Stacey Stephens turns disappointment into a new beginning

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2008
Photo courtesy of WSCC

HANCEVILLE, Ala. — For Stacey Stephens, getting passed over for a promotion was the nudge she needed to investigate returning to Wallace State Community College to complete a degree in Business Administration. A decision she does not regret.

“It took a two-year degree from Wallace State to get me where I am now,” she said. “I had a dead-end job for 10 years and was going nowhere. My degree from Wallace State opened many doors. I have something I have always wanted — a career, not just a job.”

After graduating from Cullman High School in 1988, Stephens moved into the workforce but decided to go to Wallace State in 1991 to work toward a degree in accounting since she had some prior experience in the field.

“Like many people, I let life get in the way of my education,” she said. “I stopped attending and continued to work in accounting for several years at the accounts payable and accounts receivables clerk level. I gained some valuable experience in those roles, but there was little opportunity to move up due to my lack of education.”

After a divorce, Stephens said she mostly raised her two sons on her own but struggled on a clerk’s salary. “I had to work cleaning houses on the side just to make ends meet,” she said.

In 2017, Stephens said she was overlooked for a promotion that was given to someone much younger, less experienced and whom she had trained.

“Three weeks after that person graduated from college that person became my supervisor,” Stephens said. That is when she looked into going back to college to complete her degree.

“This incident was a catalyst for change in my life,” she said. “I had been out of school for a long time, and I had no clue how to even get started.”

The first step she took was filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which college students fill out annually to determine their eligibility for financial aid in the of form grants and/or student loans.

“I figured it was a long shot, but I had nothing to lose,” Stephens said. “A few weeks later I received a message that I had been approved for a grant. There was absolutely no excuse now to keep me from going back to school.”

Stephens applied to Wallace State and started classes in the fall of 2017. She was able to apply the courses she previously took to her new degree plan. An advisor helped her map out the remaining courses she would need to complete the Business Administration program. Then 47 years old, she set a goal of graduating before she turned 50.

After being out of the classroom for about 25 years, Stephens first took in-person classes at night and on the weekend.

“At first it was terrifying to be in class with people young enough to be my children, but ultimately it was a great experience. I was not the only ‘old timer’ in my classes and it was really fun to be learning with people of different ages and getting to know people from different places and experiences.”

The next semester, she took a hybrid class to get a feel of online learning. “That was enough for me to completely embrace online learning and that was how I finished out my time at Wallace State,” she said. “It was a challenge, for sure, but so worth all of my time and effort.”

Stephens graduated with honors in 2019 with a degree in Business Administration.

“It changed the trajectory of my life,” she said “I don’t know any other way to put it. Graduating from Wallace State was one of the best days of my life. Yes, I make more money, but that’s not everything.

“My life has only gotten better,” she added. “I am currently in my first leadership position and leading a global accounts payable team. I have, of course, gained more financially, but more importantly, I have gained confidence, freedom and opportunity.”

“I have often heard people say things like, ‘Oh, it’s just community college,’” Stephens added. “I never use the word ‘just’ when I speak about my education and experience at community college. I am more than proud to be a Wallace State Lion.

This is one in a series of spotlights and events to be featured in April as Wallace State celebrates national Community College Month. Visit www.wscccalumni.org/ccmonth22 for more information.

Registration for the summer 2022 and fall 2022 semesters begins April 4, with summer classes starting May 24 and fall classes starting April 18. Wallace State offers a regular full term and two mini terms each semester, with classes offered on campus in Hanceville and Oneonta, online, day, evening and weekends. For more information about Wallace State, visit www.wallacestate.edu.

Photo courtesy of WSCC