Part of Western Governors University
On our first episode, we catch up with WGU Teachers College alumna, science teacher, and Texas native Rachael Black. We also talk all things WGU Commencement with Elizabeth Aranda, who oversees these events as the Manager of Commencement at WGU. Listen now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Weatherford, Texas, native Rachael Black is the oldest of six kids and the first in her family to graduate from college. A successful mother of two young boys, Rachael entered her first year of teaching in 2016 after graduating from WGU, but her early life was full of challenges.
Rachael recounted some of those challenges when she shared her story at WGU’s commencement in Houston in 2016. She said: “I grew up impoverished, a prison inmate’s daughter, neglected and abused, hungry, uneducated and destined to be unsuccessful.”
Now, as a teacher, she creates an engaging environment for her 9th-grade biology students, instilling them with wisdom from Dr. Seuss’ "The Lorax," which has become her life motto.
When she’s not teaching science or wrangling her two boys, Rachael likes to be outdoors, camping, hiking, swimming, or just enjoying nature around her.
WGU Teachers College graduate, Boise, Idaho, native, and national award-winning physics teacher Sean Boston joins the podcast. Also, learn more about the many scholarship opportunities available to alumni, family members, and others as we talk with WGU Scholarship Director Amanda Savage. Listen now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
WGU alum and Boise, Idaho, native Sean Boston was recently recognized in Washington, D.C., as one of the top science teachers of the year. Boston was one of only 100 science, math, and technology teachers recognized by the White House for teaching excellence for the 2017 school year. Boston, along with the others recognized, was given a sizeable financial award, the opportunity to connect with fellow award-winning teachers, and the chance to visit and tour the museums and monuments in the nation’s capital.
Sean is a first-generation college student. He earned his bachelor’s in engineering from the University of Idaho. As an undergraduate student, he wasn’t sure what career path to head down, but he knew engineers were paid very well, so he pursued that route. After working as a mechanical engineer for four years, Sean desired a greater connection to his community—and he felt that his calling was to be a teacher. He found WGU online and, like many WGU students, was able to make a career change, graduating from WGU in 2016 with a master’s in science education. Although he took a sizeable pay cut, he finds great fulfillment as a teacher and has never looked back. The award and recognition help Sean know he made the right decision.
Jordan Barta, WGU MBA grad, joins the podcast and shares his business success and why he’s referred more than 20 individuals to WGU. Chris Mumford and Bret Smith from WGU’s Refer-a-Friend team talk about why referrals are so important to the university and how you can earn cool swag when you refer your friends and family. Listen now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Oregon native Jordan Barta earned a bachelor’s degree in 2011 while playing football for California Lutheran University as a defensive end. After college, Jordan spent five months in Finland playing outside of Helsinki and seven months in Ingolstadt, Germany. Following this time, he returned to the United States and began working as an account manager at an online affiliate marketing company.
He knew that to advance his career, a master’s degree would be key. In 2016, while working for the company Paychex, he found WGU, which had a partnership with the payroll company. He loved WGU’s program and found it extremely relevant to the demands of his full-time employment, and he started to get attention from his company’s leadership. Since earning his degree, he has advanced his career by leveraging his experience and education to better roles, which has helped him double his salary.
Jordan is currently a customer sales director at SumTotal Systems, an East Coast-based company specializing in helping organizations with their human capital management strategies. He is a huge advocate of WGU—he’s referred more than 20 individuals to the online, nonprofit university, one of which is his wife, Michelle, who earned her MBA in Healthcare Management.
When Jordan is not working, or referring family and colleagues to WGU, he’s often traveling with his wife, exercising, or finding any reason to be outside.
Recent WGU grad and IT mover-and-shaker Gussie Hopkins joins the podcast to share how she is having great success as a woman in IT. Also, President of WGU Advancement, Annalisa Holcombe, joins and gives us an update on how students, alumni, and foundations are making a great impact by paying it forward. Listen now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Gussie Hopkins’ journey in higher education began 16 years ago after getting pregnant with her son, Chris, during her first semester in community college. Though she was having a baby, she knew that she didn’t want to become another statistic and would graduate no matter how long it took. She chose to attend community college and continue making the 90-minute commute to school with her newborn strapped to her chest.
