Epiphany Wells always had the goal of earning a college degree, but circumstances derailed her plans for nearly a decade. Now, the UA student and employee will graduate this summer with her bachelor’s degree in human environmental sciences.
Wells began her college education at Shelton State Community College in 2008, as a recent high school graduate and soon-to-be teenage mom, taking evening classes and working multiple jobs to provide for her coming newborn.
“It wasn’t long before I had to stop,” said the first-generation college student. “I was fortunate to have my grandparents watch my son in the evenings while I went to class, but it just became too difficult — the time, money and energy of it all. So I decided to put school on the back burner.”
Over the years, the Tuscaloosa native always found a reason why she couldn’t go back to college. She didn’t have the time or didn’t want to take time away from her son, her work schedules wouldn’t allow it, she didn’t have the financial resources — the reasons went on.
But in the back of her mind, she knew she needed to earn a degree so she could give her son a better life.
“My dad would tell me all the time, ‘you need to finish school, you need to get a degree so you’ll have more opportunities and a better job,’” she said. “He didn’t want me to have to work all these odd, part-time jobs just to get by.”
Wells was thrilled to get a position at UA a few years ago, a full-time job with full benefits. One of the things she was excited to take advantage of was UA’s educational benefits, which would allow her to finish her degree with a drastic reduction in tuition costs.
“When I finally got a job at UA, I decided to talk with one of my co-workers, Mrs. Andrea Wilson, about going back to school, and she gave me so much direction,” said Wells, who works as an administrative secretary in the College of Engineering. “I started with one class in the summer of 2016, and I thought, ‘I can do this.’ Now, four years later, I’m finishing up my last class.”
Last semester, when classes unexpectedly moved online due to COVID-19, Wells worried it might be yet another roadblock to earning her degree.
“In the beginning, I was a little terrified,” Wells said. “The transition was overwhelming, especially taking a math course — which isn’t my favorite subject — online. I also had an 11-year-old son at home, so I went from just mom to teacher, counselor, PE coach and cafeteria lady, all overnight.”
Wells pressed through, those challenging weeks, and later this month she will finish her final course and proudly walk across the stage to accept her degree.
She hopes to continue working for UA, but perhaps in a different role.
“Ultimately, I want to do some sort of advocacy,” Wells said of her desire to one day work with disregarded children. “I feel like I have a voice, and I need to use it to make some kind of change, some kind of difference.”