OGDEN, Utah – The first day of college can be intimidating for any student, let alone someone fewer than two weeks removed from a mastectomy.
“It was extremely scary on several levels,” said Weber State University student Reese Driscoll, recalling her first semester on campus in fall 2010. “I’m wearing a scarf and have all the physical characteristics of a cancer patient. Plus at age 38, I was a mature adult surrounded by all these kids.”
Years earlier, Driscoll had been one of those “kids” attending college in Oregon, when she landed her first full-time human resource job.
“The schedule was demanding, so I dropped out of college, telling myself I’d go back in six months or a year,” Driscoll said. Then, as she described it, “life happened.” Sixteen years passed after leaving her studies in Oregon.
Eventually, she came to live in Mexico, teaching English as a second language. During a vacation, visiting family in Layton, Utah, Driscoll’s mom encouraged her to see a doctor about some health concerns. Driscoll says her mom’s advice saved her life.
“If I had returned to Mexico, I would not have seen a doctor. I didn’t have strong Spanish language skills, so I wouldn’t have gone until it was too late.”
Diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, Driscoll’s employment status changed suddenly in the spring of 2010.
“I had just completed my first chemo treatment when my employer laid me off. I was looking for work, but it was challenging with all those scheduling constraints, so I decided to go back to school.”
Initially her oncologist was apprehensive. “I remember him saying, ‘Well, if you think this is the right time to be doing this,’ but eventually he came on board,” Driscoll said. “It kept me busy, instead of sitting around feeling sorry for myself. I was fulfilling a lifelong dream, a ‘bucket list’ item.”
Fast forward three years. Driscoll is now president of WSU’s student chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management and an inspiration to her two children, ages 11 and 7. This year, she’s the recipient of a $5,000 scholarship from the Northern Utah Human Resource Association.
“I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices to return to school,” Driscoll said. “The scholarship eases some of the sacrifices that you have to make as a parent raising two kids, and it’s rewarding to know that people in my profession believe in me.”
Driscoll credits her nomadic existence – she grew up the daughter of a construction worker – for her love of human resource. “We moved all over the West, from job to job,” Driscoll said. “I learned to get comfortable talking with people about myself, and I made friends quickly.”
Later in her professional career, she worked for companies that valued employees, including a job where she managed 30 people. Those experiences have shaped her commitment to servant leadership.
“I like the connection of utilizing and treasuring employees. They are the most expensive resource and the hardest aspect to copy in any company’s culture,” said Driscoll. “If you don’t have the right people on board and protect that resource, it is hard to meet other goals.”
She’s already applying what she learns to her work in a local human resource office. Driscoll says her newfound knowledge comes from her classroom studies and her extracurricular experiences.
Driscoll plans to graduate in 2015 from WSU’s John B. Goddard School of Business & Economics with her degree in business administration with a human resource management emphasis. She hopes to pursue a career with a global, multinational human resource firm, or an operational management position. Ultimately, she’d like to be a regional manager or vice president, positions that would be unattainable without her bachelor’s degree.
As for her cancer, Driscoll is finished with radiation and chemotherapy. She’s had additional surgeries while attending Weber State and is in the reconstruction phase of her recovery. She sees her doctor every three to four months.
Driscoll hopes her story will encourage others, especially nontraditional students who would benefit from more education.
“If you want more in the future, do it now. It’s going to be cheaper now, and once you get into it, time goes by fast, and it is going to pay off,” Driscoll said. “If you are thinking about it, then you want more. Go for it.”
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