Retirement Planning – Just the Basics

by Jonyce Bullock, CPA

Most people often don’t give much thought about saving for the future. Or they have given it a lot of thought, but haven’t known where to start so those thoughts have not yet become action. They haven’t decided which path to take because planning for the future can be overwhelming, intimidating, and tedious. If you haven’t begun thinking about retirement options, now is the time to start.

Choosing Which Plan is Best for You

While there are a number of retirement plan options available to us today and it can be overwhelming at times, let’s keep it simple. If you have a 401(k) or similar plan offered by an employer that is where you need to start. Period. End of discussion. This is mainly for one simple reason; it’s important to contribute enough to get any free money you are able to offered by your employer via the company match. Additionally many employer plans either cover or greatly reduce the investment fees for you, which is another way to turn your retirement plan contributions into free money for you. The bottom line here is that if you have an employer sponsored plan you should start right away by making sure you are contributing at least enough to enjoy full participation in any employer matching funds available. If you’ve maxed out your 401(k) or you don’t have a retirement plan at work, then you can consider an IRA or if you are self-employed a self-employed retirement option.

401(k)s and Other Employer-Sponsored Retirement Plans

Workplace retirement plans can be a huge blessing to many people. The most popular form of workplace retirement plan is a defined contribution plan. The best words you can read are “company match” while going through your benefits paperwork. This means that you have an employer-sponsored retirement plan in which the company contributes to your account based on your personal contribution level.

401(k)s are extremely easy to set up and maintain, which makes them a very good choice. There’s also a good chance you’ll receive free money because your employer will match a portion of your contribution. You decide how much to contribute to the plan and how to invest it. If you leave the company, your money comes with you no matter how long you’ve worked there.

Pros and Cons of IRAs

A huge advantage of IRAs is that they put you in control. You can choose the bank or brokerage and make all of the investment decisions yourself, or hire someone to make them for you. They also provide a much wider range of investment choices than typical workplace retirement plans do. Traditional IRA accounts have another major benefit, namely your contributions are deductible from your income that is liable to taxes. Thus, you pay fewer taxes during the year, which is always a plus. Roth IRA accounts, while not tax deductible grow 100% tax free, which also can result in significant tax savings over time.

However, there are some disadvantages to IRAs as well. IRAs have lower annual contribution limits than most workplace retirement accounts. The amount you can invest in an IRA account is not limitless, so you should check the contribution limits that the IRS establishes from time to time. Roth IRA contribution limits are based on your modified adjusted gross income, and the amount you’re allowed to contribute begins to decrease when you have a larger income.

Retirement Plans for Small-Business Owners and Self-Employed Individuals

Being self-employed definitely has its up-sides. Plans for contractors, the self-employed, and small business owners have high contribution limits than most employer plans and IRAs. These plans include SEP IRAs, Simple IRAs and a solo 401K. Most of these plans are also very easy to set up, which will make your life much less difficult.  These plans also often give you additional time to make your contributions, rather than December 31st, most of these plans allow you to make a contribution up until you file your tax return. Each type of plan has its own pros and cons and one may work better for your business than another so it is important to talk with your CPA and trusted financial advisor about what will work best for your business.

The Bottom Line

This post does not even come close to explaining all of your retirement options, but hopefully it gives you a good general overview and plants a seed of confidence so you can begin asking questions and deciding what is right for you. The most important part of retirement planning is starting: take that first step! As Nike says “Just Do It”! In future posts we will explore the various options in more detail. What questions do you have about retirement plans, or even retirement planning in general.

Voices from the Past: Mary Leicht Oxborrow

By Marie and Seth Oxborrow and Brooke Nelson Edwards

In 1895, Mary Oxborrow found herself widowed when she was only 42 years old and with seven children. Five of them were still at home, and they ranged in age from 19 years old to just 16 months. Faced with the pressing need to support herself and her children, Mary was offered multiple marriage proposals. But her granddaughter recalled that Mary was steadfast in her refusal to marry after her husband’s death, concerned that doing so would separate her children. She felt she “needed to be with the five children not married then, and raise them. She would not think of letting anyone break up her family.” Mary was a hard worker with many skills—she had cooked for hundreds of temple workers, assisted in operating a bakery, and had farmed for much of her life, successfully cultivating enough crops to help sustain her large family. However, Mary’s opportunities for formal education and training had been limited. She left school in England at 11 years old to come to America and it is unclear how much education she received after arriving in Utah and she married at 17.

