Persistence pays off as 29-year-old single mom earns business administration bachelor’s degree
As a 19-year-old pregnant teen, Emily Johnson didn’t want to become the statistic that she read about - ninety-eight percent of teenage moms fail to earn a college degree before the age of 30. Now at 29, with hard work, perseverance and the help of others, she has put herself into that elite two percent, earning her bachelor’s in business administration from KU Edwards Campus while proving to her 10-year-old daughter, Madalyn, that “you can achieve anything if you can face your fears and believe in yourself.”
Johnson lives in Shawnee, Kansas, and is a shift manager at Hy-Vee Market Grille in Overland Park. The daughter to Beverly Johnson and Greg Johnson and the youngest of four sisters, Emily said she has emerged stronger after changing her mindset four years ago. Student Services Coordinator Lisa Browning nominated Johnson as an outstanding KUEC graduate because of her persistence and accomplishments.
“She has come so far! Emily reached out in the very beginning and did all that was asked of her,” Browning said. “Emily’s undergrad has been a mountain and she has totally climbed it to the top!”
Find out more about this outstanding graduate and how she reached for her dreams – and saw them come true!
Q: What is a typical day in your life like?
A: My days vary, but typically I drop my daughter off at school, either head to work, depending on the day, or head to school to study. I run errands and clean the house. My parents are great about helping to take her to school or picking her up as needed. Then I head to school for classes that have typically run until 10 p.m. I work most weekends so that I have a bit more time during the week to dedicate to my daughter and school.
Q: What makes you the happiest?
A: I am happiest when I am watching my daughter sing. She is very talented in my opinion. I love to watch how serious and professional she gets when she takes the stage. I have a deep sense of pride and amazement. I also am very happy when I get some downtime with my close friends and my cat, Theodore. I am constantly learning time management, as it is key to finding balance in my life, so I don’t go crazy.
Q: What motivates you?
A: The number one person that motivates me is my daughter, of course. I had her at 19-years-old. I want to be able to provide her with the life she deserves. It is a dream of mine to pay for her college degree out of pocket. I would love to give her that gift.
The second is the vision I have for my future. The life I get to live today is drastically different than that of four years ago. I had no goals or motivation; I was very unhappy and unfulfilled. I wasn’t being the mother, daughter or friend that I wanted to be due to this. I felt I couldn’t go after my dream of higher education. I experienced a spiritual change four years ago, it changed my mindset. I learned gratitude. I set small goals and started to achieve them with the support of so many friends and family. Now I am graduating and it feels surreal.
Q: Why did you choose KUEC?
A: I chose KU Edwards because I was guided here by an amazing counselor at JCCC. I then met the staff here, the counselors and felt inspired. I didn’t feel like a number in a sea of students. I felt heard and that they genuinely cared about my success. I am a nontraditional student and this can make my life complicated at times. The staff helped me to see I could be more and that I would never be alone in the process. They enabled me to start this new chapter of my life I will forever be grateful.
Q: How did KUEC meet your personal and/or academic needs?
A: KUEC has met my academic needs by providing me with a diverse group of professors who all have different teaching methods and views on the world. I have been challenged by the coursework in general. I was taught how to grasp challenging concepts and theories. I believe this helped to me to have a better understanding of my world and the community around me.
Q: How has your KUEC degree prepared you for the future?
A: I believe KUEC has prepared me for the future by helping me to hone my soft skills, as well as taught me how to network. I have gained valuable skills in communication by interacting with business professor and students that want to work in my industry. I believe these connections will prove to be an asset as I enter the workforce.
Q: What was the most difficult part of earning your college degree and how did you overcome it?
A: There have been some challenges in the pursuit to earn a college degree. I would have to say self-doubt and time management have been the hardest for me to handle. I can be my own worst enemy. I will tell myself I am going to fail before even attempting a class. I overcame this by understanding that asking for help is a strength. That relying on others support is a gift. I have had many helpful people come along in this journey, not once was I alone. Time management is a skill that I still work on. I will say I have learned how to prioritize and how to use a calendar app.
Q: What is your proudest accomplishment?
A: My proudest accomplishment is graduation. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I read an article about teen mothers's chances of earning a college degree. There was a statistic that said only 2% of teenage moms earn a degree before the age of 30. I will be in that 2% by about 4 months. I will be walking across that stage soon to receive my diploma with my daughter’s eyes on me. My daughter has been my biggest fan and source of inspiration. I want her to see that you can achieve anything if you can face your fears and believe in yourself.
Q: What is your favorite memory of your time at KUEC?
A: One of the first semesters I was here, it was about a month into it and student’s enthusiasm was waning. I was sitting in my Organizational Behavior class and my professor decided it wanted to get the class hyped up. He put on some classic rock and sang it to us while running around the room. I was very attentive after that.
Q: What are your long-term career goals and how do you plan to achieve them?
A: I would like to ultimately work for a nonprofit working to advocate for those who don’t have a voice. I believe I can do this in many ways. I have applied to the Master of Accounting as well as the Master of Public Administration at the KU Edward’s campus. I will be pursuing one of those starting this summer. I plan to achieve my goals just like I have been, by taking it one day at a time and asking for help when needed.
Q: What advice would you give others who are thinking of earning a degree, whether a first-time bachelor’s, a second bachelor’s or a master’s?
A: I would tell someone who is thinking of improving themselves through higher education to go for it. Start today. Start now. Start with fear. I would tell them that through earning my degree, I learned I was stronger than I ever could have imagined. I would say reach out. On my journey, I have found so many people who are genuinely excited to help me accomplish my goals. I have found that challenging myself and living in comfortability has enabled me to find the life I only could have imagined.
For those returning – you will have to make sacrifices; life doesn’t come without them. Be open to what classroom learning teaches you and adapt it as you need. When you can do that, you’ve truly educated yourself.