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Moms balance work, family obligations while earning a degree

This Mother's Day, meet 2 students who have gone back to school, showing their kids the value of determination and dedication

Lamees Alnagar with her husband and children

Lamees Alnagar with her family. Courtesy photo

May 08, 2024

As a senior in high school, Candice Smith had plans to earn her bachelor’s degree right after graduation and even took the first steps by enrolling in a local community college. However, a lack of direction compounded by family complications saw the young college student drop out after only a few semesters. 

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to work towards, so I decided not to continue and wait until I was ready,” Smith said.

Fast-forward, and the wait had turned into more than eight years. 

Smith had married, started a family and joined Desert Financial Credit Union as a bank teller, focusing on providing for her family while earning promotions.

This is just one story out of many like it — stories depicting mothers and their unique journeys.

100K lives changed

This year, ASU Online is celebrating 100,000 graduates, some of whom were given a second or third chance toward degree completion. By meeting them where they are, learners who might not otherwise have an opportunity to earn their degree persevered to achieve degree completion.

Lamees Alnagar, for instance, earned her undergraduate degree from Arizona State University, then embarked on a multiyear adventure with her husband, living and working in the Middle East and starting a family. Not long after, she knew she wanted to pursue a graduate degree.

Getting a degree as a mom might sound daunting — kids, work, school — but it’s all worth it when kids get to see firsthand what working hard and never giving up look like.

ASU Online offered both Smith and Alnagar the opportunity to achieve their educational goals while providing the flexibility to balance motherhood and a career.

Banking on the future

For Smith, ASU Online opened a door that might have stayed closed after spending so much time in the workforce and focusing on her family.

Candice Smith and son Patrick
Candice Smith and her son, Patrick. Courtesy photo

But working for Desert Financial Credit Union would turn out to pay huge dividends. 

Smith learned about an employee benefit, InvestEd, a partnership between Arizona State University and Desert Financial Credit Union to provide employees with the opportunity to pursue their undergraduate degrees through ASU Online. 

The scholarship was the push she needed to try college again and supercharge her career.

“I knew I had to go back to school,” she said. “I could not pass on an opportunity to have a paid education at ASU.”

The native Arizonan enrolled in 2020 and graduated in December 2023. 

At first, it was a struggle to manage a full-time job with parenting and school. Smith recalls nights when her son, Patrick, would fall asleep in a sleeping bag on the couch because he wanted to stay up with her while she studied. 

She worried that he would feel neglected, especially during weekends and evenings when she prioritized schoolwork over going to the movies or doing something fun. 

“I tried not to feel guilty,” she said. “I tried to tell myself, he’s seeing that Mom can achieve this while working and being a mom. Then, once it’s time for him to go to school, he knows if Mom can do it, then he can do it, too.”

Turns out, she was right. Patrick was her biggest fan on her graduation day, blown away by the pomp and circumstance, the stage, the crowd and the fireworks.

“By the end of the night, he was like, ‘Wow, that was a fun day — can you do it again?’” she said.

Smith focused on a degree that she felt would give her an edge in the job market, with an eye on growing her career with Desert Financial. 

“I loved that organizational leadership (degree program) could give me a variety of opportunities,” she said. “I often like to learn new things and thought this would be perfect for someone who may not want to stay in the same industry or field of work. I am already noticing that my degree gives me access to better positions (within the company) than previously.”

Earning her degree also reinforced her self-confidence, proving to herself just how capable she could be.

“I feel really accomplished because I was able to graduate with a 3.98 (GPA), and I was not an honor kid growing up,” she said. “To be able to come back to college and have such a busy schedule and be so successful, it was really rewarding.”

Sun Devil on a journey

Alnagar immigrated to the United States from Sudan with her family when she was just 13 years old, and as the first person in her family to have the privilege of pursuing higher education in the U.S., attending ASU was the epitome of her family’s hope for new opportunities and a brighter future. 

ASU proved to be a catalyst for Alnagar’s personal and intellectual growth, exposing her to a diverse community of individuals of various backgrounds and providing the opportunity to meet her now husband.

After graduating in 2012, Alnagar and her husband embarked on a journey to live and work abroad and traveled extensively around the world. 

It was during this time the globetrotting Sun Devil realized she would need to further her education to advance her career aspirations. 

ASU Online was her first choice. 

“I found a program that aligned perfectly with my goals,” Alnagar said. “Although initially apprehensive about managing my busy schedule, I decided to embrace the challenge, knowing that it would ultimately contribute to my personal and professional growth.”

The online educational leadership (principalship) degree program offered Alnagar the same world-class curriculum, resources and faculty experience as a traditional program while providing her the flexibility she needed to work, parent her twins and study from wherever.

“I remember when the twins were just about 2 years old at the time, watching me put in the hard work on my school projects,” Alnagar said. “At first, they couldn't quite figure out why I was always on the computer or reading, being so little. But as they saw me sticking to it day after day, they started to understand that working hard is important, even if they didn't get all the details.”

Then, as they started kindergarten, Alnagar’s children were excited to do their own homework “just like Mommy” and wished her good luck on her big projects. Their little words of encouragement kept her going through the tough times. 

“This whole experience brought us closer as a family and taught them the value of working hard and never giving up,” she said. “Now, they see education as a cool adventure full of possibilities, just like I do, thanks to all the lessons we've learned together along the way.”

Alnagar completed her master’s degree in 2021 while living and working abroad and moved back to Arizona in 2022. 

She now serves as a digital marketing manager, a role that she finds both fulfilling and dynamic. 

“Getting a degree from ASU was worth every effort and investment,” Alnagar said. “I believe that the leadership skills and insights gained through my education have greatly enhanced my ability to excel in my role.

"My journey towards a college degree has not only equipped me with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in my field but has also instilled in me a lifelong commitment to continuous learning and personal development.”

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