Student Spotlight
Irene Douglas
Irene Douglas

Irene Douglas's daily motivation is a message her mother shared with her many years ago. "She told me 'you don't have a reason to do less than I did.' I want to be able to tell my kids the same thing one day. I want to have my bachelor's degree by the time my daughter is ready to go to college. I'm pushing myself as hard as I can."

Her daughter is 15 years old. That gives the 36-year-old Douglas about three years to earn her bachelor's degree while juggling everything else in her life. She has four other children, with the youngest being 2-and-a-half years old. She works as a Certified Nursing Assistant and is also the primary caregiver for her husband who has a traumatic brain injury.

Douglas is a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa who immigrated to the United States in 2012. Her husband is a native of New York City who served in the United States Army. The last place he was stationed was at Fort Drum which is about 85 miles north of Syracuse. As his discharge date approached in 2020, they debated where they would go. "We didn't really like New York City for the kids. While we were at Fort Drum we discovered Syracuse and the African community here. We decided this was a place where we could raise the kids."

Douglas began taking classes part-time at Onondaga Community College in 2021. During her first semester she met with Steve White in OCC's nationally-recognized Office of Veterans and Military Services. "He was great. I was going to school part-time and working full-time. He assessed my situation and told me to go to school full-time and showed me all of the benefits I would be entitled to."

She was always interested in a health-related career, but being her husband's primary caregiver gave her a greater focus. "I was working with doctors to understand what he is going through and I learned a lot. My goal is to work in mental health. I'm interested in something with either neuroscience or cognitive science."

Earlier this semester Douglas was inducted into the College's chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and next May she will complete her General Studies degree. She'll be halfway to her bachelor's degree which she wants to complete by the time her daughter graduates from high school. 

"Sometimes when you have kids you can limit yourself, but my children motivate me. No matter how old you are, it's never too late to learn. We learn every day any way!"

Onondaga Community College