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Planning for Success

Organization helped working mom finish graduate degree in one year

Planning is her strength, so it’s no wonder Sierra Nicole Lewis chose a career where she helps others plan. As a university financial aid counselor at Boise State University, Lewis has specialized in working with students planning to study abroad, and she is already using her soon-to-be-completed Adult Organizational Learning and Leadership (AOLL) degree to help her design materials that will educate current and future students.

Lewis has focused her coursework on improving teaching and learning in the university environment, and for her final master’s project she’s designed a curriculum to prepare college students for the financial responsibilities of studying abroad. Her curriculum is so well designed, University of Idaho faculty working with Lewis asked for permission to share it with other institutions of higher education.

Lewis, who has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from BSU, knew she could complete her AOLL master’s degree from the University of Idaho Boise in one year because she is a good planner. She’s also a model of perseverance and hard work. She has maintained a stellar grade point average while taking as many as four graduate courses per term. Lewis will graduate in May.

“I have planned everything out. I knew what I was doing,” she said. “It is tiring and requires a lot of planning, but it’s worth it.”

The Boise native is a first-generation college student and also the first person in her family to obtain a graduate degree. Lewis is grateful to the University of Idaho and is especially appreciative of the opportunity to take engaging courses online from exceptional faculty.

“There is a direct relationship between each class; they are tied together and are easy to relate to real life experience,” she said. “It’s been beneficial in my courses to identify areas for improvement in my current work. In addition, the degree is really marketable; I can see great opportunities in the future.”

Lewis chose U of I after researching similar programs at multiple institutions.

“Going for a master’s degree has been in the back on my mind since I graduated, but I didn’t commit until I found the best option for me,” she said.

The AOLL is designed for working professionals, and it prepares graduates to lead and teach professional development and training programs as leaders or educators. Program faculty are located at two University of Idaho locations: Moscow and Boise. The master’s program is available online, and because Lewis is a working mom, an online option was a must. She also met coworkers who had gone through the same program at U of I Boise and had positive experiences.

For the past three semesters, Lewis’s life has revolved around completing her schoolwork, being a single parent to her 1-year-old daughter and working full-time at BSU and part-time at a local restaurant.

Lewis would like to use her degree to become a more powerful advocate and teacher for college students, to bring financial security to her small family and to be a role model to her daughter.

“I chose to walk at commencement because I want my daughter to look at the pictures one day and be inspired by what she can accomplish,” Lewis said.

Article by Maria Ortega, University of Idaho Boise

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