MBA grad Julie Shi, second from left, and her family. Husband Craig is beside her. In back are Justin and Racheal, both 16. In front are Hunter, 10, left, and Breanna, 11, on the end. The oldest, Kayla, 21, is not pictured.
The instant Julie Shi earned her MBA in December, she already had a great job – being mom to five children – the same job she had when she earned her BBA in 2010.
“It doesn’t allow me to make lots of money, but it does pay great dividends,” said Shi, of Kissimmee, Fla.
Unlike most business students’ career plans, Shi isn’t climbing corporate ladders or entrepreneuring her way to success. Instead, she wants to inspire her family.
“I have a goal that all five of my children graduate from college and end the poverty cycle and lack of education in my family,” she said. “Even though my kids grew up in a trailer park, they don’t have to be the trailer park.”
Money was a problem when, at 32, Shi began the Degree Completion Program at Stetson’s Center at Celebration. Stetson’s financial aid staff helped her work out a realistic plan.
“My first day at Stetson, I left my five children at our trailer home with my husband, a corrections officer who supported us all on his salary. I knew we had no extra money to spend, yet I felt compelled to complete my education.”
Adopted at birth by South Florida parents who divorced a few years later, Shi entered adulthood as a ward of the state, and her education was patchy after the sixth grade. There were times she “lived on the street,” she said. In bits and pieces, she earned a GED and began her quest for higher education despite the challenges of being an at-risk teen.
“I had nothing, really nothing, to lose and everything to gain,” she said. “Education is something that can never be taken away. I think that’s what motivated me.”
Moving from one low-paying job to another, she took community college classes until, twice-divorced and a single mom at 26, she finally found stability in her marriage to Craig Shi, a single father.
“The addition of two more children to care for did not end my desire to complete my degree, but it never seemed the right time,” said Shi. Her priorities shifted when her biological mother, whom she had met two years before, died at age 50.
“It made me realize how short and precious life really is,” said Shi. She stopped procrastinating and enrolled.
Despite the financial challenges, her family, she said, has been 100 percent supportive.
“My husband is fabulous. He thinks I am superwoman,” Shi said. “He would stop at nothing to assist me in completing my goals.”
And those goals are right on track.
Craig Shi and their oldest daughter are working on bachelor’s degrees. Their oldest son is a dual-enrolled high school senior nearing completion of an associate degree. Shi has applied to two doctoral programs. Her efforts to inspire her family and be an at-home mother are enough for now, but she is interested in teaching or working with at-risk teens.
“My education has allowed me to dream,” she said. “Stetson has completely transformed my life.”
About 75 BBA degrees have been earned in the Degree Completion Program since it began in 2005, and some 20 students are now enrolled. About half a dozen graduates of the program have gone on to earn Stetson MBAs.
After earning her MBA, Shi wrote a long thank you letter to Stetson President Wendy B. Libby and copied almost half the faculty of the School of Business Administration who had helped her succeed.
“Thank you for pouring yourselves into me in every class in order that I could be successful at my goal of becoming an educated individual,” she wrote. “Please remember what a valuable asset you are to society and how you have so much ability to effect change in people’s lives.”