The fall of 2007 was Nick Saban’s first football season at The University of Alabama. It was also Megan Johnson’s.
“When I came to UA, I marched in the Million Dollar Band, and I loved every second of it. But my focus was just not on academics – it was on the band and the other aspects of college life,” Megan said. After spending four years at UA, Megan left Tuscaloosa with cherished memories of championship games but without her degree. She returned to her hometown of Roswell, Georgia, where she began her career.
After seven years with State Farm Insurance, Megan had worked her way up to the position of learning delivery facilitator, training new hires in the company. She realized she had gotten about as far as possible without a degree. “I love who I work for and what I do, but I’ve been in this same role for five years, and I’m in a spot where it’s hard to move up. I needed to make myself more competitive, and not having a degree was holding me back. I just felt like something was missing.”
She enrolled for one semester at a for-profit online school but was disappointed with the content. “This may sound silly, but it just seemed very unauthentic — like the dollar store version of what I had started in the beginning. And I’d given so much of my life to UA. I wanted that piece of paper with the script A on it saying I had finished what I started.”
She started looking into how she could finish her UA degree, and that’s when she learned about the Back to Bama tuition grant, which will cover the cost of up to 3 credit hours for a former UA student when they are readmitted after at least a year away. In November 2020, she connected with Dr. Jennifer Humber, the director of Student Services at UA’s College of Human Environmental Sciences (HES).
“Dr. Humber has been the best person! She helped me map out a plan to finish my bachelor’s in HES 100% online in less than a year.” Megan got a jump start by taking a class during the Winter Interim term and enrolled for her remaining required classes in Spring and Summer 2021.
“The classes have all been really interesting. I talk to my career mentor about the courses I’m taking – Emotional Intelligence, Conflict Resolution, Developing the Leader Within – these have all helped me in my career and apply to the rest of life, too,” Megan said. She has especially appreciated the flexibility of the online coursework. “They’ve been mostly self-paced. There’s no set time I have to be online for class. It’s made the work-life-school balance thing much easier to manage. I can sit on my back porch and work on my classes while my kid is running around in the backyard.”
In addition to working full time and finishing her degree, Megan is also a single mom to a soon to be five-year-old little girl, Charleigh. “She isn’t old enough to understand right now, but one day she will be, and I want her to know that she can do hard things. You don’t need somebody else to do things for you – you can do it for yourself, and eventually it will all come together, and we just have to keep going.”
For Megan, it will all come together on July 31, 2021, when she walks across the commencement stage in Tuscaloosa and officially becomes a UA graduate. “I’ll finish classes just in time for Charleigh to start kindergarten,” she said. Megan plans to take a semester off before returning to earn her graduate certificate in Conflict Resolution toward a potential master’s in HES, both of which are available 100% online. Once again, she can get her first class for free through Build on Bama, a tuition grant for UA graduates similar to Back to Bama.
“It’s amazing how UA can provide such a service to people where it’s not a traditional in-person class. Once you’re over the age of 22, you feel old and awkward going back to a classroom. I didn’t want to do that. But being able to do it at my own pace from home, while also working to provide for and raising my family – it’s a blessing. I just didn’t think it was possible to go back, but UA made it so attainable. They set it up where I could actually complete my degree and not feel too overwhelmed in my life to do it. And it was really hard – it’s not always a ‘finish in four’ success story, but it’s a success story nonetheless.”
Published: June 21st, 2021