, her daughter and her sister. She mobilized herself and got a job with American Express Financial Advisors. She was hired as a secretary at American Express, and was promoted in only a few weeks to an advisor assistant position.
She developed and adhered to a very detailed personal budget to ensure that her family was taken care of. She soon realized that working with numbers to economize and manage debt was something she was good at and might be able to help others to do.
Riley then decided to continue on towards her goal of obtaining her college degree. She enrolled full-time in the finance degree program in the School of Management.
Without a car or the money to buy one, Riley used public transportation to get to campus several days a week for classes, get to her job at American Express, and took on an additional job as a cashier at Wegmans.
“When I first started, I was working about 20 hours a week at night at Wegmans on the really late shift and getting off at 2 a.m. And then I worked at American Express three days a week, and then I went to school two to three days a week. It kept me quite busy”
Realizing that a college degree did not guarantee a job, Riley made sure to attend every career-planning workshop and job fair offered by the University, and met with career counselors at the School of Management several times throughout the fall to fine-tune her resume. She noted that she didn’t want to look back on a missed job opportunity to realize she could have done more.
Ed Pulaski, associate director of the School of Management Career Center, worked with Riley on her cover letter and resume, helped prepare her for interviews, and kept her posted on the job opportunities he knew of.
“Every time I would run into Stephanie, and ask her ‘did you apply for this job, and did you apply for that job’ the reply was always ‘yep, yep and yep.'”
By the end of the fall, she was entertaining job offers from three different companies. She recently decided on Lockheed Martin for the benefits, and because it keeps her in the Syracuse area so she doesn’t have to move her sister away from her high school. Riley’s sister, now a junior in high school, is currently a member of the national honor society and looking at colleges to attend after next year.
But Riley thinks the best benefit of her new position, aside from the financial security and education assistance, is the flex time schedule that allows her more time to be with her daughter-her companion and inspiration throughout the long work nights and busy class days of the past four years.
Up until graduation and before she begins her new career, Riley continues to work two jobs and takes five classes to continue to support her family and hopefully help out her mother in California.
“My sister and I have the plan to bring my mother out here (Syracuse) to help her get her GED and assist her financially any way we can. I want to help her to do something productive and she’s always in our plans,” Riley says.
Riley realizes that it would have been easy to follow the path she was brought up in and could have easily ended up on welfare. But with strong faith in God, discipline and ambition, she believes anyone can change their life.
“The one thing that I want people to take from what I’ve been able to accomplish is that there is a way out of the situations like I was in,” she says. I hope to use my experience as an example for other single or low-income parents who have never considered, or feel too limited, to take advantage of the opportunities that exist to pursue an education and create a better life for themselves and their families.”