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Unexpected Journey to an Ed.D while raising Grandchildren

By: Gloria A. Arnold-Fairbanks

I always knew my dream was to become an educator, but I never imagined it would happen, especially not with an Ed.D. I spent twelve years as a cosmetologist, but I yearned for more, for something different, meaningful. I was at a school meeting and overheard my son’s fifth-grade teacher discussing how she had three degrees. Silently, I was like, what! At the time, I did not know anyone, especially a black woman with more than one degree. Sad, but very true! That moment sparked something inside of me. That’s when it happened; the inspiration and motivation that I needed to pursue my lifelong dream and return to school.

My journey pursuing an Ed.D

I did not have a clue how I was going to do it, but I was adamant that I would be going back to school. It took overcoming a few financial barriers, but I did it. The following year, Fall 2010, at 41 years old, I enrolled at the community college two weeks before classes began, in Education. The classes that I needed was full, and I could not get in not even with an override. I changed my major to paralegal studies, which was also a career interest with availability in the classes I needed. I graduated from community college in May 2012, with an AS degree. At the end of my first year, I landed a position as a paralegal at a prominent law firm. I immediately enrolled at the university in legal studies and graduated in August 2014 with a BS degree. I pursued my masters and graduated with an MBA in May 2017.

During a board meeting in Fall 2017, a couple of my colleagues asked me, “so what are you going to do next”? I was like huh, they knew my journey was not over and asked why I have not pursued teaching and a doctorate? I had not considered pursuing a doctorate. In fact, I never considered this as an option, raising three grandchildren, two-year-olds and a four-year-old. Nevertheless, they encouraged me to pursue a Ph.D. or Ed.D. I discussed the possibility with my husband and decided to pursue. Excited, I did some research and learned that I missed the deadlines for the Ph.D. and Ed.D programs within proximity. Since I attended Bethel for my MBA, I decided to see if they offered an Ed.D, they did, in St. Paul, Minnesota. I had one week to complete the application and submit all of the required documentation. A week later, my interview was scheduled via telephone. The same evening at precisely 6:09 PM, I received an email that I was accepted into the program! That is the moment my life changed in ways that I never thought possible.

My view of Education is that of a reformist. I have not formally worked in the academic field; I serve on boards and committees in higher Education and K-12, a mentor high school students and students in Higher Education. Additionally, I have served as a career coach for middle school-aged students. Being a doctoral student has provided me with significant personal and professional growth that I could have never anticipated. Reflecting on my first residency, I was unsure of what to expect and uncertain if I was ready for the commitment attached to this new endeavor. Although my path was unique as the only non-educator in my cohort, no two paths that led each of us to the program is the same. Initially, I felt this journey was impossible. This doctoral journey comes at the cost of making many sacrifices that require a lifestyle change at all levels, but the end result will make it all worthwhile. I anticipate 2022 when I successfully defend my dissertation and become, Dr. Gloria A. Arnold-Fairbanks and fulfill my dream as an educator and begin the work.

The adversities in the educational system in Tennessee is heartbreaking. As an educational leader, I will challenge the idea of improving learning outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and making college affordable to families from across the economic spectrum. I plan to incorporate my legal knowledge with my educational studies to research critical issues in the education system. Through my findings, I will make recommendations for the best policy solutions, including benefits and drawbacks in K-12 and Higher Education. The current legislative guidelines and policies do not serve the education system effectively or efficiently. Innovation is desperately needed, and I want to assist in shaping policies that will do the most good for our education system. I know that the preparation for what is attached to such high goals will be imperative. Above all, I want to be equipped to combat the urgent need for efficient and comprehensive learning at both K-12 and Higher Education levels.

Gloria A. Arnold-Fairbanks

About the Writer

Over the past several years, Gloria A. Fairbanks have been extremely busy. A native of Dyersburg, Tennessee Gloria graduated from Chattanooga State Community College in 2012; University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2014 and went on to pursue her MBA at Bethel University and graduated with an MBA in 2017. Gloria has worked as a paralegal at Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, P.C. in Chattanooga, TN since 2011 as a bankruptcy and real estate paralegal focusing on creditor rights and foreclosures.

Gloria serve on boards and committees in the education and legal sector at the local, state, and national levels. She has presented twice at Chattanooga State Community College. Outside of the Tennessee Paralegal Association and NALA, Gloria volunteers with UnifiEd of Chattanooga. She is active in her church, working with the youth. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, research, sewing and quilting.

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