It is not uncommon for college students to look forward to graduation day: the rewarding culmination of four years of hard work and sacrifice. For non-traditional students, graduation can be especially poignant, as it is often a seemingly elusive day that has been riddled with unanticipated delays. MaryNell Goolsby-Sweat is among the students who can relate to that experience, yet she is hoping for a somewhat unique reward on her own graduation day: her adult son with his own College of Charleston diploma in hand.
Goolsby-Sweat first enrolled in the School of Professional studies in 2014. She had previously attended Augusta State University - in the late 1980s and early 1990s - before transferring to the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) in 1996. However, the combined responsibilities of business ownership and caring for two young children led Goolsby-Sweat to put her studies on hold, and withdraw from MCG in her senior year. Although she still aspired to earning a Bachelor’s degree, for the ensuing decade, Goolsby-Sweat’s focus would remain firmly on family, and running her successful Augusta-based medical practice management company.
Several years after Goolsby-Sweat shuttered her business and relocated to Charleston, she decided that it was finally time to fulfill her academic goals. Despite a busy career as a Practice Administrator, she believed that through the Bachelor of Professional Studies program, she would be on track to graduate within a two-year time span. Yet a professional opportunity would soon throw a wrench - albeit a very pleasant one - in her plan.
“I could not have predicted that I would move to Bermuda in 2014, it was not even on my radar,” explains Goolsby-Sweat. “I was recruited to Bermuda…as the Chief Operating Officer with the largest private healthcare organization in the country.” Despite this unexpected out-of-country move, Goolsby-Sweat remained determined to complete the BPS program: “It may take me longer than anticipated, and there will be required courses that I will not be able to complete until I move back to Charleston, but this isn’t a race for me.” With encouragement from advisor Carla Stewart, and the support of the SPS faculty and staff, Goolsby-Sweat has indeed been able to continue in the program, enrolling in online courses. Since this format was initally unfamiliar to Goolsby-Sweat, she was somewhat daunted, but soon came to enjoy the new platform. “Even with online courses, the professors are very involved and available,” she says. “It was … my professors who furthered my desire to embrace change while still pursuing my personal goals.”
As Goolsby-Sweat was working steadily on her academic pursuits, her son, Turner Waldrup, was struggling to find the motivation to further his education. Then a restaurant worker and student at Trident Technical College, Waldrup realized that he needed a degree in order to succeed professionally, but didn’t find a 2 year college to be a good fit. When his mother mentioned the Healthcare Management concentration being offered in the BPS program, Waldrup decided to apply. “Both of my parents run doctors offices, and it is something I have been around my whole life,” he says, explaining why the program was so attractive. His mother believes that seeing her own experience with the SPS may have also helped to inspire her son: “I think that I have shown him that you can do anything you set your mind to, and that if I can have a full-time, demanding career and complete my degree, he can do this too.”
Waldrup is now following in his mother’s footsteps in two regards, working in a medical practice, and studying in the BPS program. Goolsby-Sweat, in turn, has followed in her son’s footsteps, changing her concentration from Organizational Management and Leadership to Healthcare Management. With both mother and son simultaneously pursuing the same degree program and concentration, Goolsby-Sweat admits that some friendly competition has arisen. “…[Turner] is hoping to complete his degree before me…and honestly, I hope he wins,” she says. “That will make me very proud, though it would also be fun to graduate together.”
Regardless of when they reach their respective graduation dates, Goolsby-Sweat knows that she and Waldrup will have reaped tremendous benefits from their participation in the BPS program. “It may sound silly, but it is personally rewarding to attend the SPS,” says Goolsby-Sweat. “The SPS has helped me learn to be my authentic self, and to be proud of who I am.” Goolsby-Sweat hopes that her son will gain similar confidence during his time at the CofC, and will take advantage of the opportunities presented before him: “I hope that [Turner] will develop life-long friendships and relationships with his peers - and with professors and advisors - that will carry him well into his future.” As for what he thinks that future will hold, Waldrup expects that the School of Professional Studies will be but a first step in his meeting both his professional and academic goals: upon graduation from the CofC, he hopes to enroll in a graduate program in healthcare administration at MUSC.
The latter will certainly be a moment of celebration for MaryNell Goolsby-Sweat, who says of her family’s SPS experience, “… the greatest reward, and what I will be most proud of, will be watching my son graduate.”
To learn more about the School of Professional Studies' Bachelor of Professional Studies program, please visit the undergraduate degree completion section of the SPS website.