Undaunted, Mary turned to nursing. Dr. Cliff, a local doctor in St. George, Utah, where she lived, hired and trained her. She was a natural. Both Dr. Cliff and the community came to rely on her skill in the “sick room.” After four years, Mary’s reputation had reached Salt Lake City, and she was called by the Church to move with those of her children who remained at home to serve as the nurse and midwife in Lund, Nevada—a new and growing Mormon settlement.

Mary’s home quickly became a hub for the young community. Her kitchen table was made out of a door set on two saw horses she called her “operating table.” Each night also found a new grandchild sleeping over at her home, presumably to help Mary stave off loneliness, but also to give the grandchildren a special place away from their homes. She also offered boarding to teachers that came through the small community and her home served as the meeting hall for community and church meetings until the LDS chapel was completed.

She served as a counselor in the local LDS unit’s Relief Society for many years and was also a talented musician who sang and played the concertina, an instrument similar to an accordion. She was known as a petite woman of exceptional vitality, who wore her shoes a half-size too small to make her feet appear daintier, and who was slightly bow-legged as a result. She always wore at least four petticoats and in one of them was her money pocket. When she went to the store she would shy up to the counter and carefully lift each skirt until she came to the one with the small coin purse. Her great-granddaughter, Mary Hasfurther, recalled driving into Lund with Mary Leicht when the older woman began lifting up her petticoats to get to a pocket sewed in her petticoats where she kept the key to her home.  Mary Leicht then asked her great-granddaughter to get the key out so she could unlock the door.

With the exception of two babies who were stillborn, Mary did not lose a single one of the babies or mothers she facilitated more than 230 deliveries. This was an incredible accomplishment for any health care provider of the day. Many of these babies grew up in the community calling Mary “Grandma.” In 1908 she was invited back to Salt Lake City for a short time to train further under Dr. Romania Pratt — one of the handful of women who had answered Brigham Young’s call in the late 1800s to attend medical school on the East Coast and the first woman in Utah to earn her medical degree. Her skill and her homemade salves and remedies were infamous among the locals. Her granddaughter Thelma Oxborrow Beam said a tonic Mary provided to patients in the spring made of sulfur and molasses made the whole town reek.

Living in the undeveloped frontier, Mary was also often required to stretch beyond her training as a nurse and midwife. In one particularly notable incident, seven injured men arrived at Mary’s house in the back of a wagon from the silver mines located in Ruth, Nevada. The only person trained in medicine for miles, Mary treated their heads, arms, legs for injures, despite her lack of experience. Mary told the men to wait outside while she went in her home to pray. She remained inside in prayer for twenty minutes. After her prayer, she returned to the group and instructed the uninjured ones to bring clean, old bed sheets and pieces of wood from the neighbors to bind up the bones. She also demanded every drop of alcohol around the mines to be brought to act as a painkiller for the men. The uninjured men were not to touch a drop of the drink, as all the alcohol, from whiskey to wine, was now the Lord’s for the treatment of the men. She enlisted a few of the men to return to her home every day to help her treat the injured, requiring them to say their prayers both morning and night while they were in her service and to refrain from swearing. Not one of the men died, and all the injured were able to return to work.

Mary’s early life was no less exceptional. Born in England, Mary was the fifth child. Her mother died from tuberculosis when she was a baby and her father died of typhoid when she was a small child. At eleven years old, Mary joined the LDS church with her stepmother and set sail with her stepmother’s family for America to join the rest of the Saints.

Her granddaughter, Effie O. Reed, recalled this ditty that her grandmother sang along the way:

“Oh, Captain, Captain, stop this ship.
I want to get off and walk,
I feel so flippity floppity flip,
I never shall reach New Yak.”

After arriving in the United States, it took six months to cross the plains to Utah and Mary walked the entire way next to an ox team, gathering buffalo chips along the way to provide herself and her family light and warmth in the evenings. Once arriving in St. George, Mary worked seven days a week doing chores all day and late into the evening for another family. She earned just $2.50 a week.

At seventeen, and after encouragement from Apostle Erastus Snow, Mary accepted a marriage proposal to become the second wife of 53-year-old Joseph Oxborrow. She and Jennett, Joseph’s first wife, became dear friends despite the conflicts inherent to polygamy and their three-decade age difference. Joseph and Mary had eleven children together, four of whom died in infancy or early childhood.

