Ever feel as if there are just not hours enough in a day to get done everything that needs to get done?
Yvell Simmons knows the feeling – very well. A resident of the small town of Hillsborough near North Carolina’s Research Triangle, Simmons works full time as a clinical support technician in a psychiatric emergency department. She and her husband, Eric, have six children ranging in age from preteen to twenty-something, three of whom have special needs.
Oh, and as if the demands of work and family aren’t enough, Simmons just graduated from Florida Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Arts in Applied Psychology with a concentration in Clinical Psychology, a degree program offered 100% online.
“My children and I study together and do homework all at the kitchen table together, while my husband does all the cooking,” she said.
“He does not only all the cooking, but all the laundry, food shopping, kids’ doctor’s appointments, the afterschool activities transportation and house cleaning, while still working full time.”
Eric Simmons describes himself as a temporary single parent but said, “That’s all worthwhile.”
“Now you see why I’ve been married so long,” Yvell Simmons said. “He’s truly my rock.”
Simmons took the traditional, campus-based route to earn her associate’s degree. But that required her to do more juggling than a troupe of circus performers.
“There seemed to never be enough time in a day,” she recalled of the back and forth and back again of her kids’ afterschool activities and her own work and school obligations. “So, when I decided to continue my education, online appeared to be the most logical to accommodate my busy family.”
Simmons researched her options and chose Florida Tech, won over by reviews of the Melbourne, Florida-based university, which has been ranked a Tier 1 Best National University by U.S. News & World Report for five years in a row.
“There were a lot of satisfied students,” she said.
Simmons credits her success to her family and is acutely aware of the importance of a solid support network. She recently started a women’s group that includes students, full-time workers, wives and single moms.
“We get together once a month to ‘vent,’ share resources and ideas on how to stay focused, and just regroup on life and what we want out of our many struggles in life,” she said.
For Simmons, life isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon. Next up: attaining a Master of Social Work degree.
Before then, however, she and her husband will make the nearly 700-mile journey south to Florida’s Space Coast, where she will join the hundreds of other online and on-campus students who will receive their diplomas during Florida Tech’s commencement ceremonies in December.
“Yes, I will be there, with God’s will,” she said.
We spoke with Simmons about her decision to enroll in Florida Tech’s 100% online BA in Applied Psychology program, her advice for other students, and her plans to continue her education and advance her career.
Q. Tell us a little bit about your background.
I have worked full time in a psychiatric emergency department now for four years. I also float to our in-patient psychiatric units, which include child, adolescent, crisis, psychotic, eating disorder, geriatrics and peripartum. Prior to that, I worked in the trauma emergency department for seven years. When the emergency department decided to build a psychiatric emergency department, I applied and got the promotion.
I’ve been married 26 years, with six children – three boys, one diagnosed at birth with cerebral palsy, he is now 21 years old; one son with attention-deficit disorder (ADD), who is now 18 and in his first year of college; and one son with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), now 12. My others – three girls ages 22, 17 and 13 – they are as normal as girls come.
I have always worked in the medical field in and out of psychiatry and medicine. I completed my BA in Applied Psychology at Florida Tech University and will continue on to graduate school to pursue my Master in Social Work (MSW) with a focus in psychiatry and, of course, get my clinical license.
Q. Why did you decide to advance your education through a degree program offered online?
I first pursued my associate’s degree in education, which I completed on-campus. I found it to be challenging trying to juggle the kids, band shows, track meets, football games and choir concerts with work and school. There seemed to never be enough time in a day. So, when I decided to continue my education, online appeared to be the most logical to accommodate my busy family. It cleared many hours a week from commuting and classroom time.
Q. Why did you choose Florida Tech’s Bachelor of Arts in Applied Psychology degree program?<
Honestly, it was the reviews. There were a lot of satisfied students, with a great abundance of them able to complete their degrees without throwing in the towel.
Q. What was your favorite class and why?
Wow, how can I choose? Let me see, Crisis and Conflict Resolution, I think, because it was very interactive. We had to contact and interview our town and county’s emergency management team for projects, as well as our local Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and research our state’s disaster response services.
Yes, it was a lot of footwork and phone calls. But fun, especially since my husband is a part of the North Carolina Department of Transportation Highway Division’s Emergency Management Team. I got to interview him on a real professional level. I learned a lot about how North Carolina handles disasters, and how much is put into a disaster response team, a mitigation plan and mental health services.
Q. What surprised you most about taking an online program?
What surprised me most was the realization that it’s not easy, as some may like to believe. You have to put the work in it. You get out of it what you put into it.
I also believe that although you may not get to see the professors face-to-face, they are right there with you, questioning you, correcting you and pushing you to dig deeper. The professors are very involved and passionate about what they teach.
Q. What was your most valuable takeaway from the program?
The fact that I was able to build relationships with some of the other students – some you will see in multiple classes with you and they remember you. Or when you get a professor that you may have had in a previous semester, they remember you, they remember how hard you worked. The professors are willing to listen to and value your opinion, and encourage you to keep pressing on.
Q. How do you believe your Florida Tech degree will make a difference in your career?
I believe Florida Tech has made a difference in my career. Working in psychiatry and taking classes at FIT, I have been able to incorporate both my work life into my schooling and my schooling into my work life. During meetings, I have been able to talk about things the unit or patients may need and staff listened. Since attending FIT, I have been able to put together a clinical practice group for psychiatry, and request and get recreational therapy and hospital school for the minor children who have been in the emergency department more than 24 hours. I am now Six Sigma Certified, and I am currently working with the psychiatric emergency crisis team in a pilot study to increase productivity and patient flow in the emergency department. Thanks to leadership, ethics, and industrial and organizational classes, I was able to utilize what I had learned on how to conduct a team group, create a plan and implement strategies that benefit the department as a whole. All this has increased my business marketing skills.
Q. What advice would you give other students who are considering enrolling in the program?
Stay focused on your dream plan, keep a detailed schedule of what needs to be read, what’s due and by when. Plan your weeks and keep up with your syllabus – read your syllabus. Don’t think that just because it’s online it’s easy, because the professors are for real and the grades are for real. Don’t fall behind on the work because it can pile up pretty fast.
Q. Who or what inspires you to succeed?
My mother and my family. When my mom fell ill in my junior year and passed away, I felt like I could not go on with anything. My family became my inspiration, not letting me give up. My children and I study together and do homework all at the kitchen table together, while my husband does all the cooking. It’s like we, my children and I, inspire each other. They see that I can succeed by getting good grades, and that pushes and inspires them to push for good grades as well. Without the support of my family I don’t think it would be possible.
Q. What is one fun fact about you?
Having teenagers in the house, I love to dance with them and keep up with all the latest dances. And I love to play board games with them. Monopoly is my all-time favorite. I bankrupt everyone.
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