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Samirah Akhlaq always understood the value of education, but moving from country to country made it extremely difficult for her to complete a degree. She demonstrated a passion for teaching on several continents, but lacked the license she needed to build a career.
Growing up in Pakistan, Samirah chose to attend a local art college to pursue her love of all things art. Following a big life decision to marry at the age of 20, she moved to Guam for her husband’s job and was unable to complete her art degree.
Education remained at the forefront of her mind, and from 1999–2002 Samirah worked toward completing her undergraduate degree in Guam, had two babies, and survived a mega typhoon.
However, before she could graduate the family relocated again for her husband’s job and she began a new journey in Indonesia. While there, she pursued a degree in graphic design but found herself spread thin between full-time school and raising two small children. Once again, she was unable to finish.
When her sons started grade school, Samirah spent most of her time volunteering at their school and working as a substitute teacher. As much as she enjoyed the work, other teachers and school administrators enjoyed having her in their schools even more. She eventually completed a bachelor’s degree, subbed for six years, and wanted to teach full time—but no one could hire her without a teaching license.
After short stays in Cairo (where they were driven out by a revolution) and London, welcoming their third son, and her husband accepting a job in New York, the family moved to the United States in 2011. The move was permanent, and Samirah was more eager than ever to earn her license. But with no family or friends around to watch her children, Samirah needed a flexible degree program that would allow her to care for her children. WGU’s flexibility and affordability drew her in, and she enrolled in the M.A. in Teaching Elementary Education (K-8) degree program.
“With three busy boys at home, WGU was an ideal option for me to complete my master’s degree and earn my teaching license because I was able to complete my coursework while my kids were completing their own,” she said. “Being new to the United States and not knowing anyone, I still had time to take my kids to soccer and socialize.”
Although she wasn’t surrounded by thousands of other students in formal classrooms every day, Samirah said she always felt connected to her WGU mentors and other students. With help from her Program Mentor, she found a study buddy in Idaho. The two held regular study sessions via FaceTime throughout their degree programs.
“Some people believe that they are not made for an online program,” Samirah explained. “To them I would like to say that I never felt studying here was just an online program. I developed relationships with my peers and mentor and interacted with people from all across the U.S. I never slacked, not because I didn’t want to, but because I couldn’t. The support offered to me kept me focused and motivated. The timelines and reminders set helped to keep me moving forward and brought closure to my dream at an accelerated pace. No doubt there were hurdles, but I persevered!”
After graduating with her MAT degree and obtaining her teaching license in July of last year, Samirah began substitute teaching full time because teaching positions in her area had already been filled for the year. She will continue subbing the remainder of the school year and plans to be in her own classroom this fall. And although it's been many years since she first dreamed of making a career out of sharing her love for art, that love remains strong, and she plans to take her education further by completing an art teaching endorsement in the near future.
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