When she returned to college in 2019, Serena Mouncil-Body had one mission: to finish and get her bachelor’s degree. “I really felt like I needed my degree. I should have graduated in 2004. But it wasn’t until 15 years later that I got my degree.”
Serena THEN: Before her degree
Serena started her journey in higher education as a 18-year-old mother and graduate of Humphreys County High School in Belzoni, Mississippi. She was not the “traditional” college student, but that didn’t deter Serena from entering Mississippi Delta Community College with plans of continuing on to a university to complete a bachelor’s degree. She left college in 1994 with enough credits for an associate degree but before completing a bachelor’s degree.
“When I started my journey, I knew I wanted to get a bachelor’s degree because I wanted to better my life,” Serena said. “I figured, if you get your bachelor’s degree, then you’re in a different pool that [employers] can pick from… I also wanted to do it for my daughter.”
Not sure how to move forward on her education
“My education journey has been a roller coaster, but I’m very disciplined. Whatever I set out to do, I do it.”
For the next six years that meant working two full-time jobs, raising her daughter, and pushing her ultimate goal — a bachelor’s degree — down the road. Then, a turning point came for 22-year-old Serena when her mother passed away.
“I realized I had to figure out my life,” Serena said. As the youngest of 9 sisters and 3 brothers, “we all were in the same situation, just trying to figure life out.”
For her, the next step was going back to college and enrolling in Mississippi Valley State University.
Working two jobs & overwhelmed with life
Once again, Serena was confronted with other twists and turns. During her three years at Mississippi Valley, Serena married and had two more children, a son and another daughter.
“I had my kids and my husband, who has his own construction business,” Serena said. “School really wasn’t a priority then. I put it on the backburner. I decided to stop college. I had gotten to the point where I was just overwhelmed.”
Since both she and her husband had full-time jobs, the family was not struggling financially. “That’s why college wasn’t on the forefront for me: I didn’t need to get a degree just to earn more money. I’m very determined, very competitive… and always positioned myself where I could work…”
But without her bachelor’s degree, she felt incomplete.
“But here was something I had NOT finished. I used to see all the people posting their degrees, and I knew I should go ahead and finish my degree. I always preached to my kids to do the best you can and to be the best you can be.”
“It made sense to me to go back to school,” Serena said. “I kept saying to myself, ‘one day, I’m going go back.’ And that ‘one day’ came 15 years later.”
The Bridge from “THEN” to Now
It was 2019 and Serena was on Facebook. She saw a message shared from a Complete 2 Compete (C2C) advisor: “Do you have college credit hours, but have not completed a degree?”
Serena knew she needed to complete some classes before she could get her bachelor’s. After seeing the C2C ad, she contacted a C2C Coach at Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) where she had attended previously. “My coach told me she would provide whatever assistance I needed through the C2C program…”
“Within days I was in the C2C program and registered for classes.” Serena said. The C2C Coach and MVSU faculty advisors completed her transcript review and helped her pick classes that allowed her to finish her degree as quickly as possible.
“I wanted to be a role model to my kids so they wouldn’t have to look to others as their example and to show them how to not give up. When I finished those classes and was eligible to get my bachelor’s degree, I was like, ‘Oh my God’… It was surreal for me.”
After Serena finished the courses, MVSU verified she was eligible for a degree. The following semester, Serena became the first in her family of 12 to walk across the stage and graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
“In 2000-2003 when I was in classes at Mississippi Valley State, I was a student — a hands-on type of learner. I really liked to sit in a classroom. I had sacrificed my time and time with family, and now I’m so glad that I decided to go ahead and just get my degree!”
Thankfully, with the help of C2C, the first steps to “going back to college” were so much easier.
“If it wasn’t for the C2C program, I wouldn’t have my degrees. C2C kept me focused on getting my degree,” she said. “I always wanted to finish because I wanted a better job. I wanted a certain lifestyle for my kids. And here I am getting my bachelor’s at 47 years old and then my master’s at 50.” (Following her graduation from MVSU, Serena went on to finish her master’s degree in Business Management from Strayer University in 2022!)
Serena’s NOW: Experiencing rewards in her career
For Serena, finishing her degree came with financial success and so much more.
