East Palo Alto Mayor Lisa Gauthier can officially add college graduate to her list of accomplishments after achieving her lifelong goal of earning a bachelor's degree earlier this month.
Gauthier is one of 18 people in Study.com's first local Working Scholars graduating class that was recognized at a ceremony on Aug. 15, when she gave a commencement speech during the event at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. She now holds a bachelor of science degree in business administration with a focus in general management.
"As a single mom of three young adults, I had limited resources when it came to making sure my family could get degrees, so I focused on getting my children through school," Gauthier said in a recent interview. However, she did obtain two associate degrees in marketing management and business administration from De Anza College before going after her bachelor's degree.
"I always wanted to go back (to school) to get my bachelor's, but I struggled to find a program that I could afford and I couldn't take on any student debt," she said.
Gauthier said she learned of the Working Scholars Program, an online education platform geared toward the working adult, when representatives from Mountain View-based Study.com gave a presentation about it at an East Palo Alto City Council meeting. The program is designed to allow students to take courses at their own pace and on their own time. Study.com also works with cities and large organizations to use their tuition reimbursement funds to help their employees earn their degrees at no cost.
During the presentation, she said her first two thoughts were, "Is this real?" and "as an elected official, is this something I could do?"
At the time, the program had 25 slots open for anyone in the community to apply on a first-come, first-served basis, according to Gauthier. After snagging one of those spots and getting started on her journey, she said she began moving through the material very quickly.
Because the coursework was always available on her phone or laptop, she was able to study and complete assignments "during my downtime after council meetings and on planes while traveling," she said. Although there were moments when she had to sacrifice spending time with friends and family, her commitment to her studies allowed her to complete the program in about 18 months.
Her participation as a student also led to an employment opportunity. Gauthier is currently the government affairs manager for Study.com, which involves attending conferences and meeting with other cities to help bring the program to more communities among other tasks related to education and policy.
"I'm always encouraging young people to go to school and, even older adults who want to go back to school, and this is a great opportunity to lead by example," Gauthier said, adding that she's been turned away from jobs in the past because she didn't have a bachelor's degree and now she's solved that obstacle.
"I was able to accomplish one of my dreams and earn a degree without any student debt. So, I'm really grateful for this program and this opportunity," Gauthier said.