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Degrees of success

October 16, 2017

Alumni BIzTech Business and Technology Graduate DAR News Stories

More than 4,600 students are enrolled in Saint Mary’s Schools of Graduate and Professional Programs. As different as each of their background stories is, every student chose Saint Mary’s because of a desire to improve themselves personally and professionally, as well as for its accessibility. To call their experiences transformational is an understatement. At Saint Mary’s, they learn brighter futures are within reach. Here is just one of their stories.

To Trhas Berhane ’13, C’14, M’17 earning her degrees from Saint Mary’s means just a little more.

Berhane, a native of Ethiopia, completed her bachelor’s degree—and now her master’s degree—all while working full-time, raising a family (including having two babies), dealing with a difficult pregnancy, and helping her mother overcome cancer.

Berhane said that, through it all, she was determined to complete her studies, and to create a brighter future for her family.

“When you have kids, you think, ‘I want a better future for them,’” she said. “They were my inspiration to keep going.”

Berhane’s family came to the U.S. when she was 2 years old. Unable to speak English, Berhane said they immigrated without a penny to their name.

“But they raised us well and tried to get us a better life—the American Dream,” she said.

Her parents continue to be two of her staunchest supporters, and cheered her on this fall as she earned her M.S. in Geographic Information Science.

“My family is very proud,” she said. “I’m the first in my family to go to college. It’s a big deal.”

Despite all of the difficulties she faced, Berhane said the hardest part was simply re-starting.

Although she had begun her studies toward a bachelor’s degree, she began working in marketing at General Mills, and “got comfortable.” Plans to continue her education were put on the back burner. But when opportunities to advance her career arose, Berhane found often couldn’t apply because she didn’t have her bachelor’s degree.

After hearing about Saint Mary’s from a friend, she met with Dr. Paul Christenson, assistant dean for the Graduate School of Business and Technology, who helped her put together an education plan that she knew was obtainable.

In June 2013, she earned her B.A. in Marketing, but she didn’t stop there. Through one of her classes, she was introduced to geographic information science and was inspired to continue for her master’s degree.

Through it all, there were more than a few bumps in the road.

“It was one thing after another. I asked God if he was trying to test me,” she said. “Sometimes you want to give up, but you can’t do it. I thought, ‘I don’t have the time to do school work; I’m working and taking care of a baby.’ But you need to take it one day at a time and just know that it can be done.”

Berhane continued working full-time at General Mills for most of her studies. She gave birth to two babies, now 2 ½ and 4 months. Her mother was also diagnosed with lung cancer, and Berhane became one of her caregivers. On top of all that, one of her pregnancies had complications.

“You need to surround yourself with the right people,” she said. “It takes a team of people to help you. But anything is possible.”

Berhane said she is grateful for her family support and the support of her Saint Mary’s community.

“I was able to talk to my teachers and tell them what was happening in my life. They were understanding and used Blackboard to share reading materials and videos, so I could keep up on my studies and use all the tools around me to help me succeed,” she said. “I worked hard, but I had a team of supporters including my husband and my teachers and classmates at Saint Mary’s.”

Berhane especially thanks GIS associate professor Greta Poser. “Without her, I don’t know if I would have been able to finish the degree,” she said. “She would make time to come out, even on her days off, to help us with homework or answer our questions. She went above and beyond.”

Berhane’s mother is now cancer-free, and Berhane has a new job she enjoys with the Department of Transportation. As a research analyst, she uses her GIS skills to help the DOT update their road maps, using her GIS skills.

“Plus my boss is an alum of Saint Mary’s,” she said. “And I work with maybe four other alumni.”

Berhane recommends Saint Mary’s to others. “I tell them, ‘You’ve got to go there; they’re so great.’ ”