After working for over a decade at Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, Michal Rudnick of Chandler knew that without a degree, her career would be stalled.
“Most of my motivation to get a degree was to advance my career,” she said. To be promoted to the next level, she needed more education.
This Thursday, Rudnick will be one of 623 students to graduate from Tempe’s Rio Salado College, Maricopa County Community College District’s online college. She will be one of the two commencement speakers at the ceremony, the largest in the college’s history, in downtown Phoenix.
“I felt kind of funny when they asked me to speak,” Rudnick said.
But her story echoes many people who attend college as a so called non-traditional student.
“I know so many people say it, but it’s true: If I can do it, anyone can do it,” Rudnick said.
Going to an online college worked well for Rudnick, 33, who balanced a full-time job, as well as life as a wife and mother to three children who range in age from 1 to 14.
It’s a great life, Rudnick said, a life that she worked hard for.
“Why settle for good enough?” Rudnick asked. “You can have a great life regardless of your economic status, but why settle?”
Additionally, Rudnick hopes to show her oldest daughter why it’s important to get an education. “By getting a degree, you gain more than education,” Rudnick said. “It also shows that you’re motivated and willing to go the extra mile.”
Rudnick graduated from high school at 16 and turned down a Presidential Scholarship that would have provided her with a free ride to an Arizona public university. Instead, she attended a Bible college and was married at 17. Two years later, she had her oldest daughter.
After taking a few community college courses through a partnership with her employer and MCCCD in 2000, she began to consider going back to school.
It wasn’t until 2007 that Rudnick started to attend classes through Rio Salado.
Besides providing Rudnick with an education, she felt that attending college online also allowed her to gain other skills valuable to her career path.
“About half of our workforce works from home,” Rudnick said. “Learning how to communicate through email and class discussion boards has really taught me how to communicate online in general.”
Since her lectures were online, she was able to work at her own pace, balancing her work and family lives with her college one.
But like many parents who have gone back to school, not everything was easy. Sometimes life gets in the way of school.
“It was Christmas Eve and I had a 500-point test due in biology by midnight,” she said. “I had it planned out so that I would have about two hours in the evening to get it done.”
That day, she ended up at the emergency room with one of her daughters.
“Here I am, trying to spend time with my family and I have a sick kid,” she said. “It was ten-to-midnight and I was still finishing my test.”
While that may have been one of the low moments, there were plenty of reasons why online worked well for her.
“My last biology lab I was able to do in my backyard,” she said.
It was also easier knowing that she wouldn’t be sitting next to 18- or 19-year-olds who are fresh out of high school, she said.
Now, with a newly earned associate’s degree in public administration, she plans to attend Arizona State University to pursue a bachelor’s in public administration. She is currently a candidate for the Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy.
Other graduation ceremonies for Mesa, Chandler-Gilbert and South Mountain community colleges were held May 11.
MCC graduated 2,428 students in the 2011-12 school year, 480 of which participated in commencement. Nearly 16,000 students will receive degrees from the 10 community colleges in the district this year.
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