For Julia Erickson, 31, traveling down the steps of the Tomlinson Theater at Temple University and then walking up onto the stage to receive her Bachelor of General Studies degree was a journey 12 years in the making.
"I never actually ever left the classroom. While I was working full-time, I completed an associate degree in liberal arts at Bucks County Community College. I came to Temple as an Engineering major," she said. "I entered the BGS program having already completed 100 credits. After all of that time and work, I knew that with this program I'd be able get my degree relatively quickly — it was time."
At Temple, providing opportunities for adults to finish what they started by returning to the classroom has been an essential goal. In fall 2021, University College began offering the new Bachelor of General Studies (BGS), a program designed specifically for adult learners and students re-enrolling at Temple. BGS students have access to courses and resources available at any of Temple's campuses, including Main Campus, Ambler Campus, Temple University Harrisburg and Temple University Center City.
"BGS has been a great experience and everyone working with the students in the program has been very flexible and understanding. They were really willing to work with what credits I had to find the degree and area of interest that were the right fit for me," Erickson said. "One the most difficult things over the years has been having the resources to get to this point — often seeing the finish line was very difficult after so much time. Right after finishing my associate degree and leaving the engineering program were probably the two most difficult points for me, but I knew I just needed to keep going."
COVID, Erickson said, "changed everything, including the trajectory of my degree."
"I went from walking to lectures with a backpack filled with textbooks to an entirely online curriculum in my living room. That was not an easy transition for me," said Erickson, who has worked in the retail field for the past several years while also running her own business knitting commissioned pieces and repairing knitwear. "I felt that getting a bachelor's degree was very important just as a steppingstone of life, which is why getting into the BGS program and getting to the finish line was so important to me. I wanted to open up more opportunities for myself — it's essential for job prospects — and, personally, I wanted my parents to be proud of me."
Erickson is no stranger to Temple. As an engineering student, she was an instructor in the SeaPerch program from 2019 to 2021, "teaching STEM concepts, robotics and teambuilding to students in local Philadelphia schools," she said. SeaPerch guides students on building an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) while supplying educators with the tools and training to help them through the process. She also interned with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation while she was a student. She was additionally inducted into the Alpha Sigma Lambda Honors Society and was the Vice President of the Temple Society of Women Engineers.
Degree in hand, Erickson said she has been exploring graduate school, focusing on programs that "would give me the opportunity to make a difference in the world."
"I'm working with a career coach to establish what I'd like to do. Ultimately, I want to do something meaningful. I was an environmental engineering major, so I'd like to do something related to the environment, maybe developing a volunteer organization focused on environmental concerns," she said. "I volunteer for a lot organizations, Aark Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center, in Chalfont, (a non-profit wildlife rehabilitation and education center whose mission is to rehabilitate and release orphaned and injured native wildlife), for example. I want to be in a position to help others."
Success, Erickson said, "comes in many forms."
"I don't think there is a formula or timeline to your life or your accomplishments. Our strengths and our achievements are evident not just as individuals in gowns on graduation day, but as a class and a college as a whole," she said. "My advice to anyone thinking about returning to the classroom is stick with it. You have to make sure that it's worth it to you, and if it is, you'll achieve the outcome you're hoping for."