Kaylee Stout / The Sunflower
Heather Renee Hill isn’t your average soon-to-be college graduate. It took years for the 49-year-old to get to the finish line. Now she’s about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from the Women’s Studies program. She has applied to the Master of Public Administration degree program at Wichita State. She awaits the decision letter from the department.
Hill is an Administrative Specialist in the Office of Financial Aid in the Scholarship Department. She counsels students all day about how to afford college. But when she began the job, she had no intention of getting her bachelor’s degree. She already had an Associate’s degree from Seward county.
“My boss was very persuasive — encouraging is the word,” Hill said. “I thought, for so long, ‘I’m just going to be a legal assistant, and that’s it. I don’t need to get my degree or anything because there’s no advancement for me here. There’s no bachelor’s program for a legal assistant (at WSU).”
She said when she left the legal field, she was blessed to get her current job. She appreciates the support and direction she received from colleagues about continuing her education.
“Angie Zeorlin was very encouraging — to go back to school and finish my degree. I kind of felt a little pushed into it,” Hill said. “But, you know, I’m very grateful that she did push because I found a purpose. I found that I am worth the second chance of going to school.”
“When you’re along by 20 years, and you switch over to something new, everything is almost like, your eyes are just now open to a whole new world.”
Hill said she would be content to keep working in the Office of Scholarships for the rest of her career. But having this degree gives her more opportunities for advancement and better pay. That’s one reason she considered applying to graduate school, she said.
Her time as a student at WSU has offered her the chance to learn new information and make more contacts on campus that can help Hill do her job better. Her goal is to help students and parents find funds for higher education.
“It’s a great feeling to know that I actually now have a purpose in life of helping students, of helping kids save some money, or helping parents that probably couldn’t afford much,” Hill said.
Hill is also passionate about advocating for and mentoring other adult students. She said they have different needs and complications than younger students.
Hill said that having people that believe in her and support her has made all the difference. She described the second time around in terms of going to school as very enriching.
“It has made it fun,” she said.
As a wife and mother, she appreciates that coming back to school was about her, not her husband or her daughter.
“You have to do something for yourself. You’ve lost your identity over the years,” she said. “When you’re on the path you’re supposed to be, you lose the baggage. You gain so much freedom.”
She said she doesn’t know if this relates to midlife, but she feels a sense of enlightenment now regarding her education.
“You are doing for you because you’ve done for everybody else. And this is your moment. You create the story.”