Monday, November 25, 2013

Featured Learner Series: Philadelphia mom sparks an educational movement in her community

INSPIRING OTHERS: Myrna Coleman (pictured in
green) poses with me, fellow Parent University
graduate Carla Bell, and InFocus
host Steve Highsmith.
Giving back has always been a part of Myrna Coleman’s life. From her job as a special education classroom assistant, to taking care of her family, to participating in her church and community, she’s always been happy to help others. But when she had the opportunity to earn her college degree by joining Parent University, it was her chance to help herself.

Parent University gave 25 parents of Philadelphia school children the chance to earn their associate degree through a partnership between Peirce College and the School District of Philadelphia. But for Myrna, the joy of education has always been a part of her life.

She has always enjoyed working with children, and dreamed of one day becoming a teacher. “I’ve been doing it my entire life,” Myrna said. “I would bring all the little kids from the neighborhood to my porch, read stories to them, and help them do basic math and learn their alphabets. I was acting as a teacher then.”

But health issues and family commitments stopped her from attending college after high school. Instead, she worked to become a special education classroom assistant for the School District of Philadelphia and began raising a family while living in southwest Philadelphia.

She also became the president of her local Home and School Association, where she had served for 13 years. It was through this position that she learned of the Parent University program. The timing was ideal, as her four children were older now, and she could devote more time to her studies.

“I was always trying to figure out a way to get back to earn my degree and I just couldn't figure it out,” said Myrna. “My life was so demanding and by the time I got home, I was just tired. So I would say the opportunity to enroll in Parent University was very instrumental in furthering my education.”

Myrna applied to the program, was accepted, and spent the next three years working full time, taking care of her family, and going to class a few nights a week. To help her balance her responsibilities, Myrna relied on workshops and the support system that Peirce offers.

“I attended a lot of workshops that were interesting to me, especially ones on time management and writing essays,” said Myrna. “They really kept me going. I would bring a lot of the material back to the cohort [of other Parent University students] and we would learn from them together. It was very family oriented and we felt very supported.” She also utilized the Walker Center, the online and on-campus library, and CDS.

Myrna did so well that she was selected as Peirce College's Parent University Distinguished Student. "I was experiencing many hardships while obtaining my associate degree and maintained a high GPA," said Myrna. "From what I hear, I was the first student to receive this award."

When Myrna and the rest of the Parent University graduates earned their associate degrees this past June, she already knew she was going to continue her journey to earn her bachelor’s degree. She enrolled in our Business Administration program with a concentration in Professional Studies, which she’ll use to apply to a graduate-level education program as well as pursue her goal of owning a daycare and tutoring facility.

Myrna has also found the opportunity to give back at Peirce. To help other students get to know the school that started her on her higher education journey, Myrna joined our Ambassadors Club. She volunteers at events throughout the year, greeting attendees, supporting activities, and telling her story to help ease the transition for other adult learners.

“Adult students are going through a lot of the same things,” Myrna said. “Some people are a little skeptical or intimidated by returning to college. But when they find out that somebody has gone through the same thing, they want to ask questions and get advice. Hearing how I did it helps ease them into the college experience and they want to do the same thing.”

Myrna has even taken it further by sharing her story more broadly. The Philadelphia Tribune and PHL’s InFocus have recently featured Myrna’s experience with Parent University. Unbeknownst to her at the time, Myrna’s story was inspiring many other parents who were reading about her and watching her on TV.

“Through the media attention, people keep coming up to me and telling me that they have seen me,” Myrna said. “People have come up to me and said, ‘You don’t know me, but when I heard you talk about this [earning your degree], I decided to go back to school.’ My friend just went back for her GED. She said she’s been taking these classes but has been a little intimidated to go and take her test. But now she signed up to take it and told me, ‘You know I’m going to catch up to you. I’m going to college.’”

Her inspiration runs deep, and Myrna told us about another fellow parent who has lupus but is still motivated to earn her college degree as a way to cope with the disease. “I happened to see one of the parents who sent a child to the school I used to work at,” Myrna continued. “She was telling me how even though she was sick, because she heard my story, she was going back to college. She said ‘I’m not going to let this beat me.’”

Indeed, Myrna has motivated a community of learners. “People say that if I can do it, they can do it -- and everybody is going for it,” Myrna said. “Every time I turn around, another one of my friends decides to go to college. It’s never too late -- some of them are older than me, some are younger than me. It’s just really great.”

She has become a role model for many parents who want to go to college. “I suggest that all adult learners go after their goals and their dreams to earn their degree,” she said. “Then they should familiarize themselves with the college where they’re going and be aware of what they’re offering -- support, resources, etc. And then volunteer -- get involved with the college so you can inspire others and pass your knowledge along.”

If you’d like to learn more about giving back to the Peirce community and getting involved with the Ambassadors Club, email for more information.

Thanks for sharing your story, Myrna!