More than a month into her new job as a registered behavior technician, TaKisha Kegler still can’t help but smile with pride at how far she’s come in reaching her dream.
Less than two years ago, she was feeling unfulfilled in her profession as a special education paraprofessional at the elementary and high schools in her district. She loved working with students, but she yearned to be a special education teacher — the next step in her professional progression.
For years, however, she hit roadblocks in the required licensure process and struggled to pass the required state exam. Kegler was working three jobs to make ends meet and was reluctant to pay for another failed attempt.
She was almost ready to give up on her dream when she saw a University of Phoenix video on television one night. It featured alumna Carmen Bravo, who had used her nursing education to save a man who had a heart attack. Kegler was a lot like Bravo, a female, minority, first-generation college student. Seeing her achieve her dream changed Kegler’s perspective, providing an unexpected source of support and motivation.
For the first time in a long while, Kegler felt confident in earning an education. She didn’t know it then, but that commercial would be the start of her new career journey.
"I was so inspired by Carmen’s story," Kegler said. "I saw myself in that video. I knew I was ready to contact University of Phoenix immediately."
Kegler began gathering information about attending UOPX, but she hesitated to complete the application. She was still feeling nervous and lacked confidence to move forward.
Within days after requesting information about the University, Kegler was contacted by an enrollment representative who talked her through her experiences and goals. Through those initial conversations, she discovered there wasn’t just one set path to achieve her career goal.
Kegler realized that pursuing a different degree path wouldn’t mean giving up on her dreams. She had developed strengths in time management and organization during her seven years working in elementary schools. Her experience scheduling, fulfilling obligations and helping others meet goals could help her become a teacher.
She chose to pursue a master’s degree in public administration to set herself apart from others in her desired field with coursework that focuses on communication skills and process/budget analysis, among others. Determined to overcome her fear of failure, Kegler put her heart into her program. She studied and completed assignments late at night and early in the mornings, balancing school between work and caring for her disabled mother.
After enrolling in the program, she met her academic advisor, Paula Boone. Boone saw grit in Kegler from the beginning and was continually impressed that she did not allow challenges and frustrations with her job to impact her studies.
The pair talked every few months, and Boone continued to encourage her to reach her goal. Boone said Kegler’s confidence grew as she passed one class and the next.
"At a time when she was being let down, she stayed positive," Boone said. "It was that positive attitude that got her there."
While Boone reminded her about the University’s academic resources and where to find them and was always ready with next steps for registration from session to session, Kegler said the most valuable resource was the reassurance that she could succeed.
Most meaningful to Kegler was the takeaway that others believe she’s capable of accomplishing great things.
"She was so inspiring and encouraging. I’ve never been to a school that’s done that," Kegler said. "A lot of people in my life over the years just called me names and never believed in me. Paula made me feel accomplished, and she made me feel smart. "Since her graduation in August 2020, Kegler said she was able to fulfill her dream to work as behavior technician, which allows her to support students with disabilities. Best of all, she is able to teach students the specific behavior skills called for in their individualized plans.
Pursuing her dream job at age 42 seems like a happily-ever-after, but Kegler said she also sees it as an opportunity to inspire others the way she was inspired by her support system within the University.
"If I hadn’t had all the help and support, I would have never had the confidence to pursue my degree or these amazing job opportunities," she said.