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Staying Motivated During Tough Times

WGU grad Cathryn Carini shares what she has learned and tips to keep you going.

Ambassador Cathryn Carini

Cathryn Carini is a WGU grad and behavioral intervention specialist. She graduated from WGU in August 2018 with her M.S. Educational Leadership degree and has spent much of her career working for a school district in Tacoma, Washington.

Cathryn has never seen anything like what she’s experiencing currently due to COVID-19. The school district she works for is doing everything they can to help, including loaning out their limited number of laptops and quickly creating new template learning plans for students and educators. The goal is to streamline the process and do whatever they can to keep moving forward.

Cathryn herself has been on-call and available to work as the district navigates this new territory. She and others in her district rotate through the various new responsibilities, such as class packet distribution. “I’ve rode on the bus with the bus driver to pass out meals and packets. It’s all hands on deck. Put me to work!” she said.

“Being out there and being able to see families and touch base and see how they’re doing, that’s what I love,” said Cathryn. 

But it goes much deeper than that. Among the smiling faces that she sees while providing lunches and distributing educational packets, Cathryn has also noticed something that wasn’t entirely clear before. 

“There’s a lot more just besides school struggles. There’s family struggles.” Cathryn’s goal is to make sure families feel welcome and supported. A big part of this is through distributing free school lunches. “Our highest number of lunches was between 1,300 and 1,400 just from our building. You know, making sure our families are fed.” 

“You have to look at the bigger picture,” says Cathryn. “Yeah, we want them to do schoolwork and not fall behind, but it’s making sure they have paper and pencils.” What’s going on in the world right now impacts many people, including other family members and school district staff. This also means being flexible about virtual schooling. “For some families it’s easy for them to get online and get work. For others it’s harder,” she said. 

“We’re in this together, and the only way to get through this is by helping each other out.”

It’s easy to look at difficult times and think that maybe there’s not a real takeaway learning moment—after all, sometimes the most you can do is just get through it one baby step at a time. But somewhere along the way, often buried deep into the mundane everyday steps, there are small lessons to be learned. Here are the lessons Cathryn has learned and what she wants other Night Owls to know.

  1. Care for your health. Set aside time to do fun things for your mental and physical health. “Find time to exercise. I call it my recess time. We’ve been doing virtual workouts. I try to get in at least one workout a day.”
  2. Find the positive things in life. This could include “looking up quotes, doing some writing, finding time to be silly, or talking to friends.”
  3. Find your perfect time to get things done. “Find your best time that you’re most efficient to study and get your papers in on time. In grad school, my most efficient time was early mornings. The world was so quiet!”
  4. Have fun with life admin tasks. Whether it is checking errands off your list or completing daily chores, try turning it into a game. “It’s finding creative ways to do your work.”
  5. Find some consistency when working on projects. “Make sure you set a schedule and try to stick to it.”
  6. Become comfortable with the uncomfortable. “Not every day is going to be the same. Not everything is handed to you. Some people really like structure, but what do you do when things get crazy?”
  7. Be kind. “Be there for others, whether that’s at work, simply being available, staying connected, or checking in on others.”
  8. Focus on having a variety of ways to care for yourself. “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Find a holistic approach. You will know you found that balance when you feel settled in.” 
  9. Take some time to relax. “I binge-watched my Netflix, but I also have a breakfast club group of friends. We do a little check in. I think that’s key.”
  10. Keep moving forward. “Find projects to do, such as planting a garden or washing your car. It brings normalcy.” For Cathryn, this means attending two virtual gym workouts a week and taking walks around Chambers Bay.

Cathryn believes that getting through difficult times in life is all about balance and that it’s perfectly normal to have an off day. “I’ve been a single mom, and when I was attending WGU, it was all about life balance. This is actually a little bit easier, to be honest. Once in a while you may have a meltdown, but always pick yourself back up. A former principal once told me all you can do is enough, and enough is all you can do. Words to live by.”

