Reach Higher

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Reach Higher is an adult degree completion initiative led by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. 

After a 12-Year Break from Classes, CASC Student Learns She is Eligible for A Degree

After a 12-Year Break from Classes, CASC Student Learns She is Eligible for A Degree

Soon-to-be Carl Albert State College graduate, Rena Miller of Wister, OK, recently attended CASC’s RECONNECT Event after a 12-year break from college, in hopes of learning how many college credit hours she needed to complete in order to finish her degree.

What she learned after her visit with an advisor in the CASC Enrollment Office left her in disbelief: she had completed enough college-credit-hours to earn a degree in General Studies.

“I was so nervous when I arrived on campus that day,” Rena said. “There were several offices I needed to visit, and I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone. It was Saturday and I knew the staff were putting in extra hours for the event, but everyone was so kind and welcomed me in with open arms. I couldn’t believe how generous everyone was to me.”

CASC staff explained to Rena that while there were still classes to take on her degree plan, if she was willing to change her major to General Studies, she would leave campus that day with a college degree. 

“This was life-changing news for my family and I,” she said.

“I was married right out of high school and we immediately started our family. After a few years, and with my three daughters all under the age of five, I decided to enroll at CASC so I could ultimately have a career that would allow me to provide for my family,” she said. “I enrolled at CASC because it was local, I have several family members and friends who all had great experiences, and they offered online classes. I worked full-time between Arby’s and Dairy Hut, took care of my family, and was a full-time student in my spare time.”

Rena took some challenging courses while juggling her two jobs and raising her family.

“I took Chemistry with Mr. Steve Hughes — I have never been so proud to earn a ‘C’ in my entire life. Mr. Hughes challenged me to think higher of myself and my abilities, he believed in me and in my potential. His class was tough, but it gave me the confidence to know that I could be successful in college, and learning was something I was capable of.”

Most CASC instructors possess similar qualities to Mr. Hughes, Rena said. 

“They take the time to get to know your story,” she continued, “they believe in you, and want to challenge you to rise to your potential and achieve more than you think is possible.” 

Rena enjoyed her classes at CASC, but life often comes with challenges and setbacks that can easily deter a person from their goals.

“At first, I was going through a divorce and decided it would be best to take a semester off,” Rena said. “Through the personal struggles of my ending relationship and the other challenges I was facing, my life took a downhill turn and I began to struggle with an opioid addiction. When you’ve been down, it’s really hard to get back up… I struggled with this battle for several years.”

What was supposed to be a semester break turned into a 12-year hiatus. In that time Rena met her now-husband, the couple married and had two children together.

“My addiction was something I tried to overcome on my own for several years,” Rena said. “I knew that my children and my husband were ultimately paying the price for my decisions and choices; that was not the life I wanted to give them, and I knew serious changes needed to be made.”

Rena gathered the courage to check herself into a rehabilitation center. After completing the program, she began to regularly attend recovery meetings at Green Country Cowboy Church in Wister, Okla.

“Through my recovery meetings,” Rena said, “I was able to develop genuine relationships with people who had walked through the fire of addiction and came out on the other side. I knew I wasn’t alone in this battle and there was still hope for a future for myself and my family.

“Because of these relationships — I came to know the Lord,” she said, “and realized He had a bigger plan for my life. That’s when I surrendered my life to Him.”

Rena recently celebrated three years of sobriety and a life free of addiction. In this time, she has felt a calling to return to CASC and finish the work she started years ago, she said. When Rena’s friend told her about CASC’s RECONNECT event, she said she immediately knew this was her opportunity to figure out the next steps she needed to take.

“I remember sitting in the Enrollment Office and being overcome with disbelief when they told me I had already earned enough hours for a degree,” she said. “If I had been more open about my situation, and stayed connected with the faculty and staff, I believe I would have gotten the encouragement and guidance I needed and might not have waited 12 years before I came back to college. 

“I want to encourage others to stay connected and maintain the relationships they create while in school,” Rena said, “the staff showed me the different options I had and encouraged me to complete my degree program if that’s what I thought was best for me, but wanted me to know that by simply changing my major, I had already earned a college degree.”

Rena and her husband currently serve Green Country Cowboy Church as youth pastors and have shared her story, and the importance of education with the students they work with.

“We’ve been able to share my story and I’ve seen the impact it’s made not only on my family, but in the lives of the students and families we serve,” Rena said. “I am so grateful for CASC and the staff for helping and encouraging me, and for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”

Rena dreams of being a Family Counselor and specializing in Substance Abuse. She has recently transferred to Northeastern State University in Tahlequah where she is enrolled in a bachelor’s program and hopes to one day complete her master’s degree to be a Licensed Professional Counselor. 

“Since learning I was eligible for a degree, I’ve noticed a drive in my husband and children who are now really wanting to pursue their education,” Rena said. “The news seems to have excited everyone, it’s like they realized if I can do it – so can they.”

Shannen D. McCroskey

Director of Marketing & Community Relations
Carl Albert State College
918-647-1474 | 1507 S. McKenna, Poteau, Okla. 74953