Mary stuck by Joseph through multiple moves and even a failed attempt by Joseph to start his own bakery. The family lived for some time on the temple lot in St. George where Mary assisted Joseph in his duties as temple groundskeeper and cook. She and her daughters did much of the cooking for the 300 men who worked to build the St. George temple. At the same time, Mary took in washing, ironing, she would cook, clean, sew carpet rags, make patchwork quilts and tended small children to supplement the Joseph’s inadequate salary. Her children also worked as babysitters for the temple workers, gleaned grain at harvest time, and did many other things to help with the family living. Through it all, Mary was an example of hard work, perseverance, and faith.

Mary died as a beloved figure in her family and her community, on January 10, 1935 in Ely, Nevada, and was buried in Lund.


Other sources:


Preparing to File Taxes: 5 Things You Can Do Now

by Jonyce Bullock, CPA

Your income tax obligation needs to be on your mind year-round. Here are some ways you can get a jump on your 2017 taxes.

Summer’s over. Kids are back in school. And soon, there’ll be only three months left in 2017. If you haven’t started thinking about how to minimize your income tax obligation for this year, there’s still time.

Whether you’re a small business or an individual taxpayer, year-round tax planning is more than just a way to make tax preparation an easier, faster process. By keeping taxes in mind as you go through every 12-month period, you’ll be able to see where you might take specific actions early that will have impact on what you end up owing. Make it a habit, and you’ll find that it just comes naturally to consider the tax implications of purchase and sales decisions.

Create a System

Effective tax planning requires more than just saving receipts and organizing tax-related documents in physical or digital file folders – though that’s a good start. Create a system in early January that you can maintain throughout the year (of course, a lot of your information will be stored in your accounting or personal finance application, if you use one). But you should be saving statements, receipts, sales forms – anything related to your income and expenses that will eventually feed into IRS forms or schedules.

Evaluate Your Expense-Tracking

Businesses: How do you—and your employees, if you have them—keep track of daily expenses? You may have forms like purchase orders and bills for the big ones, but you probably buy things on occasion that are just documented by paper receipts. How do you categorize and organize these so you won’t miss any when it’s time to complete a Schedule C? Is there a better way?

Do any of your employees make trips on behalf of your business? You may want to consider subscribing to an online service that automates the process of creating and approving expense reports. Read More

Paying for Child Care with Tax Advantageous Dollars

by Jonyce Bullock, CPA

Let’s face it – child care is expensive!  One of the conversations I see frequently on the AMW Facebook group is about how to find and pay for child care.  Finding and affording childcare can easily be the most stressful part of working while you have children.  I clearly remember the day my mother-in-law told me she could no longer watch my kids because she needed to care for my father-in-law who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  While I knew that she was doing what she needed to do, I was also having a panic attack.  It was the middle of tax season and I couldn’t afford to miss even a day of work while trying to find child care.  My next realization was that once I found child care, it may take all of my income to pay for it.

While I wish there was a magic wand that we could wave that would help each of us find the perfect child care solution; there is help with the financial side once you do find it in the form of tax credits and tax deductions to help offset the cost of child care for those that qualify.  Depending on your personal circumstances there are one or two options you can take advantage of; using a flexible spending account or claiming the dependent-care credit.  However, you can’t use the same expenses for both tax breaks so you will want to take some time to understand what works best for you. Read More

Career Day: Optometrist

Tell us a little about yourself and about your job?

My name is Jennifer Poole Wilcox. I grew up in South Carolina. Went to school at BYU Provo with an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education. I then went to Southern California College of Optometry in Southern California. School is four years beyond a Bachelors. At the time, there were approximately 16 schools. I was single leaving BYU and wanted some social life… thus So Cal.

There are ten optometrists in my family. I am the third generation eye doctor. However, I am the only female of the group.

What does your job entail?

My job entails seeing a variety of patients from infants to the elderly that have eye problems, from vision difficulties to injuries, to pink eye, and more. Every day is a new experience, new friends and situations. I love to listen and learn about the whole person, not just their eyes.

What drew you to optometry?

I went to optometry because I wanted a good mom job! Ha Ha. Really, it’s true. I wanted the flexibility to be at school events, after-school recitals, ball games, etc. My dad (also an eye doctor) seemed to be at all of our necessary events. I think that is why all four of us ended up in the same profession. It is a tough balance. I don’t think I balance it all well sometimes, but it works. I get to spend time with my kids! For me that’s what I need.

