By Collin Wilson, C‘13, with Shelby Longland, ‘13

“Let go of your fears and go for it.” Bianca Spurlock, C’12, speaks from personal experience when she gives this advice to anyone considering going back to school. Spurlock, with her previous experience in education, had plenty of reasons to fear this daunting task. It took her ten years to obtain her undergraduate degree in sociology. Also, as a mother she worried about having enough energy and time to study and write papers.

Her fears disappeared the moment Spurlock attended an information session with a friend at the School of Professional & Continuing Studies. Spurlock came with her friend to keep her company; however, her ambivalent attitude quickly changed. The friendliness of the staff and positive energy at the reception sparked her interest in pursuing a graduate degree.

Spurlock remembers the day her fears were relieved: “The SPCS staff at the reception were interested in what you wanted to do and where you were going. To come here, and have people tell me that I could go back to school, was incredibly inspiring. Although I was exhausted after ten years of pursuing my undergraduate degree, I immediately knew that it would be different here.”

“I didn’t choose the program. It chose me.”

Once she enrolled in the Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) program in fall 2009, Spurlock never looked back. She graduated with her MLA degree May 5, 2012.

Spurlock is a University staff member, working full time in Boatwright Memorial Library as an Administrative Coordinator. She attended class at night.

Going to class after a long day of work seems like an exhausting task. But Spurlock claims that class revitalized her soul. She says that in her program she watched movies, spent classes observing nature by the James River, listened to music, and dined at several of her professors’ homes. “I kept waiting for our professors to invite us to spend a weekend with them!” she jokes. She even got upset when a class wasn’t offered. “I got mad when I couldn’t get in a class, because I was excited to complete my program.”

Being able to relate to fellow students also motivated Spurlock in her studies. “Everyone in your class works and is just as tired as you are. It’s inspiring to know that people are experiencing similar feelings.” Most people at SPCS work during the day—seventy-one percent of students at SPCS attend class part time while only twenty-nine percent are full time.

The excellent professors in the MLA program are the ones who directly encouraged Spurlock the most. Her professors and her advisor Dr. Eakin were there for her every step of the way. They taught her valuable life lessons as well as book knowledge: “One thing I learned from my professors is that I’m not always right. They always humbled me by forcing me to open my mind for other arguments. In one particular class, I felt like I was the resident expert in the field since I had taken classes in this field already. However, I was forced to be quiet and listen, and this humbled me and made me insatiable for information.”

Even while she took off a semester to have a baby, Spurlock didn’t encounter any roadblocks to her pursuit of her master’s degree. “There are so many people here who hold your hand and help you through the process. If it’s not an SPCS staff member, it’s an advisor. If not an advisor, a professor. If not a professor, a librarian. If not a librarian, a fellow student.”

Spurlock challenges fellow University employees to take advantage of the opportunity to take classes or earn a degree. “As far as workers on campus, SPCS is one of our options. People should take advantage of it because you interact with the community at large. No other program can give you access to that. When I walk around campus, I see people who I recognize. This makes me feel comfortable in my community. Anyone on campus who is thinking about going back to school should take classes.”

Spurlock encourages readers with no inkling of an interest in going back to school simply to attend an SPCS information session with a friend. After meeting the welcoming and encouraging staff and potential students at the beautiful reception in one of Richmond’s most picturesque sites, perhaps you will change your mind.