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Tiffani Smith, BA in Applied Psychology/Forensic Psychology, Class of 2018

After waiting over twenty years to complete her bachelor’s degree, Tiffani Smith thought that perhaps the time had passed.

However, after becoming ill, undergoing an extended period of hospitalization and being deemed medically disabled, Smith decided to “make the most” out of her situation and return to school.

“Despite all the obstacles that life may throw your way, it’s never too late to better yourself and reach your dreams.”

After graduating in December of 2018, Smith couldn’t be prouder of herself.

“As I think about how I graduated Summa Cum Laude, I have tears streaming down my cheeks. Not tears of sadness, but tears of joy, pride and a sense of accomplishment that I have never felt before.”

We spoke with Smith about going back to school despite being “terrified,” what she plans on doing with her degree and more.

Tell us about your background.

After graduating high school in 1988, I had all the dreams and aspirations that most kids have about attending college, working my dream job, and earning a ton of money. Those dreams were great until reality stepped in and dramatically changed my life. I completed my first goal of attending college; however, as I neared the middle of my sophomore year, I found out I was pregnant with my first child.  Not letting that deter me, I continued on with my studies while also working a full-time job and running a household.  However, after giving birth to my daughter, I decided that I needed to drop out of school for a while to concentrate on my family, but I promised myself that one day I would return. Years went by, my boyfriend and I got married (25 years now), and we added two more daughters to our family.

It wasn’t until my youngest child was entering her senior year of high school that I sat back and reassessed my life. Here I was in my early 40s, married with three children, and working at a job that, although I enjoyed, was not my passion. Not that I would change anything about my life because I’m happy and blessed, but at that moment, I realized that I had let years go by without keeping promises I made to myself while making sure everyone else was happy. However, I felt that my time to earn a college degree had come and gone, so I continued on with my life.

I may have felt that way, but God had something else planned for me.  As fate would have it, I became seriously ill during a family vacation during the summer of 2013 and ended up in the hospital for six months. After being discharged, I was deemed medically disabled and unable to work; a condition that I still have to this day. At first, I was depressed and feeling sorry for myself. But then, my daughters reminded me that I always said I wanted to return to school to earn my degree. What time could be better than when I wasn’t working and just sitting around doing nothing? It was at that moment that I decided to make the most out of my situation and return to school. I searched for a while to find the perfect online program that offered courses in my dream career of forensic psychology, and Florida Tech answered my prayers.

What were the most important factors in your decision to choose Florida Tech?

The most important factors in my decision were the courses offered at Florida Tech that matched what I was looking for, the great online reviews I read about the school’s campus and online programs, the graduation and retention rate, and the affordable tuition costs.

How will your Florida Tech degree make a difference in your career?

Surprisingly, Florida Tech is one of only a handful of schools that offer online forensic psychology courses, which speaks volumes to me about just how selective this field can be. I believe that holding a psychology degree from Florida Tech with a focus on forensic psychology will help open doors and opportunities to advance my education as well as my career in this relatively young and growing field of applied psychology.

Do you have any future plans with your forensic psychology degree?

I would like to continue toward obtaining my Ph.D. in clinical psychology with a specialized focus on forensics and then work within the mental health department of the Illinois prison system. I have always had an interest in both mental health and the law, the latter in which I have more than 20 years of experience, so when I learned there was a career that merged the two together, I just knew it was the right choice for me.

What surprised you most about taking an online program?

Quite honestly, I was initially terrified of taking courses online since I had no idea what to expect. It had been 22 years since I last completed homework assignments or studied for a test. I was also afraid because of my age; I didn’t want to be the “old lady” in a class full of tech-savvy millennials.  However, I was surprised (and delighted) by how quickly I became acclimated to the online setting, and by how pleasant it was to log on to my classes and work at my own pace. I was also pleasantly surprised when I realized there were classmates in my age group who could understand some of the apprehension and insecurities that I felt, which made the whole experience less intimidating.

What was your favorite class and why?

This is difficult because I’m not sure I can narrow down my favorite to just one class. I enjoyed all of the classes I took, even statistics, which scared me because I was never good at math in high school.

What was your most valuable takeaway from the program?

I would have to say that my most valuable takeaway from the program is that it’s never too late to learn new things, advance your education and challenge yourself.

What advice would you give other students who are considering enrolling in the program?

I would advise prospective students of this program to be prepared to leave all bias, judgment and closed-minds at the door and be open to learning things about humans and their behaviors, including themselves, that might be completely different from what they’ve always thought to be true.

Who has been your support system?

The support of my family, friends, and my Florida Tech family has been more than I could have ever hoped for, and I am most grateful to each and every person that believed in me and helped me along this journey.

My husband and three daughters have been my cheerleaders during those times when I didn’t think I could go on. My mother happily accepted the role of proofreader for each and every one of my papers, and my brother was my shoulder to lean on when I wanted to toss my math books out the window.

I would also say that many of my professors over the years have been very supportive – special shout-outs to Dr. Edan Critchfield, Dr. Natalie Fala, Dr. Scott Whitacre and Dr. Nicole Archer.

What was the most challenging part of your student journey?

I would have to say that my health presented the most challenges during my student journey. Since enrolling in 2014, I have undergone six major operations, spent a total of seven months in the hospital, and endured countless hours of home health and outpatient therapy sessions. There were many times when I thought I would have to drop out of school to deal with my illness, but I persevered and continued on even if it meant sitting in my hospital bed late at night to write a paper or study for an exam.

Who or what inspires you to succeed?

My family inspires me to succeed, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I inspire myself. To have gone through all the medical challenges that I’ve faced and still continue to work hard toward my goals brings a sense of pride and accomplishment that only I can take credit for.

What is one fun fact about you?

I’m a certified fashionista who owns over 500 pairs of shoes.

Are you a graduate of Florida Tech’s 100% online degree programs? We would love to share your success story in our Student Spotlight series. Contact us at studentspotlight@bisk.com for additional details.

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