Growing up, Laura Belter was a self-described tomboy who loved to play sports, including volleyball, softball, basketball, and more. Even rollerblading, until it ended in a broken leg.
Yet even when she failed, Laura saw it as a victory. “If you fail, it’s because you tried,” she says. “I’m one of those people who has to try.”
In fact, it’s how she’s tackled all her personal challenges and life goals. Born with cerebral palsy, Laura never let it hold her back from being the person she wanted to become. She explains that her family always taught her that a disability could define a person — but only if they allowed it to.
“I’ve kept that mentality,” she says. “I don’t allow it to rule me. I rule it.”
Naturally, when this 50-year-old mother of two (who was recently promoted to grandmother) decided to go back to school for her Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration, she went full force.
Cerebral palsy is a group of permanent neurological disorders that affect mobility, muscle tone, balance, and much more. It can also make it difficult to comprehend certain subjects, and at first, Laura was concerned it would impact her progress. “When I first started, I was very nervous,” she says. “With my disability, I was scared that I would not understand the material and fall behind, which would lead to dropping out of college.”
Of course, that didn’t happen. Instead, Laura dove into her studies, making it a competition with herself to see how well she could do. It worked. In December 2018, she graduated with honors.
In the 2017–2018 and 2018–2019 school years, Laura made the Dean’s List. She is also a member of several honor societies, including Delta Alpha Pi, Golden Key, Sigma Beta Delta, and Alpha Sigma Lambda.
“Magna cum laude. I never thought I would achieve that,” she admits. “It’s proof that with hard work, you really can get outstanding results.”
Laura credits some of her success to the Office of Student Access and Wellness, which offered assistance and helped her navigate some of her classes. She also hired a personal tutor. “It was a huge help having the teachers know that I did struggle at times,” she explains. “The teacher would contact me, and we would work through it with success.”
As a military spouse and mother, getting her bachelor’s degree wasn’t initially on her agenda. Her husband Terry was in the Army National Guard and would often be deployed in places like Guantanamo Bay and the Republic of Kosovo. There were times when her husband was away from home for up to two years. She devoted the bulk of her time to raising her family and giving back to her community.
In addition to online college and her family, Laura spent 15 years working with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. She was a member of the Volunteer Patrol, acting as eyes and ears for the Sheriff’s Department and helping with everything from finding lost children to directing traffic after car accidents. She also worked behind the scenes in the office as a volunteer coordinator, working alongside paid staff.
Laura also has worked with VIDA, (Vital Intervention and Directional Alternatives), which she describes as boot camp for at-risk youth who are on the verge of going to jail. She’s also involved in a military family support group, where she helps other service members and their families during a deployment.
It was while volunteering with local law enforcement that she initially discovered a passion for helping others and was inspired to pursue an associate degree. In 2004, Laura graduated with an Associate of Arts in Administrative Justice.
A decade later, Laura realized she wasn’t going to be able to fulfill her dreams of working for a federal agency without going back to school for her bachelor’s degree. Because she was going back to school later in life, Laura wasn’t interested in a traditional classroom setting. She knew she wanted the flexibility and convenience of an online school and began researching to find the right college.
Having her classes easily accessible online allowed her to take necessary breaks, such as when the family moved from Washington to California and when she had to have back surgery. Even with those temporary setbacks, Laura didn’t let that stop her and she was able to graduate with her bachelor’s degree.
She even managed to continue volunteering while in school, spending time as a mentor through Ashford University’s* CHAMPS Peer Mentoring program.
Laura also is setting a positive example for her younger son, Michael, who now is enrolled in culinary school, as well as anyone else who is working toward a goal — young or old.
“There’s no such thing as being too old to learn something new, and no one is ever too old to achieve their dreams,” she says.
* Ashford University is now the University of Arizona Global Campus