A Mother’s Journey in Higher Education

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management, Desiree Del-Zio:
The University of San Diego, specifically SOLES, has been my home away from home for the past two and a half years. Several nights a week I sat in classrooms absorbing information, sharing ideas, and developing a skillset of leadership and higher level thinking. Several other days and nights of the week I sat in study groups or in the library, preparing presentations, writing documents, generating power points, and the other necessary tasks meant to demonstrate my awareness and development. And other days and nights of the week I gratefully spent with my two beautiful daughters.

Des and girls

My beautiful daughters and I 

As a single mother with a full time job in nonprofit management and a full time graduate studies schedule it is safe to say that these years included a tremendous amount of time and emotional management, careful decision making, and incredible growth – for all three of us. The result of all of these efforts: a master’s degree in Nonprofit Leadership and Management from a university campus that is as beautiful as it is prestigious.
It is simple and easy to share that the result of these years is the tangible piece of paper that designates my education level, and allows me to update my business cards with a little alphabet soup behind my name. But the truth is the results of this journey are far greater than that. In these past years my daughters have learned to take tremendous responsibility for themselves and have also witnessed my accomplishments with great pride. We have worked as a team to ensure our home, our pets, and our wellbeing was managed in the healthiest manner possible. We have been challenged in ways we did not expect and met those challenges with bravery and conviction. In addition, although my girls were always college bound, our conversations about higher education now include the discussion of both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. This was an unexpected but quite welcome side effect of these years of work.
Moreover, my time at USD has included an incredible experience in the study of leadership, multiple courses that explored organizational management through a lens of change rather than administration, and a deep appreciation for the relevance of self-reflection and self-awareness in professional development.

The SOLES experience has afforded me the opportunity to learn and to teach, to journey to Guatemala and meet with their public servants, to complete 40 units, to gain tremendous insight into my field of study, to work as a student consultant to the nonprofit community, to present my academic and professional development to colleagues and professors, to be accepted into the International Honor Society for academic excellence in philanthropic education, and to share this with my daughters as a mother, a mentor, and a role model.

Life in the classroom

It is with humility, great pride, and tremendous gratitude that I step away from this experience having demonstrated to both myself and my children that anything is possible for anyone. The invisible barriers, which exist in the minds of single mothers, could have prevented me from taking the first steps into this experience. But with their permission, the unending support of my family and friends, a few tears and a whole lot of smiles I now take my learning into the professional world: a little wiser, a lot more reflective, and with two daughters who enthusiastically talk about walking in my footsteps. There can be no doubt that in the past two and a half years I earned a lot more than a piece of paper – I earned a whole new life!

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