Throughout her journey, she faced many challenges that stood between her and her degree. But Gussie perserved, knowing that education had the power to change the course of her life. At the age of 30 and as a mother of two, she found WGU. During her time at WGU, she was able to lean on her Program Mentor and others throughout all the ups and downs. In 2019, she earned her bachelor’s in IT Management and today serves as a project manager at Stratix, a large mobility solutions provider company headquartered Norcross, Georgia.
This podcast gives a behind-the-scenes look at WGU’s "Ambition Never Rests" national advertising campaign. WGU Director of Marketing, Sam Osselaer, will share this insight, and then we’ll hear from one of the inspiring WGU alumni featured in the national campaign, San Antonio Texas-native Jaqueline Becerra. Becerra will share all that she’s overcome to become a healthcare and nonprofit leader in her community. Listen now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Jacqueline Becerra from San Antonio, Texas, is a wife, mother, nurse, pastor, philanthropist, nonprofit champion, and proud WGU graduate. Throughout her years, Jacqueline has never let her life circumstances limit her. Instead, she used them as a driving force to help people facing the same hopelessness she did at one point in time. Jacqueline projects that drive into her work with her nonprofit organization, Hope and Life Centers, as well as her job as a Nursing Director at Tenet Healthcare in San Antonio.
She earned her master of science in nursing from WGU in 2018, and earlier this year, WGU unveiled a 45-foot mural in her hometown to honor her as part of its "Ambition Never Rests" campaign for her overcoming numerous hardships and going on to accomplish her goals. Becerra is a shining example to all and we are proud to have her representing WGU as an alumna.
On episode 6, we catch up with husband-wife duo and Coloradoans Chris and Gina Abbey, who, between the two of them, have three degrees from WGU. The Abbeys share their successes in the nonprofit and cybersecurity industries, respectively. Listen now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Gina Abbey earned her bachelor’s degree in marketing in 2014 . She has a background in sales and development and most recently joined the Bridge of Hope Greater Denver, which helps single moms and their kids who are facing homelessness in the Denver, Colorado, area. She has been instrumental in raising funds and working with donors and sponsors.
Chris Abbey is a two-time WGU graduate, first earning a bachelor’s degree in IT Network Design and Management back in 2013, and then later a master’s degree in Information Security and Assurance. He’s held various leadership positions in cybersecurity and currently is the senior customer service success manager at Red Canary, which is an ally security in detection and response for customers.
Most importantly, they are the parents of two little girls and have been married for 15 years.
Gina’s organization is doing a virtual fundraiser “run” for Mother’s Day through May 31. Learn more or donate here.
WGU’s alumni network now has more than 175,000 graduates living in all 50 states. In 2020, the alumni team launched the WGU Alumni Podcast as a new way to engage with its growing alumni base. Each episode highlights the incredible work that our alumni are doing in their local communities and the impact it is having. We also share benefits, perks, resources and partner information to help you stay engaged and get the most out of the alumni community.
Sara VanWinkle serves as Director of Alumni Relations and joined the university in that role in 2019. Sara comes from Northwest Arkansas, where she served as senior producer and content editor for the Event Solutions (shows and events) team for the world’s largest retailer.
Sara received her B.A. in Journalism from Harding University and has a diverse background in hospital marketing, newspapers, corporate communications, and event production. Starting this podcast has been something she’s wanted to do for more than a year.
In her free time, Sara enjoys anything with music (concerts and making killer playlists, especially), traveling, baseball (Go Braves!), and reading. She loves animals, recently adding black cat Blaze to the household. Her niece and nephew are her life.
Jeff Burton is the Senior Manager of Alumni Engagement at WGU. He is a proud graduate of WGU, earning his MBA in 2016.
Jeff’s background is in public relations—prior to joining the Alumni team, he spent the past five years managing public relations efforts at WGU.
He’s passionate about traveling, American history, ’90s country music, and fantasy football. A bit of a sports nut (understatement), Jeff created and hosts the tongue-in-cheek sports podcast Guys on the Sideline. He’s most happy when he’s at Disneyland with his beautiful wife and three kids.