Tell us about your careers and educations.
Billy: I decided to return to school in 2020 after considering the step for several years. I attended vocational school out of high school and used that education to form a successful career. Changes in my health forced early retirement and the closure of the auto restoration business I owned for over two decades. Additionally, I worked in the chemical plant industry for a time in process operations and safety. I am now pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Leadership.
My wife, Celeste, owned her own photography business for a decade before deciding to return to school. She also founded a national nonprofit after our young son’s battle with pediatric hypertension. Life experiences sparked a desire in her to fulfill a lifelong goal of becoming a college graduate. She enrolled in UA’s New College LifeTrack as an undergraduate student in 2015 and finished summa cum laude. She was subsequently accepted in the master’s in Social Work program at UA and graduated in 2021. Celeste has since taken her national ASWB exam and become a licensed master social worker. She is pursuing her clinical license now and anticipates full licensure this year. She works as a mental health and behavioral counselor at a school for special needs students.
Why did you both choose to go back to school through NCLT?
Billy: We both chose NCLT for the flexibility it allows to complete a college degree while maintaining busy lives, raising children and taking care of other responsibilities. I don’t know if either of us would be on the track we are without NCLT. It has changed the trajectory of our family.
How do you and your wife encourage each other to complete schoolwork and make good grades?
Billy: When Celeste was in school, our entire family pitched in to help everything run smoothly and make sure she felt supported. Now that I am the adult student, the roles have changed. We have two sons, and we firmly believe in education. Our oldest son will be graduating from college this year and the youngest will be graduating high school. Both of our boys have taken courses in the UA Early College program. At any given point over the past seven years, we have had at least two people in our household taking college-level courses. It is definitely a team effort, and we are all in this together. We cry together and cheer together.
How did NCLT help you?
Billy: NCLT has provided a framework to show that you are never too old to accomplish your goals. Without NCLT, achieving our professional goals and accomplishments would not be possible. Traditional college schedules would be nearly impossible. We are able to complete the same coursework as if we were on campus in Tuscaloosa.
What are you both most proud of?
Billy: We are most proud of the educational impact we have had on our children. It is one thing to tell your child you achieved it, but it is another thing for them to see you walk it and live it every day. Our children have great appreciation and respect for the education we have sought and earned. This has fueled them in their own personal pursuits and allowed them to value education from a different perspective.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to enroll in NCLT?
Billy: We would say do it! Don’t wait. There will never be a perfect time, so just take the jump and begin the journey. Enrolling in NCLT will start your path to accomplishing one of the greatest goals a person can achieve.
What are your favorite parts of NCLT?
Billy: My favorite part of NCLT is the variety of coursework [and] the ability to complete coursework at your own pace. The opportunity to see my wife’s graduation gave me a renewed spark to do something I had been thinking about for a while.
Celeste: My favorite part of NCLT is the opportunity to take classes on campus, online or through group contracts. I had the chance to come to Tuscaloosa several times throughout my undergraduate career. Getting the chance to travel to Washington D.C. for a group contract with Dr. Kim Colburn’s class was a fantastic experience. I was even able to bring my youngest son with me.
Are there any faculty or staff members who positively impacted your experience?
Billy: All of the faculty and staff have been a tremendous help, from the enrollment process to the scheduling of classes. It is hard to pick just one person, because I feel like NCLT is a family, and everyone is working together for a common goal. The staff has always answered questions and concerns, and the faculty has always been there for me.
Celeste: Every faculty and staff member I worked with during my time was helpful, guiding and professional. Dr. Kim Colburn was a standout as being instrumental in helping me define my path by being supportive. There are always those people you look back on who make a difference in your lives and Dr. Colburn is truly that person. I must also recognize the impact Cindy Franks had on my education. She was always available with any question or concern and has the kindest personality.