A funny thing happened when Miguel Alsop returned to college in 2016 to complete his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.
“Shortly after I started, my supervisor told me to stop using such big words at work,” recalls our January 2021 Alum of the Month. “It made me laugh, and it made me proud. I didn’t realize my vocabulary was growing and changing so much.”
That same supervisor noticed that Miguel’s increased knowledge in psychology was making him better equipped to handle difficult clients, so she began sending them his way.
“I gladly accepted the challenge, because it was a good learning experience,” he says.
Miguel discovered that in addition to putting his education immediately to use at work, he was able to manage his job, life, and school thanks to the flexibility of the online platform.
Fast-forward three years and Miguel graduated with honors in the spring of 2019 and attended his graduation ceremony with his whole family cheering him on.
“Everyone was so proud of me that day,” he says. “I felt so accomplished.”
What Miguel didn’t plan for was that shortly after earning his degree, the entire world would be sideswiped by a global pandemic — one that not only drastically reshaped day-to-day lives but also made a major impact on the job market and increased unemployment levels.
Much to his surprise, however, as Miguel began applying for new positions, he found that his degree — in conjunction with being bilingual — proved to be a big help in getting his foot in the door.
“In a time when there were so few jobs out there, I actually had choices,” said Miguel. After weighing his options, Miguel accepted a full-time job working as a program technician for the United States Department of Agriculture. The position is one that proved critical as the global pandemic disrupted supply chains and destabilized food sources around the country.
“We are able to help farmers financially — either by government grants or loans — to help them keep growing produce or livestock. I feel like I’m doing my part,” explains Miguel. “I’ve always enjoyed helping people, and now during COVID, I’m helping those who keep the produce going. I feel like that’s my way of contributing during all of this.”
Now that he’s learned the ropes in his new position, Miguel’s discovered that many of the topics that were covered in his general education courses have come in handy. For example, he says the subject matter in his cultural anthropology elective course directly related to his position.
“It’s been helpful because there is a lot of history in farming and it is a class that involved abstract thinking, thinking outside the box. I put that type of thinking to use daily as we deal with so many farms that are different from one another — different sizes, shapes, etc.”
Going Back to School
Miguel acknowledges that no matter what’s going on in a person’s life or what their age is, going back to school isn’t easy. In fact, it took him nine years in all to earn his psychology degree.
When Miguel first began taking college classes at another institution in 2010, his now almost teenage son was three years old and had many behavioral issues stemming from ADHD. At the same time, another family member was dealing with chronic depression and Miguel was finding that the doctors they had seen weren’t offering the support needed. Between juggling those issues and working full-time, Miguel had his hands full.
After a year of taking classes, Miguel decided to take a break. He didn’t know when he would go back to school but was determined to one day finish what he had started.
“I had been working for health and human services and noticed I was getting passed up for promotions because I didn’t have a college degree,” he explains. “I wanted to be able to move up. But more importantly, I wanted to help people.”
So, in 2016 Miguel went back to school to do just that. He selected Ashford University* for his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology because the program was online and had structured courses that were five weeks each. This time around, Miguel found the course schedule a perfect fit for his busy lifestyle and almost instantly began seeing a difference in his day-to-day interactions.
In addition to helping on a global scale, his decisions have even motivated his own family members.
Inspired by his decision to go back to school, Miguel’s sister has followed in his footsteps and has decided to earn her degree. His older son says he is also planning on attending college soon.
“It was hard when I first returned,” he remembers. “You have to get your brain back in homework mode again. But my advice would be to remember why you started school in the first place. If you stop going, just remember your goal and go back and finish. It’s worth it in the end.”
*Ashford University is now the University of Arizona Global Campus.
Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.