Remember Your Why

Eric Rasmussen | WGU Alum and Program Faculty Manager, College of Information Technology

Our reasons for going to school at WGU are varied, but we share one thing in common now: we are alumni of WGU. Our “why statements” for why we came to WGU are different, but we now share the common goal of applying our degrees to our current jobs, a new promotion with our current companies, trying to find a job in a new field, or entering doors opened by our new degrees.

My own “why statement” was centered on finding a new job/career after an unexpected layoff after more than 20 years with a company. I often joked that I had a job where I changed companies and worked for multiple organizations without ever moving my office. As is often the case when companies get acquired by progressively larger organizations that move from private to public status, the company’s ethos and focus changes. I remember our first acquisition did a good job by having the owner of the private parent company come in and speak with us about their viewpoint and principles. They also promised to provide us a copy of those principles to keep on our desks and guide us.

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I never did see that list ever again. The public company shifts your concentration further to be focused on every three months to ensure a good report to the stockholders. The customer focus easily becomes a lower priority to the shareholders.

As I was finishing up my MBA, I realized after talking with my mentor several times that I really should be looking into the opportunities with WGU. Their mission was clear and the methodology of their faculty and notion of surrounding the student with people and services resonated with me. I was fortunate enough to find a position and be hired into it with just a couple months left before finishing my degree.

But more incredible than finding that position was traveling to Salt Lake City for training and walking into the training room with over 30 other new hires of various positions from Course Instructors and Program Mentors to managers of those roles across the various colleges within WGU. As we introduced ourselves and our roles, I looked around the room at my new peers and realized that not only am I surrounded by people with vast backgrounds and experiences but that I was exactly where I needed to be. In our welcome packet I found something very important: our leadership principles. But not just a card for our desks but an actual deck of cards with those principles on them for us to be able to refer to or study. Even more incredibly, they talked about them and even believed them! These are not just words on a piece of paper on a wall in a training room somewhere. These are a core part of what each person who works for WGU is and does. It is a true passion to help students improve their lives and the lives of their families every day.

My alumni journey was a short one. I found a place that not only allowed me to grow my knowledge and reward that growth with a new degree but helped me to find a new organization to belong to and to grow with. I get to apply what I learned from my courses – and apply my experience with my Program Mentor and Course Instructors in my interaction with my peers here in the College of IT. I get to relate my experiences to understand a student’s situation and encourage them to fight through it. To get that one more chapter read today. To get that one more course complete in their degree this week. To celebrate with their Program Mentor when they finish off their capstone. To remember their Why.

Eric Rasmussen, MBA, BS/MS Computer Science
Manager, Program Faculty, College of Information Technology

Graduate Speaker Miranda Joseph

Watch Miranda Joseph during WGU's first Virtual Commencement on May 30, 2020. Miranda Joseph earned her Bachelor of Arts, Interdisciplinary Studies (K-8) degree from WGU and shares an amazing story in this motivational speech. Click to watch

Share your story on social media using the hashtag #ShareWGU and #WGUalumni. 

From competitive runner to running a department: Connie Washington

Here at WGU, we’re inspired every day by the incredible things our students and grads do, both at school and in their lives outside the university.

We’re excited to showcase some of these exceptional stories, starting with Connie Washington—a record-breaking NCAA champion sprinter. We hope you’ll be inspired, and inspired to share with your family, friends and colleagues.

Check out and share Connie’s story, then use social media to tell us yours. Use #ShareWGU and #WGUgrad.

Mayor and 3-time WGU grad embodies grit: Dana Ralph

Mayor of Kent, Washington. Three-time WGU graduate. Business owner. Former city councilor. Public servant. Cancer survivor. Wife. Mother. You name it, Dana Ralph can do it.

Dana says on a daily basis she uses what she learned in her WGU degrees as the Mayor of Kent, Washington.

Read Dana's full story on the WGU Blog. Click here