Raquel Lee ’15
Bachelor of Arts in Leadership & Organizational Studies
I knew the life I envisioned for my family could only be achieved through higher education.
Family has always been my top priority. I have three kids ranging in age from six to 21 and a three-year-old grandbaby. I had my first child when I was only 17.
When I was in high school, I thought I wanted to go into medicine and dreamed of becoming a doctor, but having a child changed everything—I realized that I needed to rethink my plan. So I signed up for classes at a local community college where I was introduced to the field of information technology. As I learned the ins and outs of computers, programming, and applications, I thought, “This is something I can really do.”
Although I had earned an associate degree, I reached a point in my career where I wanted to move up the corporate ladder and knew I would need a bachelor’s degree to do so. I went to visit Bay Path with my cousin, Jaime Luna. I was very excited at the prospect of attending, but at the time, the college was only offering the One Day A Week College for adult women. That presented a substantial scheduling conflict for me, not because I have kids, but because in IT, it’s important for me to be available to implement necessary changes on the weekends. So, I put it off. My cousin decided to attend the One Day program anyway, and she graduated a few years ago. I was so happy for her, but I couldn’t help but think, “That could have been me.”
I remained on the University’s mailing list but didn’t revisit plans to enroll until I received an email from Bay Path announcing The American Women’s College Online. I was immediately drawn to the bachelor’s degree in leadership and organizational studies—a perfect fit for me, because I was eager to move into a leadership role.
In class, we were assigned to develop projects that demonstrated community leadership. As a Hispanic woman in a typically male-dominated STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field, I hosted workshops designed to inform and encourage minority high school students to pursue STEM careers. Unsurprisingly, students revealed that their apprehensions around STEM-careers were spurred by a lack of confidence in math. That sparked something for me. In fact, within the next three years, I hope to found a nonprofit to assist minority students in enhancing or improving their math skills.
As the completion of my degree approached, I updated my LinkedIn profile with my advanced education and skills. I received a call from a recruiter about a month later. She said, “Raquel, I have a job for you. I looked at your LinkedIn profile and I believe you’re a great fit.” I agreed to let her send me the description, and it did indeed fit me to a tee. My classmates cheered me on through the extensive interview process, and sure enough, I was offered the position—information systems manager at a leading insurance company.
Almost simultaneously, we were discussing negotiation strategy in class. I found it alarming that statistically, women tend to accept the first offer a company or recruiter puts on the table. Professor Kathy Jarret encouraged us to advocate for ourselves and not be afraid to ask for what we want. So when the recruiter asked me, “How much are you making now?” I knew just how to make a strong case for my desired compensation. After a negotiation, I walked into an excellent company with a very good deal.
Recently, I hired an intern and have made a point to mentor her in strategy and negotiation. I challenge her to get used to being comfortable with being uncomfortable, and realize that there’s value in incorporating important learning opportunities into her role rather than simply giving her tasks to complete. My degree opened up possibilities for me and I hope I can pay it forward and open those possibilities for somebody else.
When I finished my last class, I wanted to celebrate my hard work in spectacular fashion. As an online student, I wasn’t sure that my classmates would attend the graduation ceremony, but I decided it was important for me to participate. When I received an email from Bay Path looking for a commencement speaker to represent the adult women graduating from The American Women’s College, I applied, thinking it would be a phenomenal “last hoorah.”
On the day of my audition, I found myself incredibly nervous. Six people gathered in a small room in Blake to watch my presentation, and I choked. On the ride home, I was practically in tears. But later that week, I got a phone call notifying me that I was chosen to give the commencement speech. I could hardly believe it—as I said in my speech, it was an honor to have been selected to represent the many voices of the very first graduating class of The American Women’s College. Even better, the keynote speaker was a fellow IT professional: Jennifer Henley, the Director of Security Operations at Facebook.
Up on stage, giving the speech in front of my family and so many women whose talent and hard work I’d admired throughout our learning together at The American Women’s College, I had tears of joy in my eyes—that was the icing on the cake.