Children Motivate Michelle Thornburgh to Bachelor’s Degree

Michelle smiling and lifting a young child while other children play

As the first college graduate in her family, Michelle Thornburgh was determined she wouldn’t be the last. While teaching toddlers in an Early Head Start classroom, she resolved to teach her own young children at home that a college degree is worth the time and effort. Now that her bachelor’s degree is in hand, she’s considering graduate school and eventually managing an early childhood education program.

Q: What motivated you to pursue your bachelor’s degree?

A: The motivation that helped me obtain my bachelor’s degree was my three children. I am a mother to three, ages 1, 3, and 5. When I began my career at Ball State I was expecting, and already had a 1- year-old and a 3-year-old. Balancing the children, pregnancy, and birth was sometimes a challenge. Along with my children at home, I also am a teacher in an infant and toddler classroom. Still, I am the first college graduate from my family and wanted to show my children that if you work hard at something, you can do it.

Q: How has your education influenced your professional life?

A: I have used my education often on the job. Working daily with children in a classroom setting provided me the opportunity to incorporate new ideas, teaching strategies, and skills learned through my courses and see them unfold in the classroom.

Q: How did instructors and advisors lend their support?

A: While pursuing my degree online, I had instructors that were very understanding. They took time to invest in me and answer questions through both email and phone conversations. Whenever I needed assistance, it was comforting to know that the instructors were there to assist in any way possible. My experience in the program has been nothing but positive. There is such a strong support from advisors and instructors.

I am thankful for the opportunity to have been a student the last two years at Ball State University. I have gained so much knowledge in such little time. My experience here is a testimony to encourage those who are beginning their educational journey. By working hard, being disciplined in my courses, and balancing a very busy home life, I was able to obtain my degree on time and with a grade point average that gave me the opportunity to attend the Teachers College dean’s list recognition ceremony.

PR Degree is a Boost to Kearns’ Freelance Business

Deborah Kearns is a recent graduate of Ball State University’s master’s degree in public relations. Living in Aurora, Colorado, Kearns needed an online master’s program that could work around her full-time job and two children. With unending encouragement from her academic advisor and the support of her family and friends, Kearns was able to complete her degree despite personal challenges.


Q: What other priorities did you have to balance while pursuing your degree?

A year after I started at Ball State, my mother fell gravely ill and died. Months later, I became pregnant with our second child and had a rough pregnancy. Months after my son’s birth, I was laid off from my job of 7.5 years. What should’ve taken just 18 months to finish instead took nearly five years.

My advisor kept encouraging me to finish. I’m forever grateful that she saw potential in me when my hope and drive faltered. I graduated in May 2017 with a 3.9 GPA, and she’s a key reason I didn’t give up. I flew to Indiana from Colorado for commencement to thank her in person.


Q: How has your Ball State degree influenced employers or coworkers?

Ball State is widely recognized as a leader in communications research and training. I’m not sure about other universities, but I know that since I’ve earned my master’s degree from Ball State, potential freelance clients take note of the fact that I pursued an advanced degree and can articulate public relations concepts and issues. Having that knowledge helps me better understand the business goals of the public relations professionals I work with to secure expert sources for my news stories in national publications.


Q: In what ways has your Ball State experience helped you determine, define, or realize your career goals?

I always knew I wanted to earn a master’s degree. I enjoy learning, and I wanted to expand my knowledge to diversify my skills beyond news journalism. Also, I am the first in my family to attend and graduate from college, so it was a personal goal to start that legacy and earn a master’s degree in a field I see myself pivoting to in the future. I also wanted to show my children, especially my young daughter, Kaylyn, that no matter what life throws at you, and no matter how much you doubt yourself along the way, you can reach your goals with hard work and grit.

There were times when throwing in the towel seemed inevitable because of my personal struggles. There were times when I was too exhausted, mentally and physically, to keep juggling so much at the same time. But I had my husband’s support and the support of friends to keep me going. And, of course, my advisor, who was always there to talk me back from the ledge of quitting. Still, in the end, I really did it to prove I could, and walking across that stage, being hooded, and receiving my diploma made all of that struggle, as bittersweet as it was, worth it.



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