03/27/2012 12:16 pm ET Updated May 27, 2012

How Education Gave Me Self-Worth

When I wasn't accepted to the Working Families Grant (WFG) Program at Marian University in Wisconsin, I enrolled in classes anyway despite knowing there was no way I could afford to go back to school full-time and pay my bills. After a decade of working at car dealerships, I was burnt out, and I wanted more -- for my daughter, for myself.

It was about two weeks into the semester when I received a call from the university notifying me of a program opening; I went in for an interview. My story finally resonated with the program leaders, with whom I had spoken so candidly about the struggles I encountered in my 31 years.

The program is a unique collaboration of an anonymous donor and the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes that provides funds to single parents like me who possess the desire and determination to achieve a four-year degree, but are unable to do so without the funds, which help offset educational costs and monthly living expenses including rent, food and childcare services.

I may not have known it then, but my self-worth depended on my acceptance to this program. My confidence was at an all-time low, I had been laid off from my most recent position as a finance manager at a car dealership. Financial hardship following the layoff wasn't the only thing keeping me down; I had just ended a six year abusive marriage. Divorce did not erase the effects of being in an abusive relationship, and my self-esteem suffered tremendously.

Working in the car business did help me discover something: That I was great at helping people work through their issues. Colleagues referred to me as their on-site psychologist.

That, coupled with my experience in an abusive relationship, is what drove me to pursue a degree in psychology. Originally, I wanted to study abuse and addiction, but I realized that with my business background, I would get further ahead by focusing on Industrial/Organizational Psychology (IO). I found that's where my true passion lies.

My 14-year-old daughter Ally is aware of the importance of education because she sees how hard I work. I've shown her that it's possible to obtain a higher education regardless of the hand you were dealt. I became pregnant with Ally when I was just 19, and was a single parent before I even gave birth.

My childhood could be classified as "normal." I was the youngest of three girls, on the cheerleading squad and mostly received B's in my classes, but what made my family different from most is what may have given me the tools to persevere through my negative experiences: Both my parents were deaf.

Through cochlear implants, my mother and father regained some of their hearing, but life certainly wasn't easy for them, and for our family.

In May, I will graduate from Marian with a B.S. in Psychology, completing the four-year program in just three years. Earning my bachelor's would never have been possible without the WFG Program. If I hadn't been accepted, chances are halfway through the program I would've dropped out and worked a job that wouldn't allow me to reach my full potential, both academically and financially.

In addition to the stellar education I've received, I live in a nice apartment and there's food on the table because of this program, which also allows those enrolled to receive budget counseling, ensuring that the student is balanced and no aspect of their life is suffering.

It will be a proud moment for me on April 17, when I'll gather with other Marian University students for an invite-only luncheon with Dr. Steven DiSalvo, university president.

What about that plummeting self-confidence? Well, this program has really helped me gain it all back. I realize I'm a lot smarter than I ever gave myself credit for, and I think that my daughter sees that, which has helped her realize she can be a strong woman.

In the fall, I will begin a two-year graduate program in IO Psychology at University of Central Florida, where I will receive paid tuition, healthcare and a fellowship of $10,000 per year. Next year, I plan to reapply for Central Florida's Ph.D. program, which was filled up for 2012-2013.

My Marian University McNair Scholars program research paper entitled "Moti-Faction: Retaining and Engaging Employees Using Motivation Profile-Based Rewards" will be published in the Spring 2012 edition of the Modern Psychological Studies journal.

When I'm done with school, I want to work as a consultant because IO combines psychology and human resources. Hopefully, I will be successful enough to "pay it forward" and eventually help other single parents achieve a college degree.