Editor's Note: This profile is part of a series that features the stories of graduates whose outstanding journeys have culminated in a UMGC degree.
Jessica Campbell works as a attendant at Meadow View Psychiatric Hospital in Secaucus, New Jersey, where she helps patients in their day-to-day activities and ensures that their treatment plans are carried out. She aspires to make an even greater contribution to people’s lives as a clinical psychologist one day.
She may not be there yet, but she’s taken a giant leap toward that goal with her degree from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC).
Born and raised in Hoboken, New Jersey, Campbell grew up below the poverty line. Her story, like that of many Americans, illustrates how a series of unfortunate events can propel a family into homelessness. Cancer and arthritis left her mother unable to work, which caused the family to lose their home. That, in turn, left the family struggling for years under clouds of stress and uncertainty.
“I was homeless and living in motels all through high school, which made college seem impossible,” said Campbell. “We had to rely on state services to get to and from school, which made it difficult to thrive the way we wanted.”
Campbell persevered. With the encouragement of her siblings and an invested teacher, she finished high school.
“My high school history teacher understood everything that I was going through from the time I walked in as a freshman,” said Campbell. “She always told me that I would get to this point.”
Campbell went on to join a Job Corps program that offered training in business technology. After an unsuccessful attempt to get an associate degree, she realized that without the stability of a home, college and, especially, the financial aid process were too difficult to navigate.
“I didn't have an address, so I never quite got situated at school,” she said. “I ended up leaving in debt and went back to work.”
Campbell was determined to provide herself with the stability she needed to get back to a degree program. She worked three part-time jobs as a nanny, at a local Starbucks and at a 24-hour gym, just to keep a roof over her head. And then COVID-19 hit and her jobs ended abruptly.
But there was a silver lining. The lack of work gave her time to reflect. “I started thinking about the things that I truly wanted,” she said. What she wanted most was to continue her education.
Campbell was fortunate to get back to work during the pandemic as a nanny for a supportive family. “They really saw me,” she said. “They understood my passion for education and wanted to help me go back to school.”
With the encouragement of her older brother, who had heard about UMGC’s online offerings, and the support of her employer, Campbell believed that UMGC would be the right fit. “A lot of other universities were scrambling to get online full time during COVID and UMGC already had that,” she said.
Campbell leaned in. She started at UMGC, and immediately sought to connect with her professors and advisors, all of whom stuck with her throughout her journey.
Now, as she graduates with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in communications, Campbell is ready to give back. “I was always blessed with a good group of people around me,” she said. “It could have been easy to get lost to the streets and caught up in the wrong things.”
With her degree, Campbell expects to make a difference in her community, eventually as a clinical psychologist. Long-term, she hopes to open a school geared toward helping homeless families. “As a child I didn’t realize there were a lot of families like mine, living in the same predicament,” she said.
To others who might feel that college is a pipe dream, Campbell’s advice is simple: “Nothing is impossible.”