If there’s one thing you learn during a conversation with Sara Clabaugh, it’s that you can’t put her in a box. She’s been proving the doubters wrong since she was a teenager, and no matter where she decides to take her career, she’s determined to succeed.
“I’ve always been someone that, when I set my mind to do something, I can do it,” she says. “Honestly, what drives me further is when people tell me that I can’t do something because I know that I’m capable, and no one’s going to tell me I can’t do something because I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it well, and I will prove you wrong.”
Sara recently crossed the stage at the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC) spring 2023 commencement ceremony in Glendale, Arizona, where she celebrated the eventual completion of two degree programs: a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in Applied Behavioral Science (with an emphasis in criminal justice). She is scheduled to graduate this September but will continue on to earn her master's degree as part of the UAGC SMART Track program.
She says she hopes her degrees will set her up for a future of stability. As a military spouse, Sara has become used to moving her family around – to England, France, and Florida, to name a few places – and searching for new opportunities to earn a living. Regardless of her location, Sara has carried with her a passion for helping people and a knack for fixing things. To understand why, you need to go back to her teenage years.
Disrupting the Automotive Industry Gender Barrier
Growing up in Ohio as the youngest of three siblings, Sara was always close with her family and especially close with her father – the person to whom she attributes her strong work ethic and determination to experience different things in life. She recalls being as young as seven when she first began helping her father fix up old cars. It eventually became her favorite activity and a very big part of who she is today.
What drives me further is when people tell me that I can’t do something because I know that I’m capable, and no one’s going to tell me I can’t do something because I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it well, and I will prove you wrong.
Growing up “under the hood” made Sara feel that anyone could be part of the automotive industry. It wasn’t until she walked into a dealership at age 16, looking for an opportunity to become a mechanic, that she learned her age — and, notably, her gender — were barriers standing in her way. According to Zippia, less than 6% of auto mechanics are women, and Sara says it takes thick skin to succeed in the industry.
“It’s a very male-dominated field, and I walked in there, and they see me — I’m 5’2” and 120 pounds — and they’re like, ‘No way,’” she recalls. “I was telling them all the stuff I knew how to do and that I was just really excited to learn more and that if they gave me a chance, they wouldn’t regret it.”
They didn’t. Sara’s determination not only got her hired despite having no professional experience, but she was able to prove her ability in no time. At one point, she was tapped to do an engine swap, and that was the nod she needed to solidify her legitimacy among the crew.
Finding Her Purpose
When Sara and her husband married, she was still working on cars in Ohio while he was attending boot camp and technical school in Texas. But his Air Force career soon took the couple overseas to England. There, Sara had an opportunity to work on cars and also was a mechanic at an Air Force Base. She enjoyed her work but yearned to go to college and pursue a career in law enforcement.
“I want to analyze criminals and criminal behavior,” she says. “For this type of career, you need to go to school. You need to learn everything you possibly can, especially in the field of psychology, and I think that if I would have given up, it would have been a bad move.
“I'm very thankful that I took my husband's advice to go back to school and that he helped me understand that I wasn't too old to go back to school because I didn't go when everyone else did at 18.”
Sara enrolled at UAGC while in England. She became a mother (twice) while in school, and the family relocated again, to Florida, before returning to Ohio. It’s been a whirlwind, but she’s managed to keep her family together while moving, working full time, and pursuing her degree.
Now that she’s gotten a taste of academic success, she’s on the road to becoming a lifelong learner. Sara is on the SMART Track at UAGC and will soon be working toward her master’s degree, with the long-term goal of earning a PhD.
In the meantime, she is also working on her goal to further develop her career in the field of law enforcement. Currently, she is a full-time patrol dispatcher for the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Sara’s passion for fixing things — coupled with the skills and knowledge she’s gained from her time at UAGC — has opened up a world of possibilities. Her career can go in several directions, she says, but right now she’s able to apply what she’s learned to helping others, especially her family.
“I want to help people like my husband, Veterans who have served that don’t get the care they need, or even everyday people that don’t get the proper care,” she says.
In the meantime, Sara’s got another automotive project to take care of at home – a 1997 Land Rover Defender her husband brought back from England.
“We’re kind of picking it apart as we go and adding new things to it, kind of adding more American things, and we’re going to swap out the engine.” she says.
Successful completion of the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology degree or the Bachelor of Arts in Applied Behavioral Science does not lead to licensure or certification in any state, regardless of concentration or specialization. Further, UAGC does not guarantee that any professional organization will accept a graduate’s application to sit for any exam for the purpose of professional certification.
Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.