It can be intimidating to go back to school after years of living your life without homework assignments, classmates and stressful exams. Although earning a degree can be infinitely rewarding, it can sometimes be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel as you progress through the seemingly endless journey. It can be even harder to believe you’re capable of reaching your goal.
Dawna Rhods has been there. Not only did she earn an associate degree late in life, she even went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree and successfully organize her own team for a charitable, county-wide 5-kilometer race.
Here is her story.
Going after your dreams
“I turned 50 in the summer of 2009,” Rhods says. “It felt like a milestone, so I started to ask myself, ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’ ” It wasn’t long before she decided to finish what she started 30 years earlier and earn that college degree that had eluded her for so long.
She was unsure of where to start searching for the right field of study and the right program for her. While driving past Rasmussen College’s Ocala campus, she made the spontaneous decision to stop in and learn more about the program offerings.
That November, she decided to earn an associate degree in network administration.
Rhods’ goal at the time was to earn an associate degree and then promptly get a full-time job in her field. She worked days and went to class at night, and, with hard work and determination, she accomplished her goal.
But she came to the realization during the last week of classes that she wasn’t crazy about the idea of making network administration her career. “I knew I wanted to do something with people,” she explains. “I’m much more of a ‘people person’ than a ‘computer person’.”
She envisioned herself as a bridge between tech-savvy people and people who might need a little guidance when it comes to technology, something for which she felt she’d need a little extra education. Later that week, she enrolled in the accelerated bachelor’s degree program to earn a degree in human resources.
Ocala senior admissions manager, Kathryn Lombardi, has been with her every step of the way.
Rhods is preparing to graduate with her bachelor’s degree this spring. As she did with her first degree, she has worked full-time during the day and then gone straight to school at night. To cope with the academic demands of school, Rhods has always made a conscious effort to give back to the community and engage in some type of physical activity.
Getting into the exercise groove
Rhods often arrives to school early, ties up her running shoes and walks for 30-60 minutes before class. “I have found that on the days I walk, I feel really good. My homework gets done faster and I feel more energized,” she says.
So when she received an email announcing “Run for the Springs”—a 5K charity run across Marion County—Rhods welcomed the opportunity to bring together her love of community and physical fitness.
“The event raised money to support the Ocala Springs from being contaminated, [which are] the community’s main source of water,” Lombardi explains. “Neighbors helping neighbors, people in the community caring about others and protecting our resources—that was the theme.”
Rhods even recruited coworkers and Rasmussen folks to join her in the race.
"I have found that on the days I walk, I feel really good. My homework gets done faster and I feel more energized"
“When [Dawna] first heard about the 5K, she said it interested her because it was exercise, she had never participated in one before and it would give her an opportunity to give back to the community,” says Lombardi, who was eventually recruited to participate.
Dawna recruited more than enough people to create a team, eventually naming it “We are Walking,” encouraging people to stay active even if they’re not experienced runners. “Some people on our team finished quickly, some in the middle and some all the way toward the back,” Rhods recalls. “But everyone finished. That was the goal.”
Lombardi adds: “Everyone who participated helped to raise money, but it all started with Dawna’s outreach. [She] is a leader on our campus.”
Find your path
Dawna’s accelerated bachelor’s degree will be completed this spring, and she asserts that most of it is due to the support she’s received throughout the years from her mother, her children and her grandchildren. When asked what’s next for her, her voice perks up and she expresses a possible goal of earning a master’s degree in library science or human resources.
With some passionate hard work, Dawna Rhods has accomplished more than she ever dreamed she could after 50. “I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle the accelerated program while working full-time,” she reminisces. “It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been such a great journey.”
Rhods insists that anyone can accomplish the same things if they just put themselves out there and take a chance. “If you want to try something, just do it. It’s okay to be afraid and to worry about whether or not you’ll be successful … but just step out and do it anyway,” she says.
If you want to follow in Dawna’s footsteps and see where an accelerated bachelor’s degree can take you, check out Rasmussen College for available options.