What skills/personal characteristics are important to have/develop?

For optometry, you need to enjoy being with people and having conversations.

What kind of job opportunities are there in your field?

There are corporate employee jobs, there are independent contractor jobs where you can work for another eye doctor, you can have your own practice or a partnership.

What types of jobs have you had within your profession?

I have worked in almost all these positions, as have all my family members.

What is the best part of your job?

People can enjoy the best sense that we have been given. At first we learn to read, then we read to learn. If kids cant see, there is no reading . It makes a huge difference in the lives of those we touch.

What is the worst part of your job?

Dealing with insurance companies and restrictions stinks! Lots of red tape that can make a patient encounter more difficult.

What’s the work/family/life balance like?

Fabulous!!! I can see patients while my kids are in school and be home in the evening. I can also take time off to see them during school activities.

What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?

We are not rich! While it is a good living and pays well, it is not as good as some other doctor positions. Online eye exams are not the same! We spend a lot of time learning how to help with your health. Not just glasses. (Even though that is important) Your health is our number one concern.

What opportunities have you had because of your education and profession?

I can work part time or full time depending on my situation. I can take my kids to work with me. I am teaching my kids how to work in an office. I can take the summer off, or at least part time. We have a conference at the beach! The kids play and I get credit for classes required for my license.

On a professional note, I think as a female, I have a better connection with some of my patients and definitely with children. It’s a huge advantage over my fellow male colleagues.

What stereotypes or criticisms have you faced as an educated Mormon woman with her own career?

I haven’t really noticed any. However, there are some folks that don’t know what my career is. I don’t usually make a big deal of it. My newest ward is extremely supportive. Lots of ladies come and bring their families to me. I feel like it is a great trust and honor.

What spiritual guidance have you felt as you have pursued your education and developed your career?

I was single when I started school. I met my husband after school. We got married older according to Mormon standards. I had my first child when I was 36 and my last child as I turned 41. If any stereotypes came, it was more my age and that I wasn’t married until later.

My spiritual guidance would be that I should complete SOMETHING that I enjoyed. Something that I could do if I never got married, or had to support a family. Something that made me enjoy life. I think that is my advice to all women!!!!

I also think that life works out for us however it works out. For me it was getting married a little older and being a little older mom. For others, its may mean having kids earlier then enjoying time later on! Whatever path you take….. it works! Make it work for you!


Entrepreneur Feature: Michelle, AZ Staging & Design

I’m Michelle Burrola, founder of AZ Staging and Design.

I transform homes, allowing them to sell for top dollar on their first day of listing. I take empty houses and make them come to life with staging and appeal to a wide audience. I also take occupied homes, EDIT and re-work them so buyers can see past the current lifestyle and belongings and see themselves living in the home. My technique and strategies get homes sold fast and for top dollar. When I walk into a home, I visualize its potential, asses weak spots, envision the home’s ideal design , and map out an attractive furniture layout. I create a space that is desirable – one that highlights the home’s best features by adding thoughtfully selected furniture, accessories, and custom art work. I then use my background in visual perception and psychology, along with my eye for design, to transform the space into a home where people can see their future and want to live!

I first felt the entrepreneurial itch after being home with my son for a year. It wasn’t the best timing, so I put the brain child of a staging business on the back burner. A year later, a friend asked me to stage their flip, it lit a fire within me and I took the leap of faith to create my own staging business.

I attended the University of Arizona for my psychology degree, then went on to grad school where I researched visual perception. I conducted experiments to better understand how people saw financial value in 3D images on a computer screen. That is basically what I do now. I stage homes and use professional photography to create listing photos that communicate to online shoppers: this listing is a must-see, must-have property. My end dream goal is to create a system that merges the science of psychology and choice with the process of curating design for others. It is tricky to pull a picture out of someone’s brain, see it for yourself and replicate it in the physical world. This is basically what an interior designer does. I would love to create a process that utilizes psychological profiling to help create design plans that truly fit the personality and lifestyle of my clients!

What is your best advice for other (LDS) women entrepreneurs?

Find a mentor! Reach out to someone who is doing what you want to do and see if they will download information into your brain. Ask and learn as much as you possibly can from them! Also, try to gain the support and encouragement of your family! My husband works hard alongside me, doing the heavy lifting, literally! He loves to talk business strategy and tries to set me up for success with his support. My Dad is an outstanding support too! He helps me dream big and discusses strategy and marketing. Knowing he is rooting for me pushes me to work harder and smarter.

