Since 2017, now-33-year-old Arizona State University student Kristina Loen has worked in the financial technology industry, working their way up from a customer service representative to a senior workforce analyst. Although they enjoyed their career, Loen found themself considering going back to school to achieve their longtime goal of earning a bachelor’s degree.
“My sister and I were just chatting, and she was talking about maybe going to grad school. We ended up looking at what ASU had to offer and I was like, ‘You know, yeah, maybe I could go back and finish my four year,’” said Loen, who uses both she/her and they/them pronouns; this article will use they/them for consistency. “I saw some of the programs, and I got really excited and saw a lot of opportunities to move my career even further into the direction of analysis.”
In their early adulthood, Loen and their family moved around a lot, causing them to switch schools or take breaks in between semesters. They took courses at a number of schools, including North Dakota State University, where they studied geology, and Central Arizona College, where they earned two associate degrees in general studies and early childhood education in 2016.
Loen was pleasantly surprised to find out that many of the approximately 100 credits they had completed would transfer to the School of Earth and Space Exploration’s astronomical and planetary sciences program through ASU Online. They were drawn to the program not only because it aligned with their lifelong interests in science, geology and astronomy, but also because it offered the flexibility they needed as a working professional.
“I find myself thriving with the online learning environment that allows me to work and pursue school at the same time,” Loen said. “It's really exciting to be in a place where my love of learning has been rekindled, and to pursue a degree that I am passionate about that will improve my skill set in the workforce.”
Loen hopes to complete their bachelor’s degree in astronomical and planetary sciences with a minor in sustainability by spring 2024. They shared more about their experiences at ASU and what they hope to achieve in the future.
Question: Why was ASU the right choice for you?
Answer: Because I was once a geology major, I have a lot of progress toward this degree. There are a lot of transferable job skills to this degree. The other thing that makes ASU the right choice for me at this point in my life is that it has a lot of high-quality online programs available out there now. I’m a busy working adult, so I do like how ASU reaches out to the online community, trying to make sure that online students aren't overlooked.
Q: Have you encountered any challenges? If so, how have you overcome them?
A: For about two-thirds of my life now, I've been dealing with anxiety and depression. It's been fairly treatment-resistant as well. That has definitely gotten in the way. I would not have made it through without the support of my family, as well as therapy and medication persistence, because sometimes it takes a long time to find a treatment regimen that works for you. Learning how to ask for help is really hard. We have this myth that once you're an adult, you're supposed to do everything on your own, but that's not true at all. We're social creatures, and we're meant to help one another.
Q: What advice would you give to incoming students?
A: You have a lot of resources at your disposal that you don't even know about at this school just by being here. If you don't know where to find it, that's what advisers are here for. They are there to connect you to all of those resources. So if you're struggling with mental health or physical health, there's resources for that.
I had totally given up on a four-year degree. That was not on my radar for a good four years. But education is never wasted. Even if it's been a long time since you were last in school, anything you've learned previously will help you now, and anything you learn going forward will help you in the future. Sometimes there's a difference between getting the grade and getting the education — you have to know which is which. I think that’s important to remember for anybody who's trying to work and go to school at the same time — balance those academic expectations and get what you need out of the course.
Q: What has been your best memory at ASU?
A: I think one of the coolest things about being part of the School of Earth and Space Exploration is that I got Zoom invites to watch when the Mars Perseverance rover landed. So I got to kind of get a behind-the-scenes view of that, and I thought that was really cool to be able to see that happen live and experience that with everybody.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the next five to 10 years?
A: I'm feeling good about finishing this degree. I think the next big decision is if I am going to go to grad school or not, which is exciting, because the original plan was that I was going to be a paleontologist, and I was OK with that. Pursuing a master’s degree is something that I never thought I would ever do. I thought I was always going to have to live with my parents. I never thought I could hold down a full-time job. I never thought I could work and go to school at the same time. Because that was never possible for me in the past. So it's kind of weird to think about the future because so many things have already happened for me that I never thought were going to happen to begin with. It’s been a long journey, sometimes painful, but I'm doing really well right now and the future is pretty open and exciting.
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