Jennifer Hotchkiss ’16
Bachelor of Arts in Leadership & Organizational Studies
A unique opportunity landed me a scholarship to Bay Path's American Women's College.
I needed a push to finish college. I hopped around, attending three different colleges in Connecticut. At each, I tried to complete my associate degree, but there were setbacks along the way—my grandmother died, I went to work full time, I had my son—I couldn’t make it work. It seemed the time was never right.
As a Connecticut native, I’ve been familiar with Bay Path University for a long time. The University sent me postcards about One Day A Week College, something I’d considered. Then, I heard about The American Women’s College Online. Not long after, the right time to go back to college came when I learned about an incredible and unusual opportunity.
Mika Brzezinski, co-host of the MSNBC show “Morning Joe,” wrote a book called Knowing Your Value that’s all about empowering women. Using the book as a springboard, she began hosting conferences called “Know Your Value” around the country. The inaugural event was in Hartford, CT. The local CBS affiliate, Channel 3, announced a contest calling for women to submit short videos explaining why they deserve $10,000—what would they do with it? Would it be life-changing? “Know Your Value” would pick five finalists to compete for the prize at the conference. I looked at it and thought, “You know what? I’m going to go for it.” I took my iPad and went upstairs—nobody knew. I submitted a tape, but didn’t think much of it. Two days later, I had a message notifying me that my video was chosen. I was ecstatic.
I had been eager to go back to college for a long time, so my speech centered on how winning the grand prize would help me reach my dream of being the first woman in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree.
I wanted to show my son that it’s never too late to succeed in life.The day of the conference was exhilarating. The conference itself left me inspired, and Mika and the “Know Your Value” team were kind and supportive. When it was time, I went up on stage to give my speech in front of the thousands of attendees. I made analogies to “Over the Rainbow,” and shared my story of metaphorically “going down the yellow brick road” but taking many paths along the way. In the speech, I specifically said, “I want to go to Bay Path,” and added that, given the chance, I’d attend the University’s leadership and organizational studies bachelor’s program offered online. I heard cheering from the back of the audience. It came down to me and another woman—ultimately, she was the contest winner. Suddenly, though, Caron Hobin, Chief Strategy Officer for The American Women’s College, came to the edge of the stage, and leaned over to talk to Mika. I didn’t know who she was at the time, but Mika said, “Hold on, we have great news!” and gave Caron the mic. Caron said that I exemplified the Bay Path “bold woman” and on behalf of the University, offered me a scholarship. Initially, we discussed a three-year plan, but I knew I could finish in two years.
I earned my associate degree in business administration this past spring—May 2015 to be exact, making me the first woman in my family to graduate from college, and I graduated summa cum laude, no less. I knew I had finished strong because The American Women’s College allows you to see your grades right away. I think that’s a big component of succeeding.
In her speech at both the Women’s Leadership Conference and the scholarship brunch I attended, President Carol Leary said that 76 million American women don’t have a bachelor’s degree. That statistic stays with me. Any mother, woman, or person who doesn’t think they can get a college degree because they have a full life, forget that, because The American Women’s College has made it possible.
You can study at any time because course material is available 24 hours a day. I carved out time to do my schoolwork after my son went to bed every night. Sometimes, if I needed to, I could do a little less and double up another night. That flexibility afforded me time to pursue other passions, too, like yoga, singing, and spending time with family and friends.
The courses are interactive. I took a biology course where reading assignments were followed by experimentation, performed online. The required materials list included a microscope and I thought, “I can’t afford to buy a microscope.” But I didn’t need to—we used software that simulated its full functionality—you could change the slides, press a button to raise or lower the lens, and even twist the different adjustments just like a live microscope. And I love the instantaneous communication with professors and classmates. Despite being online, you get the feeling of being in a classroom.
The online classes address the reality that people learn in different ways by adapting to various learning styles. Some of the courses combine all three styles: reading/writing, auditory, and visual. If I read something and felt that I wasn’t absorbing the information, with the click of a button, a video detailing the same material would pop up.
As an online student, I still feel like a part of the University community. I attended the Women’s Leadership Conference in the spring and sat at a table filled with online students, many whom I met for the first time. At commencement, I shared the stage with those same women, each of us feeling a rush of excitement as we heard our names called and walked across the stage, our families cheering us on from the crowd. Together, we were thrilled to be part of the first group of women graduating from The American Women’s College.
What this experience has shown me is that it’s never too late to follow your dreams or attain your goals. In the span of one year, I won a scholarship to Bay Path, started a new job, and graduated with my associate degree. It’s taken me 17 years to get here, and I can’t wait to see what the year ahead holds. One thing is for sure, though—one year from now, I’ll be reveling in my son’s cheers for me, celebrating the long-anticipated achievement of my ultimate goal—completing my bachelor’s degree.