What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

My favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur is the opportunity I have to work with other women who are also paving their paths in business. For example, I work with a local artist, Megan Speirs Mack. She creates custom artwork based on the design plan for our higher end homes. Her pieces are for sale, and this is a way for her to grow her portfolio and market herself. It has been such a rewarding partnership. It is so exciting to be a new business women and reach out to other women around me and see their talents marketed and their businesses growing! I really believe in women helping women. I am successful because I have an extensive network of supportive women alongside me, contributing their talents, encouragement and love.

What spiritual guidance have you had with developing and growing your business?

After my first stage, I realized I needed an assistant. The qualities I was hoping to find in an assistant were a mile long. I also needed someone who had a very flexible schedule and lived nearby. I started to panic about finding someone and worried about how I would pay that person.

Then a light came on. I thought of a lady in my ward. I had seen her post on Instagram some DIY projects. I reached out, and she joined me that week for a stage. She jumped in, worked hard, and contributed valuable suggestions. Now, with every stage that goes by, I am more certain that it was no coincidence that we are now working together. I consider it a match made in Heaven. Morgan Flores has been such a support and source of relief as an assistant and partner in staging.

Find Michelle and AZ Staging & Design on Instagram and Facebook.

Entrepreneur Feature: Sheila Sjolseth, Pennies of Time


“So, the boys and I are going to do an act of kindness every day,” sharing with my husband my new goal, I looked over at him.

He paused and returned my look, “That’s great! For how long?”

“For the rest of our lives.” I continued folding the laundry. Wow! Vocalizing it felt real and right.

After he didn’t respond for a moment, I glanced over. His face basically said, “Whaat?” and “Yeah, right,” all at the same time.

“Like EVERY day?” He clarified.

“Yes.” I answered simply.

I didn’t know it, yet, but that conversation sparked a movement that would grow into a worldwide nonprofit.

The Nonprofit: Pennies of Time. “It only takes a moment of time, a penny of time, to be kind.” At Pennies of Time, we provide the example and the support to teach and mentor families that all kids can be engaged in kindness and community service, even from their earliest years.

My name is Sheila Sjolseth, and I am the President and Founder of Pennies of Time. With my two boys, we bring to life acts of kindness and service projects that kids can do. We started serving daily with each other in 2012, when Big Brother and Little Brother were 5 and 3 years old. What started as a way to teach my kids empathy has transitioned to a way of life and a connection with thousands of other families.

In the daily adventures of serving with my young boys, I witnessed the awe-inspiring things that happen when kids serve others. As I wrote about what we did, other families started reaching out to me for ideas, for support, to help answer questions, and to share the triumphs that they are experiencing in their journey to raise kind kids. Because this daily act of serving others and talking about it started requiring more time than I could fit in while balancing my other areas of life, I turned to incorporating the work into a nonprofit. With this transition in 2014 and with the help of our Board of Directors, we’ve been able to help thousands of families more fully integrate kindness and serving others into their daily lifestyle without going crazy.

The path to this point didn’t start with the intent to be an entrepreneur or leader of a global movement. I earned my Bachelor of Science in Special Education from The University of Texas at Austin and a Masters of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Before having kids, I taught in a variety of settings from a classroom in small town Texas, to a child psychiatric unit in Chicago, to supporting education at a national level at the US Department of Education.

As an educator and professional with 20 years of experience in working with children and parents, I truly believe that teaching kids to be kind results in a happier family. My goal in this entrepreneurial endeavor: For families to choose to complete an act of kindness as often as they go to soccer practice or to the movies. “Let’s elevate the meaningful activities that we do as a family and lessen the activities that isolate us from one another.”

Pennies of Time provides ideas, inspiration, and examples of acts of kindness that kids can do as well as the expertise of how to engage with nonprofits in our communities that are not “kid” or “family friendly.” Our 100% volunteer organization stays active through mentoring families, presenting at conferences and PTA events, providing workshops, and through teaching classes on our online platform The Kindness Academy.

Right now, our Virtual Kindness Summer Camp is going on, and we are having a splendid time engaging with families across the world to infuse kindness into their lives!

Five years have passed since that initial conversation with my husband. I turned to him last week and asked him about it.

“How crazy did you think I was when I said EVERY day?” I asked my husband.

