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Wrenching Personal Loss Leads to Psychology Degree

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.

Kimberly Jackson started her life over after her daughter, husband, and father died within a three-year period. Earning a Bachelor of Science in Psychology at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) was part of that new journey.

“The most challenging part of my UMGC story was returning to school after so many years. UMGC enabled me to achieve my degree in psychology because my professors were understanding of my challenges and guided me along the way,” the Maryland woman said.

More than two decades earlier, Jackson had enrolled at Howard University to pursue a degree in early childhood education but her studies “got interrupted with life,” she said, referring to the birth of her daughter, whom she raised alone. Still, for years, the desire to get a degree gnawed at her.

“Then in 2013, my daughter passed away in a car accident. She had a one-and-a-half-year-old son, and my husband and I decided to raise him. Then a year and a half later, my husband passed away,” she said. ‘I thought, ‘I have this toddler here and I’m doing this by myself. I have to make some changes.’

“I started thinking that there was a message in all this, that God was telling me to go back to school and use that degree to help people who have gone through the same tragedy as I have,” she added.

Studying psychology was, in many ways, cathartic after so much wrenching loss. It helped her navigate grief again when, a year after she began the UMGC program, her father died.

“I had been daddy’s girl. He was my confidant. He and I had shared everything,” she said. “Studying psychology gave me a perspective on myself and other people. 

As a grandmother raising a young child while working full time as an event planner, Jackson faced many challenges. UMGC’s flexibility allowed her to stretch out her studies. She took eight years to complete the program.

“Were there days when I cried? Yes. But I turned those tears into triumph, which was so much bigger,” she said. “I did it! I made it through because I had wonderful professors who were always there for me.” 

Jackson is also proud of the example she set for her grandson, who is now 11. “Our motto in our house is that we get our work done then we can play,” she explained.

Jackson described her grandchild as an achiever. She was proud when he won a full scholarship to an elite boarding school in New Hampshire. “He wanted to go to boarding school. And he’s doing wonderful,” she said.

She is flying him back to Maryland to be part of the celebration when she attends Grad Walk and receives her diploma.

The day before graduation, she is scheduled to begin a new job as the director of a childcare center. “My new job is going to pay for me to go to graduate school,” she said. “I’d like to get a graduate degree in counseling. I’d like to jump right back in—I’m 50 so I don’t have a lot of time.”

Jackson said her long-term goal is to become a life coach.