For 29-year-old El Paso, Texas native Michelle Brooks, earning her BA at The University of Pennsylvania was a no-brainer. She moved to Philadelphia from New York City in her early 20’s, and landed a job in development at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Today, she's a Financial Coordinator at Wharton—it was only a matter of time before she dove into Penn academics. Now in her fifth year as a social sciences major with the College of Liberal and Professional Studies (LPS), Michelle is an expert in all aspects of life at the University of Pennsylvania.
As the treasurer of the LPS Student Association (LPSSA), Michelle dedicates her spare time from her full-time job and part-time education to help non-traditional students fully embrace all that Penn has to offer. “If you’re a new student, the best thing you can do for yourself is to find a student who has been here for a few years and learn the ropes together. When I joined the LPSSA group, I made so many friends and learned about the university’s resources like the writing center, career counseling and tutors.”
With the help of Penn’s academic support services, Michelle has been able to successfully balance the rigor of a full-time career and a part-time Ivy League degree. “It’s a commitment, and you utilize the time you have. No one can go home after eight hours of work and two hours of class and magically have the energy to study for two or three more and avoid your family and friends. I’ve been doing it for five years and nothing is suffering at this point.”
Michelle has also found that earning her degree while simultaneously building her career has been a huge help in her success. “I definitely think you’re more focused when you go to school later in life. You know who you are and understand the dynamics of a career, and you know what’s needed to get to the next level. You see how the skills you’re learning in school are transferrable into your work life.”
She began as a chemistry major with a focus on biomedical chemistry and then transitioned into the social sciences with a special interest in non-profit work and community outreach. “I love being research driven. My favorite class has been Culture and Consumption in the Global Marketplace. We went to Atlantic City, the outskirts of Philadelphia and the inner city. We got to go out and see what’s shifting and changing right now.”
Along with enjoying the diversity of coursework, Michelle has enjoyed the diversity of her fellow LPS students in the classroom, “Last year, I met a ballerina who is in the Pennsylvania Ballet. I’ve met people in the military and a woman from Mauritius in my classes. These are people I probably would have never gotten to talk to and learn from their experiences and lives. It really broadens your horizons.”
When Michelle completes her degree in 2017, she hopes to continue on her path in higher education and apply her knowledge of finance and social sciences to community work. “I would love to work with outreach programs in high schools and help teach basic financial life skills program—like taxes and banking to young people—it could really give them a leg up in life.”
Michelle has advice for anyone considering earning their BA at Penn, “Jump in and do it because the time is going to pass anyway, so you might as well to do something to propel you to the next level. In a lot of instances, that degree is everything. I was hesitant at first, and it has been a journey, but it has been so well worth it. I’d do it again.”