“Well, I didn’t know how you were going to do it. I mean, we didn’t really see many people actually including young kids in service in a way that was more than having them along for the ride. After you guys left a thank you note for the mailman that day, I thought that would be it. I didn’t know how or where you were going to find ideas. At the same time, I did know that if anyone could figure it out, that it would be you.”

He then ended with, “I could not have guessed how much of a transformation would occur with this daily focus on kindness! That change has brought such great joy into our home. I am grateful for that crazy day and idea you were inspired to follow.”



What was the biggest surprise in the process of building your nonprofit?

One of the biggest surprises for me, maybe not for others, has come from the negative attitudes from adults on kids being kind and helping others. I didn’t expect everyone to love the concept. I didn’t expect that our messaging would resonate with everyone. We don’t need it to. BUT, what I really didn’t expect was the negative attitudes around the idea that we can raise kind kids and we can see great things when they are involved with community service. That wasn’t just surprising for me that was shocking! At the same time, I learned from their perspectives, which is always key in moving any work forward.

What do you wish you had known from the beginning?

I wished I had known how to fundraise and how much grit this process would take. I get the comment so often: “But, you are a nonprofit. You don’t need money or need to make money.” Being a nonprofit doesn’t mean that we don’t need money or need to make a profit. In order to be self-sustaining and exist for the tomorrow, we need profitability in the skeleton of our strategy and operations so that we have the necessary capital to move forward and develop new programs and services. Fundraising is hard, hard work, and any time we are focused on fundraising, we aren’t spending time helping families. Further, fundraising is very capricious. Some years are better than others, and the environment around us affects this. Grit. I have developed more grit than I thought possible. For me, having grit is more than just the idea of sticking it out. I have to actively seek it out and keep it in my bag of tools. Worthwhile endeavors, particularly ones that blaze new paths, require grit to get through the hard seasons. Just because the going gets rough is not a signal to stop. Would have loved a booster shot of grit at the beginning! (wish such a thing was possible!)

What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?

I think that my biggest failure is a lack of acceptance that failures are part of the process. Intellectually, I would say I understood and accepted that as true. But, when the failures really happened, I struggled with it emotionally. I am pretty hard on myself, have a high level of expectations for myself, and although high expectations are great to have, it is more important to recognize what is reasonable. As you start ventures, you are going to be drinking out of the firehose. Often times, the blast of the water will sting, your best plans will be washed out, and it will seem too much. It is humanly impossible to get it perfect every time. So, learning to accept the times when it didn’t go “just right” as points of ways to grow has been my biggest area of development. Failures or things not going “just right” will happen. Learning to have joy and seeking ways to laugh in those moments . . . those points are when I know I am embracing that failures will happen. It is part of the rollercoaster ride of our experience.

What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?

Time is one of the biggest sacrifices, for sure. In order to get the nonprofit started and sustained as we grow the organization, there are also financial sacrifices that are made. Though, I would say that the most surprising sacrifice is the willingness to learn anything. I mean anything and everything. Getting Pennies of Time up and off the ground meant that I needed to take the time and learn html, website development, social media ins and outs, marketing, graphic development, public relations, fundraising, and so much more. Never in my life have I had to learn so much in such a short amount of time. Some of the things I learn I really enjoy. Others, not so much. As odd as it sounds, learning to do stuff that I don’t enjoy is a sacrifice for me. In the end, as with most sacrifices, all of it has been necessary and fruitful.

Follow Pennies of Time on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.


The Student Record: Sydney, Masters in Educational Leadership

Name: Sydney B. Donaldson

School/University: Northern Arizona University

City/Location: Flagstaff, AZ (however, it’s an online program. I’m located in Tucson, AZ)

Major/Field of Study: Master of Education, Educational Leadership

Marital status/children?: Married for 8 years, with one child (a two-year-old)

What led you to the program that you are currently pursuing or have completed? Why did you select this major or field of study? Please tell us about any experiences that inspired you to pursue this area of study.

Growing up, my dad was a college textbook sales representative and editor, so we visited lots of college campuses across the United States. I was always amazed by the unique energy felt on college campuses. My parents placed a heavy emphasis on going to college and obtaining a degree. It was expected. My dad and I began looking at potential colleges when I was in 8th grade. I was taught that a college education is exciting and wonderful and fulfilling.

My first job out of college was at a university, and I quickly fell in love with working in higher education. I want to build a career out of helping students achieve their dreams of a college education, so I enrolled in a Master of Education program that focuses on educational leadership in higher education. I graduate in two months!

