In 2017, Marilyn Darrabie began looking into different online schools because she was considering a career change. With a passion for helping young people, she wanted to move into the field of social services* and help make a difference in their lives.
“I may not be able to touch everyone, but at least I can help somewhere along the line,” says the Chicago resident who originally hails from Trinidad and Tobago.
However, in January 2018, when Marilyn got her first call back from an Enrollment Services Advisor, she was in the midst of dealing with every parent’s worst nightmare. Her middle child had unexpectedly passed away, and Marilyn was at the airport waiting to catch a flight to New York, where her grown daughter had been living. Her heart was shattered, and she was still in shock. Going back to school was the last thing on Marilyn’s mind.
As the months passed, her grief came in unrelenting waves, and school seemed like an impossible undertaking. She worked seven days a week and kept busy volunteering and spending as much time as possible with her granddaughter and family. By the summer of 2018, Marilyn decided she was ready to take the plunge. However, this time she was going to tackle her goals of going into the world of social work from another angle.
“My daughter, who passed away, was going to do psychology, so I thought I’d finish it for her,” explains Marilyn. By August 2018, Marilyn was officially enrolled in the psychology program at Ashford**.
It had been years since she had been in school, and the ins and outs of the online platform were unfamiliar and initially confusing to Marilyn. But with the support of faculty and staff, Marilyn was up and running.
Although she found her first few classes simple and straightforward, Marilyn says around month five, balancing work and school began to get very difficult. She was commuting between offices many hours a week and staying up until 4 or 5 am to catch up on school. By 8 am, she’d be back up and heading to work again. Between that and still mourning the loss of her daughter, the stress began to take a physical toll on her body.
Marilyn started thinking she may need to drop out of school. However, that all changed when she got a call from an Academic Advisor named Lexi.
“We clicked instantly,” she says. “I felt so comfortable talking to her, like I had known her for years.”
Together, Marilyn and Lexi worked out a plan. Marilyn would take a 45-day break from classes to focus on her health and then start back up again. However, on her next go-around, she would use Sophia Learning, where she could take some of her general education classes at her own pace.
“The Sophia work is a lot of reading, which I can do during my downtime at work. Then, I do my Ashford course work at home,” she explains.
She also makes sure to utilize the many support services available, including the Writing Center, which she credits as being another key to her success. By finishing her assignments early enough to get reviewed, she’s able to make corrections and tighten up her writing before turning in her work.
“It makes a big difference,” says Marilyn. “I can see it with my improved grades.”
The plan worked, and Marilyn’s Bachelor of Arts in Psychology is in sight. This grandmother and mother of three hasn’t had an easy road along her path to achieving her dreams, but she’s determined to let nothing stand in the way of completing her goals.
And, any time she needs support or gets overwhelmed, Marilyn calls Lexi.
“I call her Old Faithful,” she laughs. “With Lexi, I don’t have to say much, and she gets my point.”
Although she’s still working seven days a week and volunteering as a caretaker for a friend on the weekends, a silver lining to the ongoing pandemic is Marilyn no longer has as much of a commute eating up her “down” time. Her work at an allergy clinic Monday through Friday switched to all remote. Then, on the weekends, she goes to her second job doing blood draws at a COVID-19 testing site to check people for virus antibodies.
In addition to furthering her career goals by earning her degree, Marilyn hopes to be an inspiration for her grandchildren someday. “If I am in my middle age and can go back to school and get my degree, then there is no reason why you in your young age cannot do it,” she says.
Throughout it all, Marilyn says she finds inspiration in this quote as she continues to work so hard:
“The future is those who believe in their dreams, which is the beginning of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Though at times the road may seem dark, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t give up. Chase after your dreams.”
With only a few more core classes left until she completes her degree, Marilyn has plans for her future, which includes pursuing her master’s degree so she can finally enter the field of social services.
“Once I graduate, I want to volunteer to help at a juvenile center, as I think I have a lot to offer young people,” she says.
Not all degree programs are available in all states.
*Successful completion of the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology degree by itself does not lead to licensure or certification in any state.
**Ashford University is now the University of Arizona Global Campus.