Jessica Atherton, BBL ’16, has never backed down from a challenge.

As a single mom of two young children, Atherton was no stranger to hard work. She put in endless hours at work to provide for her family, while also volunteering in her community.

Atherton knew returning to school to earn a degree would help her reach her career goals, but balancing family and job responsibilities would be difficult.

“While I had success in my career without a college degree, the lack thereof was easily identifiable as the single element that continued to hold me back in advancing to the next level,” Atherton said. “Earning my degree became a necessary tool for me to be able to choose my career path.”

She had experienced a difficult year. Her youngest son contracted a serious illness, requiring Atherton to leave her full-time job to care for him. Now that her son was on the mend, Atherton knew that if she wanted to return to school, it was now or never.

“I decided then that if I was going to return to a successful career, and not start over at the very bottom of the ladder after a break in my employment, I needed to finish my degree,” said Atherton.

She had enrolled in other programs before but didn’t find them accommodating to her busy schedule. Baker, she said, gave her the tools she needed to fit her education into her life.

“With Baker, the entire program was outlined from start to finish with a clear path along the way,” she said. “That is why I chose Baker. The admissions staff eliminated any concerns about classes, degree requirements, and next steps. With all of that out of the way, I was able to solely focus on completing the course work, knowing it was all benefitting my end goal.”

Atherton went all in, enrolling in the Bachelor of Arts in Business Leadership program full time, while taking care of her children, starting a new social media business venture, and eventually returning to full-time work.

“I started school and launched a new business while staying home and raising my two children, one of whom still was not at full health and required a lot of care,” Atherton said. “About a year after starting at Baker, I had to return to work full time. I continued my personal business, continued going to school at Baker full time, and started a new career in financial marketing, a field that was entirely new to me. I had no idea how this was going to work out, but I just had to keep faith that it would.”

Going back to school while working and raising a family is never easy, but Atherton knew the end result would be worth it.

“I knew I had to keep going to school to get my degree,” said Atherton. “That was my opportunity to determine what happened next in my story. If I could finish my degree, it was a ticket to expanded opportunities.”

Her commitment to her studies required significant time management to reach her goals.

“I utilized every free moment I had available,” said Atherton. “Had I not done so, I would have had a much harder time staying caught up, and I highly doubt I would have maintained a 4.0 GPA by scrambling at the last minute each week.”

Atherton said her incredible effort to acquire her degree shaped her into the person she is today.

“In December of 2016, I finished school,” said Atherton. “I finally had a degree, 17 years after first starting this process. Everything that happened in those 17 years shaped the person I am today. It was not an easy process at any step of the way, but Baker’s seamless program made staying the course possible, and I am forever grateful for the ability to make this dream come true.”

Her hard work paid off. Once she earned her degree, her employer was quick to recognize her efforts.

“Shortly after completing my degree at Baker, I received a promotion that tasked me with greater leadership responsibilities for the department,” said Atherton. “In this project manager role, I am responsible for moving all projects from concept to completion by aligning resources and managing schedules.”

While success in her career was rewarding, Atherton is quick to point out the driving force behind her achievement: her children.

“Achieving a degree was important to my career success, but ultimately, that success was critical in the future of my children,” Atherton said. “What they saw in their mother during those final two years of school was a woman determined to build a better life. I achieved that goal, have started a new chapter in life, and we are happier than we have been in many, many years.”