What feedback did you receive from friends, families or acquaintances about your schooling?

My family has been nothing but supportive and encouraging. Friends think it’s an amazing accomplishment. I didn’t initially tell colleagues about my full-time student status – I didn’t want to give them any idea that I was slacking at my job because of my schoolwork. I recently told my supervisor that I’ve been working on a graduate degree for the past year, and she is amazed that I have been able to work full time, take care of a little one at home in the evenings, AND pursue a graduate degree.

When I started my program, I committed to being fully present with my two-year-old daughter while she is awake. My degree is online which gives me incredible flexibility to work full time and be present with my family. I have completed this degree 100% during lunch breaks and after my little one goes to sleep. Some nights I don’t get into bed until one in the morning, but it’s important to me to be fully present with my daughter for the few hours I see her after I come home from work.

My parents are very encouraging parents and they are proud of this accomplishment. My mom is the only one in our immediate family who has a Master’s degree, and I am excited to have this in common with her. My mom passed away about a month ago from cancer. (To say my year has been a very busy and challenging one is an understatement!) As well, my husband has been an incredible support. He believes in me and pushes me to achieve. As cheesy as this sentiment is, he is the wind beneath my wings.

What advice would you give to a student pursuing a similar course of study?

Higher education is evolving. Forget what you think you know about the “traditional student.” Thirty-eight percent of today’s college student population is over 25 years old; they’re likely to also have a family, a full-time job, caretaking responsibilities, and other personal obligations. And this percentage is projected to grow over the next five years. If you think you don’t fit the mold of the traditional college student, think again. Universities and colleges are aware of the changing student population and are developing student services to address the needs of this changing group. I am fiercely passionate about access to education for all, and I want others to know that the right program for your unique circumstances likely exists. A more educated society is a better one. Go get that degree!

Specific to my field, it’s an exciting time to be involved in higher education. Many colleges really are striving to create a campus ethos that embodies social entrepreneurial thinking. Some of the great challenges of today’s society begins with solving issues through formulating ideas on college campuses.

Any program of study is going to be easier if you have the passion for that field of research. I was lucky in that every course I took directly impacted my day-to-day work – and it impacted it very positively. I am a better employee because of my program.

What did you learn about yourself when you became a student?

I didn’t realize just how positively my schoolwork would impact my job. The two go hand-in-hand: I apply what I learn in class to my job as an academic advisor, and I use my job as motivation for continuing with my academic research and studies. I work full time and I am so proud of myself for balancing full-time employment with full-time education. I am also very fortunate to receive generous education benefits because of my employment at a university. I would like to think that I would take advantage of education regardless of access to funding, but I am fortunate that I never had to make that decision.

Throughout my program, I learned that there is a time and a season for everything. Right now, it is my season to pursue education and work full time. Although it is a commandment given to me, it is not yet my season to work on genealogy, for example, or even my season to work out. (I wish it was never my season to be folding laundry, but that’s one task I have to do, despite my very busy season of life!) I am grateful for access to the Holy Spirit which confirms to me what season of life I need to be in.

I also learned that education is one way that my Bucket of Joy is filled. I feel energized and invigorated by gaining a formal education, and I feel my happiness reserves are filled when I engage in an academic setting. Arguably, being in any educational program can take time away from family, social obligations, callings, and the like, but I believe I am my best self when I participate in things that fill me with joy. I cannot give others joy if my own Bucket of Joy is empty. Women should not feel selfish by gaining an education. You are bettering yourself and making yourself happy! That’s something to celebrate!

What do you most enjoy about school?

Being in school fills me with so much pride and accomplishment. It’s a great feeling to have – to be proud of yourself! I enjoy many things about school, but I enjoy most how accomplished I feel as a student while managing professional and personal obligations.

What are your current or future plans for employment or future schooling?

I love what I do professionally and I do not see myself making a major job change in the near future. But I do hope to grow in higher education administration. I want to be a leader in higher ed. I want to help all students realize their potential and pursue a college degree. I want to ensure that student services exist to serve the at-risk or underrepresented populations, especially students with children or adult caretaker responsibilities, students with disabilities, transfer students, veterans, and refugees.

I plan on pursuing a doctoral degree in educational leadership. I’m not sure when it will be my season to do this, but I’m ready to begin when it’s time. In the meantime, I am looking forward to a summer of going to bed at a reasonable hour. And maybe taking a few naps.

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