Choosing college when the time was right
When Michele Woodward walked across The Lyric stage for the 2019 commencement, her dad proudly watching from the theater seats, she became the first in her family to complete a four-year college education.
For the generations before her, college just wasn’t a priority. Her grandparents grew up during the Great Depression when even finishing high school could be considered a luxury. Her father, who raised her, completed high school but didn’t need more than job-related certifications to make a living as a construction superintendent.
As a result, education wasn’t something pushed on Woodward. It was something she came to appreciate and pursue for herself, but that came later.
Waiting for her moment
Woodward left high school short of graduation and it wasn’t until age 22 that she enrolled in her first college courses, after earning her GED. Three years later, she learned she was pregnant, and decided to stop one semester after her first daughter was born.
“And then I just waited until both of my kids were in school all day, so I could go,” Woodward said. “My youngest was in kindergarten all day and then my oldest was in second grade all day. While they were in school, I went school during the day so I didn't have to find childcare. It was easier also to be able to concentrate and do homework with them being older.”
All along, Woodward has been proving—to herself and her family—that education isn’t about the timing, but the experience. She never expected to go as far as she has.
When she was ready to go back to college, she started at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), hoping only for an associate degree. Having earned that, Woodward followed her fellow classmates’ lead and applied to four-year institutions with no expectations.
“And then of course, I ended up getting accepted,” she said, smiling at the memory. “So it was like, I'm going to keep going. And I did that.”
“That's how I ended up here. And I absolutely loved it.”
Her moment in the spotlight
Woodward found her place at UBalt, and it led her to her commencement—a day she won’t soon forget.
“It was so great," she said. "Of course, it was a personal accomplishment for myself, but seeing my dad cry, like my dad cried at my graduation, and my dad doesn't cry. … And that, of course, made me cry because I'm emotional, too. But that was awesome.”
Woodward also felt pride for having restarted and completed the journey despite having to balance classes with her life as a parent of two.
“A lot of people that stop, especially for kid reasons, don't end up going back and the fact that I was able to go back and finish was great,” she said.
Woodward decided a bachelor’s degree was the best way out of a job she didn’t like. Options had been limited when she only had the GED. Once she had her bachelor’s degree, she again decided to keep going.
Woodward was well on her way to fulfilling the 150 credits needed to sit for a CPA exam—her next goal. She fell in love with accounting at community college and excelled at the work.
In spring 2023, she decided to pursue UBalt’s M.S. in Business-Finance, a degree that today carries the acclaimed STEM designation. She could meet the credit requirement and pick up more skills that would set her apart in the job market.
Woodward has been balancing work, classes and a family over all this time. She has watched her daughters grow up, and her oldest is now pursuing an undergraduate degree, too.
She said she’s never pushed college on them. Her dad gave her the choice and she’s giving it to them.
“Just as long as we're following the right path, that's fine.”
Going First is an ongoing series highlighting the students, alumni, faculty and staff part of the UBalt community who were the first in their families to earn a bachelor's degree. Read more first-generation stories.