The skills and disciplines she developed, maintaining focus and drive, are paying off: Serena estimates that she is enjoying a 40% increase in her income since graduating.
But its impact is far beyond financial for Serena. “I’m a family role model and have more opportunities since earning my degree,” Serena said. “I’m confident, business-savvy, business-minded, more marketable, earn higher wages, and am more success-driven.”
An express lane to career advancement
“Reaching my goals has brought me so much joy. I’m a real estate agent and I love real estate,” exclaims Serena, “But by having a bachelor’s degree, I’ve accomplished so much more.”
Serena shared that real estate brokers in her area can have their own companies and enjoy all the benefits that come with business ownership. Her degree and the skills she developed in completing it helped her fast-track into that role.
She explained that, per local regulation, agents are required to take 240 hours of training before taking the licensing test to become a real estate broker. However, those with bachelor’s degrees can by-pass that training because they are considered capable of preparing to take the licensing test. Serena went on to pass the test and saved time and money along the way because she had honed the skills needed to study well on her own and retain the knowledge.
And Serena has not stopped here… she is also using the skills and knowledge acquired while completing her education and degree to build a commercial cleaning business! Wow, what is next?
Making an impact
For Serena, completing her bachelor’s degree fulfilled a lifetime goal. It also gave her hope and direction for the next phase of her life. She is now on a mission to not only improve her own life, but to be an inspiration for others as well.
Motivated by her desire to impact and inspire her community, Serena started a nonprofit organization, Homeless Warmth. The organization provides coats, socks, gloves, and other essentials for the homeless. The endeavor is her way of ‘paying it forward’ and sharing the benefits her education and life experiences have afforded her.
Serena also speaks at PTA meetings, sharing her journey and how ‘giving up’ is not an option.
“Who knows what you’re going to accomplish as you move on in your life? You never know what somebody’s going through. But you can be that one light that can show others a way to change their lives,” Serena exclaimed proudly.
“You have to keep going no matter what obstacles are thrown your way. You have to knock them down and keep going”, Serena exclaims. I went back for myself and for my kids… I also wanted to show young girls, especially single moms, that your life is not over just because you have a baby at a young age.
Serena wants her experiences to serve as example of what is possible, and to help mothers realize that their circumstances can serve as a source of strength: “You still have a chance to make a good life for you and your baby. Having a baby can make you even more motivated to get your degree so you can provide a good life for your child.”
Seeing the difference in her family and community
“Since I got my bachelor’s and now my master’s degree, I feel like everything I do is for my family to better our life. It’s like I’m on a mission and I can’t stop. I’m always seeking ways to improve my life. I don’t really need validation for me to work on self-improvement — I validate myself.”
Serena’s husband has been very supportive throughout her journey. And the impact of her journey is evident in her children’s endeavors. One daughter is going to college to be a teacher and her son, following in his mother’s entrepreneurial footsteps, is planning to open a mechanic shop.
Serena doesn’t see her degrees as an end, but as a summit on her ongoing journey.
“I want people to look at me and say, ‘Hey, this lady, she had a child at 17. She married young and she’s still married. She managed to get her bachelor’s degree after 15 years and then went on to complete a master’s degree.’ The sky is the limit of what anyone can do.”
With a degree the sky can be the limit for you too!
A degree can help you achieve…
- More income and advancement
- Better job opportunities
- Satisfaction in achieving career goals
- Joy in personal accomplishment
- Impact and leadership in your community
- Your degree can be within reach with C2C
The Complete 2 Compete (C2C) program is a vital resource for those who want to return to college to finish a degree. Returning adults can access grant money to help pay for college. Additionally, each C2C participant is connected with a coach who takes care of much of the paperwork (like credit transfers and class planning) so that students can focus on studying. Many other resources are available. To find out more about how C2C could help you complete a degree, complete the quick registration.
It only took a phone call to a C2C coach for Serena to realize that her dream of a degree was within reach. No matter where you are in your life journey, you can achieve career goals and pursue your passions. A degree through C2C could be your ticket to a better life that includes a fulfilling and challenging career and leadership opportunities.
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