If life is about facing obstacles and overcoming them, American InterContinental University (AIU) Online Alumna Donna Prentice is an example of the successes that come from forging ahead. After she enrolled to start her associate degree, her partner of 28 years died of pancreatic cancer. She still went on to achieve her Associate of Arts in Business Administration (AABA) with a specialization in Human Resource Management in 2010. During her last course to complete her Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) with a specialization in Human Resource Management, she suffered a heart attack and still graduated on schedule in 2012.
“If you don’t push yourself beyond your boundaries, you’ll never know your full capacity,” she says.
It all started when the aerospace company where Donna has worked in her HR career since 1988 asked her to get a degree. “I thought how impossible it would be. Here I am a 50-year-old woman who would most certainly have forgotten a lot of things since my high school graduation in 1976.” But with the company believing in her, she signed up to attend AIU Online. Before classes started, disaster struck and she lost her partner. She backed out of starting, but a few months later, she called AIU back. “I needed to do this. I needed to keep myself busy. I needed this distraction in my life now more than ever.”
She earned her associate degree with high honors and realized, “I’ve been out of school all these years, continued working full-time, and I did it.”
Donna immediately went on to achieve her BBA, as her employer had by then implemented a new rule that all salary hires should have a bachelor’s degree. “Of course, several of us were ‘grandfathered’ in, but since HR is kind of the enforcer of the policies, I felt that I should continue my education and achieve this goal.”
Life threw her another obstacle, though. She suffered a heart attack while at her company’s location in Georgia. She was in the last class needed to earn her degree. “I coded three times. I woke up a week or so later with no idea where I was or what had happened. As family and friends filled me in, I turned to my boss and asked him where my laptop was. He said, ‘I have it, don’t worry about it, just rest.’ I got agitated and told him I needed it because I was on my last class and I had homework.” Being weeks behind put her at a disadvantage, and her instructor encouraged her to take a break. However, Donna said, “No, I’m going to graduate on time.”
Donna forged ahead, crediting her nephew Glenn as her inspiration. “When my nephew was born, he suffered several strokes. He was given last rites, and the doctors gave a very grim prognosis if he did survive—things like never walking, never talking, and being uneducable. The mind is an amazing thing, because he does it all and has never allowed his disabilities to hold him back. He walks, talks, learns, drives, and graduated from high school in 2013. He drives me and is my hero. I could not let a little thing like a heart attack stop me from graduating on time. Just like Glenn, failing was not an option.”
With Glenn as her inspiration, Donna pushed through her last class. “I remember sitting at the computer in the middle of the night, resting my head on my hand, and trying to do the assignments. I am proud to say that I did it. I graduated on time.”
With her BBA in hand, Donna quickly moved up the corporate ladder. “[Before getting my degree], I was a single-site HR manager. Afterward, I was given a second site, then a third site. Next month, I’ll have all five divisions.” Now as the Senior HR Manager, Donna travels to the sites she oversees to manage processes like contracts, negotiations, succession planning, and analytics.
“If someone told me five or ten years ago, ‘You’ll be a senior HR manager overseeing five facilities,’ I would have said, ‘And I’ll be president after that, right?’” Donna says. “But here I am. I am proud of my accomplishment, and I am very proud of my time at AIU.”