Amy Bernardini, C’16, shares much in common with most students finishing their undergraduate degrees through the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies: she’s a busy parent and hard working employee who for a long time didn’t consider herself ready or able to complete a college degree.
What makes Bernardini’s story as a college student unique is the timeframe in which she completed her SPCS degree. Once she started working toward the degree, it took her only four and a half years to complete the 120 semester hours of the degree, initially transferring only 11 hours into the program from John Tyler Community College.
She didn’t quit being a caring parent or a hard-working employee as she took semester after semester of full-time course loads at SPCS and for transfer at John Tyler Community College and Reynolds Community College. She simply made up her mind she could do it.
Of course, that's not the entire story. Here’s the story as told by Bernardini herself in response to several questions.
What was your educational and professional pathway leading to enrolling at SPCS?
I had only attended community college for a few courses in 1997-1998, but it never felt right for me so I basically gave up on any possibilities of a college degree.
What attracted you to SPCS?
When I started this program, my daughter was in her junior year of high school. I had a full-time job where I worked up to 50 hours a week and never thought I could add college courses. After reviewing a few programs, I felt that the courses at SPCS were more geared towards the schedule of a working professional, with offerings after work-hours during the week and even a few Saturday courses. A University of Richmond degree was also big influence on my decision to enroll.
What motivated you to complete your degree so quickly?
I have been talking to my daughter about the importance of a college education since she was in kindergarten. She just finished her second year of college and was having a tough time. Rather than just lecturing to her about how important and life changing it [completing a degree] can be, I wanted to lead by example and graduate before she did.
What challenges did you face in following your timeframe?
I started out taking two classes a semester but after reviewing my prospective graduation date, I quickly realized that this would only be possible if I increased my course load. Life did not slow down in order for me to complete my assignments, and it was a struggle at times — but it certainly made graduation that much more satisfying!
How did you overcome those challenges?
Since I was starting my degree with only a few credits in transfer, I decided to take advantage of the 60 credits that SPCS allows students to transfer into the program. I enrolled in John Tyler [Community College] and J. Sargeant Reynolds [Community College] to transfer credits to SPCS. This gave me a lot of flexibility. I also took 5 classes over a summer semester, which was intense but doable.
It took some strategizing on my part and a Google Sheet to which I could refer at any point to make sure I was on the right track and planning out my courses in advance. Taking online courses helped me to keep balance in my personal life, but I still spent many late nights on my laptop. It took a great deal of self-discipline. I also could not have succeeded without the support of my family and the amazing professors and support staff at UR.
And I kept going in part because of the support of friends I made at SPCS who were going through the experience of earning a degree with me. When one of us was overwhelmed and stressed, everyone from the group would jump in and give encouragement.
Having a strong support group and believing in yourself is key. It is most certainly a challenge, but as a single mother who put her daughter through private school and got her through her second year of college while managing a stressful job, working up to 50 hours per week and managing a full time course load, and graduating with honors in four years with only 11 credits to start — I am proof that it is definitely possible.
I had never considered myself a good student in the past and after my struggles in high school, I decided that I wasn’t “college material.” It took something as simple as hearing someone tell me that I should just “do it” to get the ball rolling.
And did you achieve your goal?
Yes! It is such a great feeling! I gained so much more than a degree from such a prestigious institution. I gained access to a network of accomplished and successful people while making lifelong friends in the process. What a life changing experience!
Bernardini graduated with honors from the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies with a Bachelor of Applied Studies degree in IT Management and a minor in Business during Commencement exercises on May 7, 2016.