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Professional & Continuing Education as a path to degree completion

An employee since 2005, Bethany Vega was one of 10 workers viewed by Kubota Industrial Equipment in Jefferson, Georgia as having great potential for advancement. As such, she and a group of employees were selected to participate in a 12-month leadership development program through University of North Georgia’s (UNG) Professional and Continuing Education (PCE).

Not only did Vega thrive in the program, she has taken an additional step. As a result of her experience through PCE, Vega has embarked on another challenge that she had started almost 20 years ago. Vega is now enrolled at UNG as a bachelor degree-seeking student in the Mike Cottrell College of Business.

Vega’s story is a familiar one to all who have experienced life interrupting our goals and dreams. And sometimes it takes the right set of circumstances or even just a nudge in the right direction for us to find our way back to realizing those dreams.

In Vega’s case, she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1992 after graduating high school. During her military service, Vega also enrolled at Georgia Military College on Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia and earned an associate degree in criminal justice.  After receiving an honorable discharge in 1999 and being newly married, she enrolled at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia. Less than a year later, her young family moved north to Gainesville, Georgia.

Then, life happened. Changes in jobs and the birth of her son gave Vega a new perspective.

“At that time completing my bachelor’s degree became a low priority,” she said.  “As a working mother, I did not want to miss anything from my son’s childhood. And that meant that my education would have to wait.”

Fast forward 16 years, and Vega once again prepared herself to attend classes on a university campus. Except this time, it was through the PCE Kubota leadership program at UNG. Vega said she was excited about returning to a higher education learning environment, but she had some fears from being away for so long.

“As an adult going back to the college classroom, even for a non-credit program, it can be intimidating,” she said. “But I was not alone as I was surrounded by my peers who had like-minded aspirations.”

She said they were ready to learn about leadership and apply those lessons to our roles at Kubota.

“As it turned out, even though the program did not lead to a degree, the level of instruction, curriculum, and group participation were perfect for starting back to school,” she said. “The knowledge I gained on how to be more effective in my role as a manager and leader, especially the ways to establish trust, motivate my team, and coach for improved performance was invaluable.”

Vega acknowledged she applied her coursework to her job immediately which boosted her confidence, and she realized that she wanted more.

“The change happened soon after the first class. I was excited and I knew I had the desire and ability to do this again. Being in the classroom reminded me that my continued education is important for my personal and professional growth,” she said. “The leadership program was awakening my drive to complete my degree. I didn’t want to put off any longer.”

While still in the Kubota PCE program, Vega talked to her family about enrolling at UNG to complete her bachelor degree. They were supportive of her decision. Now Vega is a junior majoring in business management.

As a wife, mother, employee, and student, Vega understands the time and energy constraints experienced by many who return to college. But she also realizes how important it can be to all aspects of her life.

“Like a lot of people, I have for many years focused on my family and work and put myself to the side. Taking classes again has forced me to take time for my personal growth,” she said. “This makes the time that I do have to spend with my family even more special. I am reminded how blessed I am to have a supportive husband and son. I am also reminded how fortunate I am to work for an amazing employer who believes in my ability.”

Vega said she feels grateful her employer is supportive of lifelong education in all forms and provides her with tuition assistance towards her degree.

“I absolutely love my job. I feel that the more educated I am, the more valuable I am to the company and the more I can offer,” she said. “Kubota also shares the same values when it comes to education and learning. And without the partnership between Kubota and PCE, it’s unlikely I would be a UNG student today. I probably would have gone back at some point in the future, but the continuing education program was the perfect bridge to take me from employee to degree-seeking employee.”

Vega also encourages other adults who are contemplating a return to the classroom, either through Professional and Continuing Education or to earn their degree, to take the leap.

“As a working adult, it is never the perfect time to go back to school,” she said. “You have to make now the perfect time. If you want it, you will make yourself and your education a priority. Don’t wait any longer, just do it.”

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