Starting a family can bring great joy. But as any parent can tell you, it is also often a source of worry and stress. And when you’re trying to raise and support kids while trying to make it to class, write essays, and study for final exams, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
Adrienne Bucko (née Fries) can attest to the challenges of balancing new parenthood with college. She is also among the many students who have left college because the fields of study she initially chose were not the right fit. “I had my first son at 20,” she shares. “I tried to continue with school. But I realized it was too hard as a single mom with an infant to take classes and focus on the homework. So I dropped out and put it off until I knew what I wanted to do.”
Nearly 20 years later, Adrienne is the mother of three and a newly minted college alum who is attending graduate school for counseling. She expresses deep gratitude when she reflects on her conversations with ReUp Success Coach Manager Becky Veydt, who helped her return to college and provided support through graduation. “She made me realize that it was something I could do,” Adrienne says, “and knowing that she was going to be there made me feel better because I knew I wasn’t going to be alone.”
A need for direction
When Adrienne graduated from high school in 2000, her parents expected her to pursue a degree. “So I just went to my local community college because I had no clue what I wanted to do,” she recalls. She started off on the education track but then switched to criminal justice. After learning she was pregnant with her first child, though, Adrienne realized she needed to change her focus back to education. “I was like, Hmm, single mom, ATF agent, police officer—not such a good idea!” she says with a laugh. After her first year of coursework and the birth of her son, Adrienne decided to leave school to focus on childcare and figure out which education and career path she actually wanted to pursue.
I always knew I was gonna get a degree. It was on my bucket list.
– Adrienne Bucko
A decade later, with her son in elementary school, Adrienne felt ready to restart her undergraduate studies. She enrolled at California University of Pennsylvania (now PennWest California) with a plan of majoring in education. However, during her first two years at the university, Adrienne observed significant changes happening in the American school system, and she began to harbor strong doubts about being a teacher. At the time, she was in the process of writing a novel, and she loved her English classes, so she thought she’d instead major in literature. But she soon came to realize that the traditional jobs open to English majors held no appeal for her.
“I was getting to the middle of my junior year,” she remembers, “and I was like, I have no idea what I want to do. How do I continue? I don’t want to continue and get a degree I’m not going to use.”
Adrienne decided to again leave college. During this second break from school, her personal life flourished: she got married and had two more children. Still, she says, “I always knew I was gonna get a degree. It was on my bucket list. I just had no idea what I wanted to do yet.”
A call leads to clarity
In 2020, Adrienne’s two youngest children were attending and preparing to attend preschool, so she knew she would soon be able to focus again on her degree. She knew she wanted to return to the same university, she says, because “I loved my time at Cal.” However, she was still unsure of what major to pursue.
Adrienne started reflecting on what made her happy. She knew she still wanted to work with kids, which is what had inspired her original interest in education. She ultimately decided that she wanted to become a school counselor so that she could help students turn their passions into fulfilling careers. Adrienne also discovered that PennWest offers a major in sociology with a special focus on social deviance, which allowed her to study topics such as aberrant behavior, drug and alcohol addiction, child and elder abuse, and domestic violence—all subjects she found fascinating in a degree program that would prepare her well for a career in counseling. Even better, the university was now offering Global Online, a more flexible education pathway geared toward adult learners. “It was completely online. That meant I could work around my own schedule and around my kids’ schedule,” she says.
Still, Adrienne hadn’t fully committed to returning to school. But a message from ReUp Success Coach Manager Becky Veydt changed everything. “All of a sudden, I got an email from her, and she was like, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about going back to school?’” Adrienne recalls.
My advice to anyone who is toying with the notion of going back to school or starting school is to just jump in full force and see where it takes you. You’ll be surprised at all the different places you’ll end up going.
— Adrienne Bucko
The right amount of support at the right time
Before receiving that first fateful message from Becky, Adrienne had had some inkling of what coaching might entail. For example, she’d had a peer mentor during her first-year orientation on campus back in 2010 to help her navigate processes like getting her ID card, and he would check in with her occasionally to make sure she was attending class. But, she says, “that was just the basics”; success coaching would offer much more, which was especially important when navigating the waters of online education.
Adrienne and her Success Coach began connecting on a regular basis, with Becky helping her to clarify her goals and develop her confidence so she could make the leap back to college. Adrienne had her husband’s full support in returning to school, but success coaching offered guidance. “It’s different when you have someone who’s checking in with you about your education, like ‘Hey, how’s it going? What can I help you with? What do you need? Where are you at?’” Adrienne describes. “It was nice to have that outside of the home. Through talking with her, I finally decided, You know, I’m going to do it!”
And so Adrienne applied for re-enrollment and was accepted. Her coach saw her through the entire process. Becky, she says, “was great! She checked in with me just the right amount of times, when I needed it. And I always knew I could get in touch with her.”
At times, Adrienne even had a sneaking sense that Becky could read her mind. “I felt like every time I had a question rolling around in my head, shortly after, she would check in with me, and I’m like, ‘You know what, I’ve actually been thinking about that!’” she laughs. Adrienne appreciates that she could ask questions and bounce ideas off her Success Coach. “It was awesome!” she adds.
A symbol of achievement
On May 7, 2022, Adrienne celebrated her graduation. She was the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s.
To commemorate her tremendous accomplishment, Adrienne purchased a class ring—a memento that earned a bit of derision from her younger sister. She says she assured her sibling that she would probably wear the ring “very rarely”—perhaps only for job interviews or at alumni gatherings. “I know I have a diploma that’s going to be on my wall,” she explains, “but this ring is a symbol of all the hard work, all the thought, all the years—everything that I put into my schooling. And I got my degree at 39 years old. It was something I’d wanted since I was in my 20s, and because I had a child young, it made it more difficult, but I didn’t give up. And that’s what that ring symbolizes to me. This is just a small thing that’s mine that says, ‘OK, I did it!’”
Two days after commencement, Adrienne started her first week of graduate school at PennWest California, where she’s now pursuing her master’s in school counseling. She admits that her coursework is challenging, but she’s absolutely thrilled to be studying what she loves. She finds joy in writing pages on pages in response to exam questions and applying psychological theory to hypothetical situations. “As much as it’s a lot of work, it’s fun work!” she says with an animated smile.
She is also working part-time as a paraeducator, assisting a kindergarten classroom teacher and working with special-needs students. She appreciates getting to apply her undergraduate and graduate studies to a real-world setting. “I’m utilizing the things I’m learning in school or that I learned in sociology, but it’s just in a different platform, which is great!” she says excitedly.
The journey’s the thing
As she reflects on how she’s arrived at this moment in her life and career, Adrienne expresses gratitude for success coaching. “There were times where I was starting to have a little self-doubt or I was starting to stress out, and even though [Becky] didn’t necessarily tell me what I needed to do, just texting her what I was feeling or thinking helped me process it,” she shares. “And then there were times when I truly didn’t know things, and she would look into them and find out the answers for me—or find out how I could get those answers. It was a give and take.” That partnership, she says, helped her move forward while still retaining a sense of agency.
With one degree behind her and another ahead, Adrienne believes that it’s never too late for anyone to go back to school, whether you’re motivated to escape an unfulfilling job or to pursue a passion beyond a career path. “Learning is a lifelong experience; you should always be striving to learn more,” she advises. She adds that others would be “shocked” by how many people in her classes have been her age or older—especially at colleges and institutions that offer online programs. “So my advice to anyone who is toying with the notion of going back to school or starting school is to just jump in full force and see where it takes you,” she says. “You’ll be surprised at all the different places you’ll end up going. But it’s all about the journey and not necessarily where you end up.”