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​Lives of Meaning and Purpose

Ashley Wheeler, Ana Marin Persevere to Obtain Bachelor’s Degrees

EDITOR’S NOTE: The College’s week-long series on members of the graduating Class of 2012 continues with the stories of two students in the School of Continuing Education who completed their degrees through perseverance. Their accomplishment reflects the Strategic Plan value of “Enhancing Academic Excellence.”

A bachelor’s degree is an even greater accomplishment when it takes a decade to achieve.

For Ashley Wheeler, the journey took almost 10 years. For Ana Marin, it was 12.

The Providence College School of Continuing Education students both completed their studies while working full-time jobs — Wheeler in Providence, Marin in Boston. Marin did it while shepherding two children through high school and college. Both women were determined not only to obtain degrees, but to make sure those degrees were from PC.

“I wanted to go to PC upon graduating from high school,” said Wheeler, 28. “It was very important to me to have ‘Providence College’ atop my degree when I was finished.”

“I wanted to get my bachelor’s here,” said Marin, 46. “I love the education here. I love the passion of the teachers.”

Wheeler and Marin are among 34 students in the SCE who will be awarded diplomas at the College’s 94th commencement on Sunday, May 20. Their stories follow.

Degree “means more to me now”

Ashley Wheeler entered PC’s undergraduate day school from her high school in Stoughton, Mass., in September 2002. She intended to study politics, make the most of a half-tuition  scholarship awarded by the state of Massachusetts, and graduate with her class in 2006.

But life and family difficulties twice interrupted her studies, and Wheeler withdrew as an undergraduate in 2005, about one course shy of an associate’s degree.

Working full time as a paralegal in Providence, she never forgot her pledge to complete her education. She enrolled in the SCE and earned an associate’s degree in liberal studies in December 2008.

A bachelor’s degree seemed “so much bigger at that point,” said Wheeler. “After I got my associate’s degree, it seemed impossible.”

Still, Wheeler returned to college with renewed determination in September 2010. Over four straight semesters, including one summer, she completed 15 courses, some on campus and some online, for a bachelor’s degree in social science. She did it while working full time to support herself, and she earned Dean’s List honors every term, with no course grade below a B-plus.

“With a lot of obstacles in my undergraduate time, I wasn’t able to focus or care as much as I would have liked, or should have,” Wheeler said. “When I went back, it was 150 percent to get it over with as quickly as possible and do as well as possible.”

After completing her degree in December, Wheeler moved to Boston, where she began work as a project coordinator in the renewable energy group at John Hancock investments.

She wasn’t sure at first that she would attend commencement.

“I was on the fence about participating at all. I should have my tenure at PC by now,” Wheeler joked. “I decided I owe it to myself and my loved ones to go. They are happy to see that I finally did it. They know how important it was to me.”

Madeleine Metzler, SCE associate dean, credited Wheeler for her perseverance.

“Like most students returning to school, Ashley has had to overcome many obstacles to complete her degree,” said Metzler. “Because of her drive and dedication, no matter what challenges she faced, Ashley never lost her commitment. She has worked very hard to continue her education and it is wonderful that she has accomplished this goal.”

Wheeler has few regrets.

“Of course, I wish the things that happened to affect my education in the past hadn’t happened and that I could have gone through four years in a timely manner,” said Wheeler. “But I have such a high appreciation for my degree. It means so much more to me now. I can’t say I regret that. For the first time, I can say, ‘Yes, I graduated from Providence College.’”

Grateful to education

Ana Marin, who was certified in legal and medical interpretation, was always frustrated in job searches because she didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. So, in the summer of 2000, while working at PC, she decided to enroll in a class.

At the time, her husband and she were raising two children, ages 17 and 11, in a three-family home in Pawtucket.

“I finished the course,” said Marin. “I said, ‘Let’s see if I can take two courses in the fall.’ But it was incredibly difficult. My son was about to start college himself. I was motivating him. My mother did a lot of babysitting.”

Even after she stopped working at PC, Marin kept plugging away at her degree. In 2007, she was awarded an associate’s degree in liberal studies through the SCE.

Could she make it to a bachelor’s? Marin wasn’t sure, but a counselor told her, “Take it one step at a time. The years are going to pass by anyway.”

Marin, who is fluent in Spanish, is a cancer patient navigator at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Though she took online courses, she preferred learning in a classroom with a professor, so she had to arrange to leave work early once a week to make it to Providence for class.

“Always my heart was in my throat, especially when the train was running behind,” said Marin.

She used her hours on the train to study on her laptop.

“Sometimes I was so tired on the train, I’d take a two-minute nap,” she said.

Marin will receive a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies, “an amazing feeling.” Her daughter will receive a bachelor’s degree from Rhode Island College the day before. Her son graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 2008. Marin hasn’t ruled out a master’s degree in public health, though her husband tells her, “You must be crazy!”

“Working with Ana has been a pleasure,” said Jennifer Andrews, an academic counselor in the SCE. “I admire her determination and perseverance in completing this degree. It can’t be easy working a full day in Boston and then taking courses at night.”

Marin, a native of Colombia, credits her perseverance to her father. Too poor to attend school, he taught himself to read using the newspaper. When Marin was 10, her parents separated. She moved to Rhode Island with her mother and brother. Her father stayed behind.

“I kept in communication with my dad,” Marin said. “When I married young, he would say, ‘It doesn’t matter. Just continue studying. Education opens a lot of doors.’ He was saying this in a Third-World country, 30 years ago, by mail. His words landed in a good mind.”

“Every single certificate I’ve gotten, starting in 1983, from my associate’s degree, to today, every single one has done a lot for me,” said Marin. “I have to be grateful to education and where it has brought me and how it has affected my thought processes and where I want to go.

“This is a country of opportunities. You have to be there with the competition. You can’t fall back.”

— Vicki-Ann Downing 

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