Commentary

October 12, 2012

My educational journey: Without education, we can’t compete

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Elizabeth K. Torre
Hanscom AFB, Mass.


I began my federal service career in 1989 when I was only 19 years old, which was quite an honor as far as I was concerned.

I was thrilled to get a position as a GS-5 secretary in what used to be called the Industrial Base Initiative Group. I had great skills from attending business classes – or so I thought; I could type 100 words per minute and took shorthand at 100 words per minute, when we still used typewriters with multi-carbon papers and shorthand to type what the boss dictated.

Time went on and I was promoted from secretary to Inbound Shipment Clerk in the Joint Personal Property Shipping Office.

I really loved my job and didn’t see the need to continue with a college education because I was pretty happy where I was.
Eventually I left federal service for a contractor position, where I was the “Go To” girl for training on the contract writing system and on how to build contract files. I helped train the civilians on basic contracting functions and often inspected files for compliance with regulations. I absolutely loved this job and earned a fantastic income without having a degree. Then, two years ago, government contractor policy changed and my job was eliminated.

It was devastating to find out that I could train brand new civilians without previous government experience how to do the job, but I no longer qualified for the job I had been doing for nearly 12 years.

You see, in order to be a federal civilian in contracting (aside from background experience of which I had more than enough), you are required to have a bachelor’s degree. Guess who didn’t have a degree yet? You guessed it, me! However, my 21 years of acquisition experience enabled me to return to federal service as a GS-12 Program Manager. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and the group of people I work with, but it’s kind of like being a baker for 12 years and then leaving on Friday and coming back on Monday as a mechanic. One benefit of this position is that if I am able to return to the contracting field, I will go with a greater respect for the work our Program Managers do!

So now here I am, 23 years after beginning my career, a mother of 10-year old triplet boys with a full time career, taking two college courses per semester to complete my B.S.B.A degree in business. In addition, I’m on a Level II PM slot so I’m also taking all of the required courses to maintain my certification; it’s really like taking three classes per semester.

Although I am pleased to say I’m doing very well academically, waiting until my 40s to start college, having three children, a career and community obligations does not make this an easy task. I don’t recommend this approach to others!

This has been an eye opening journey. I’m learning a great deal and although I was apprehensive about going back to school at this age, I’m pleased with my accomplishments to date and know that my children are proud of me as well. It’s definitely a journey I was reluctant to start, but now that I have, I feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment as I complete each class.

I know that even if it takes me two more years to finish my degree, I will be able to better compete with the younger, highly educated generation for the best jobs. We all need to remember that we are all dispensable no matter how good we think we are at our jobs. Without education, we can’t compete! I wish I pushed myself in my 20s instead of having to push myself in my 40s.

My children will learn from my mistake – success isn’t easy and failure is not an option!




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