photo3 frame-0By Crystale Lopez

Mother’s Day was more than a celebration of family for Amalia Long ’14 BA, and her daughter Amanda Long ’14 BS. The mother-daughter duo also celebrated accomplishing their goal of graduating from the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) through UIW Online.

“It was surreal to have that moment at graduation together with my mom,” Amanda said. “I am so proud of her to have the drive to go back and finish her college degree.”

Amalia completed all of her courses in December 2013 but received permission from her online advisor to walk the stage with Amanda in May. “Getting my degree was my goal, but to walk the stage with my daughter was a Godsend,” she said.

As working professionals, Amalia and Amanda agreed the road to graduation day was hard work and not the traditional path to completing a college degree.

“My mom and I did not go to college straight out of high school,” said Amanda, a bodily injury adjuster for a major insurance company. “As a licensed professional with a career, I wanted a degree program that met my work schedule requirements, allowed me to do things at my own pace, and let me have a personal life. I found that program through UIW Online.”

Amalia, a team lead in charge of the development of employees at a global bank, said she found the flexibility she needed taking courses online through UIW and the necessary support.

“I think it is great that the professors can connect so much with the students – with each class I felt like, ‘this professor belongs to me right now,’” Amalia said. “They were always available for questions and to provide feedback. I felt comfort knowing my instructor was literally accessible to me at my fingertips.”

The two women encouraged and challenged one another along their journey. They even enrolled in several classes together where they competed for the best grade. “We would take turns reading to each other and exchanging our opinions,” Amanda said. “Then we’d separate to complete our assignment and see who could get the better response or grade from the professor.”

Amy Antoniak, adjunct instructor in the H-E-B School of Business and Administration, taught Amalia and Amanda during their Principles of Marketing course.

“It is a blessing for students to be able to share in helping one another achieve their lifelong goals,” Antoniak said. “Online students have so much variety, and a diversity of experiences to offer each other. It is truly a great way to earn a degree and connect with other students who have similar goals.”

Amalia and Amanda also completed required community service hours together with the Cordi-Marian Sisters, where they helped with a large amount of filing.

Amanda said, “It is a really good feeling to be in a position to help others and use your gifts for the greater good.”

Sr. Matilda Jaime of Cordi-Marian said she was grateful Amalia and Amanda came to help. “As volunteers, they share themselves, their time and expertise, and above all their concern for others,” she said. “When Amalia and Amanda felt they ‘didn’t finish’ once their hours were completed, they wanted to do more to get others involved.”

“When I saw there was more work that needed to be done I reached out to UIW who set the ball in motion to send more help and volunteers to Cordi-Marian from the university,” Amalia said.

Amalia and Amanda said completing their degree program online through UIW has built a strong sense of community in them and now they are ready to pay it forward. They plan to complete the Alamo Colleges Educator Preparation Program together to focus on helping children through teaching.

“I wanted to obtain my degree to concentrate on my career, make more money, and be more successful,” Amalia shared. “UIW lit a fire in me and I am about to change careers to give back. My new concentration will be bilingual studies so I can work with children learning English as a second language.”

Amanda said achieving her bachelor’s degree helped her realize her true passion of one day becoming a school counselor. “Graduating from UIW was a reset for both of us career wise,” she said. “Along with teaching for two years, ultimately I will pursue my master’s degree to become a counselor to guide and advise students.”

“The path my mom and I took goes to show that you do not have to go the ‘traditional route,’” Amanda said. “You have to do what works best for you and I want people to know there are opportunities out there, like UIW Online, which allow you to work and go to school to achieve your goals.”

Amalia shared that she and Amanda represent a family tradition at UIW. Her cousin Janie Barrera instilled in them a sense of accomplishment after earning her MBA from what was then Incarnate Word College in 1987. Her older brother Alvaro Aranda graduated from UIW with his BA in 2006. And she said it gives her a sense of pride that her nephew Eric Aranda, who is set to graduate from UIW in December, is keeping the tradition alive and well.