Because of a personal tragedy during her first year of college that required her to drop out, Elissa Perez was reluctant to return to school, especially after finding a job where she could initially excel without a degree. But eventually, like many adult learners, she reached her maximum earning potential and realized that she’d have to face fear and self-doubt to further her career. So, with the support of her loved ones, she took that courageous next step. In this Q&A, Elissa talks about her motivation to overcome personal struggles through education and how WGU Texas’ unique online platform allowed her to thrive and enjoy doing so!
Tell us a little about your background—life, family, work, education.
I am a Tejana from San Antonio who loves my family, culture, and community. I recently moved to Austin to pursue a position with my former employer Marriott International. I have spent the last five years working in various hospitality roles and have made some incredible connections in doing so. With my recent graduation from WGU, I hope to pursue a career in Human Resources.
How did you learn about WGU Texas, and why did you choose our university?
My boyfriend suggested I return to school as I began to hit the glass ceiling at my workplace at the time. He and his father both attended WGU and recommended I look into it. I was intrigued, and I researched further. My opinions on traditional college are why I had not yet completed my degree, so I thought WGU could be a great fit.
What made you decide to get your degree at this point in your life?
I decided to pursue my degree because I realized that I would not be able to negotiate for higher pay at work unless I had some bargaining power: a degree. Thus far, I excelled and moved up to various positions within the hospitality world but noticed I could not pass certain professional thresholds as fast as I wanted. I needed something on paper that matched my work ethic and skills in professional realms.
What’s your favorite thing about WGU Texas?
My favorite aspect about WGU was that classes were competency-based as well as self-paced. I am a naturally competitive person, so I was hooked when I saw I could finish a course as fast as I could put in the work. There were times when I completed classes in just days! That is how compelling passing a course was for me. I loved the joy I experienced from being one step closer to graduating. In addition, because I felt I had substantial business knowledge from my days at Marriott International, I enjoyed the competency-based courses, as I could put my acquired skills to work towards a degree I have always wanted.
How was WGU Texas different than your other college experiences?
WGU Texas was different from other college experiences because I could take classes strictly online and with ease. In addition, I appreciated the university's relationship with Examity and was grateful for the ability to take a proctored exam virtually any time of day. This was perfect for me as I do not like to feel rushed and sometimes take tests at what some would consider odd hours.
How has earning a degree created opportunities for you?
I feel as though receiving my degree has opened more doors. I have yet to find a job, but I am hopeful. On a personal level, gaining my degree has been a way to prove to myself and others how much I care about myself and my family. Receiving my diploma was a testament to the strength and determination I knew I already possessed but that sometimes you forget about until put to the test.
Were there any barriers you’ve had to overcome (education, career)?
Regarding my educational journey after grade school, there was one significant barrier that I faced. When I initially began college in 2012, straight out of high school, I had been accepted to many schools and landed at a local university outside of Austin. Unfortunately, during my second semester there, tragedy struck and required me to withdraw from school entirely. I had a long road of therapy and personal growth that I still find myself on today. I vowed after that fateful semester that I would never return to school. I did not see the point, and I had made a great impact professionally at my former place of work. I thought I could get away with not having a degree until I realized I couldn’t. Interviews for positions always ended up with the same question: “Why didn’t you finish school?” When considering going back to school, frustration always came about because it would bring up pain and emotions I no longer wanted to think about. This was my biggest obstacle: pushing through my pain to pursue something I felt robbed of just eight years ago.
How important is education in your family and who were your influencers, cheerleaders, and supporters?
My biggest supporters have always been my family. My parents, brother, and sister have inspired and pushed me to be great. Education was a must in our household growing up. Both of my parents have received their undergraduate and graduate degrees. As children, college was a milestone we were expected to reach when it too was our time.
Now that you’ve finished your degree, what are your career plans?
Now that I have finished my degree, I hope to gain employment in the Human Resources field. I have experience in the hospitality industry, though I thoroughly enjoy business operations in general and am open to new experiences and challenges.
If you could describe WGU Texas in one word, what would that be?
If I could describe WGU in one word, it would be fun. I had tons of fun pursuing my degree, and I enjoyed the assignments and projects I worked on that allowed me to learn new skills and refine existing ones.