Science teacher Cheryl Austin – Calumet College 1978
Q: What piece of advice would you give someone entering their 20s based off of what has happened to you in your life?
A :”I would say never be afraid to ask for help. Find somebody in your life that’s a trusted adult that can serve as a mentor for you. When I was 18, I graduated high school. I was the youngest child of six in a blue-collar family, and all of my friends went off to college. My family had no money for college. I was totally lost at 18 years old, I didn’t know what to do, I wanted to go to college, but had no money or guidance. I had no idea how to do that. I tried to find a job walking the streets, didn’t have a car, couldn’t find a job because I had no skill, no certification, so I had nothing. It wasn’t until I walked into Calumet College which was across from where I lived at the time and I said can you please help me and they did. It was amazing. I was able to go in with their help and they taught me how to apply,how to get financial help, and all of that stuff. So I ended up staying there getting a degree and having a very successful career in the food industry before I became a teacher 10 years ago. So I’ve had back-to-back successful careers and I always credit them because without their guidance when I was 18 and lost, who knows where I would have ended up. Never be afraid to reach out for help and latch on to somebody who you like and maybe somebody who inspires you. Ask if you can keep in touch with them or maybe they can mentor you.”
Q: ”How and why did you choose to pursue a career in education and decide that college was the best option for you?
A: ”It definitely was the right option for me because nobody in my family went to college and I was determined to be independent and successful. And to be honest I felt that way because I came from an abusive home and so living in that environment taught me that no man is ever going to do to me what he did to my mother. So I’m going to be independent, I’m going to be educated, I’m not going to depend on any man to take care of me. And I never have even when I was married I was the primary breadwinner. For me college was the only option. Well to be honest I started in my first major in medical technology then one of the tours we took we went on a tour of a local hospital. I saw the med technologists and they were all at a microscope and I thought I don’t want to do that all day. The irony of that is when I got my degree in biology and then I went to work in the food industry one of my specialties as an analytical chemist was working on the microscope.So it was just kind of ironic that the way it worked out, so I switched my major to biology. I got my degree in biology and then biology, chemistry, food science all those things kind of help you get into different careers. My path was food science and now I’m certified to teach food science.”
Q: What challenges involving love, career, and day to day life do you feel like are the hardest to overcome and why?
A: ”Work life balance because I was a single mom since when my kids were 7 and 4 so when you’re juggling all those things it’s hard to find time for yourself. It’s always been for me the hardest thing. I tend to give 100% at whatever I do whether it’s as a parent or teacher, or student government sponsor. I do my best and there’s only so many hours in a day, so work life balance is something people really have to make the time for.”
Q: What is something you wish you would’ve known before entering your 20s?
A: ”I wish I would’ve got better advice on budgeting and financial management because I think like many early 20 year olds you get a credit card. I made some early mistakes there that I did share with my daughters, so that they wouldn’t make the same mistake.I mean eventually I was able to correct those mistakes, and I’m doing fine now. In those early years, I wish I would’ve known better, but I didn’t know better. I just responded to all those credit card ads. So probably be wiser about financial issues.”
Q: If you could do it all over again would you do anything differently and if so what would it be?
A: ”To be honest I’m not one to look back on my life and be like could’ve, would’ve, should’ve that’s just not something I do. It was always my dream to get a masters degree because of what I said earlier about my passion to get an education. And I did finish half of the masters to get my teaching certification, but when I found out how much it was going to cost versus how much extra money I’d make. Sadly with a teacher with a masters degree the numbers weren’t there. That’s just something I always wanted to pursue.”
Q: Are you happy with where you are currently at and do you plan to always stay in this career?
A: ”Yes, I view teaching as a calling even though I had a very successful first career. I felt teaching was a calling for me. Teaching is one of those purposeful type jobs and to me there’s a purpose here. If you want to make a difference in young people’s lives. I do believe it is a calling that comes from somewhere else that brings us to places like this. So no, I wouldn’t change anything really.”
Q: For the high school graduates that are choosing to go to college what advice would you give them?
A: ”Don’t go into debt. I mean a little bit of debt is okay. Even with my own kids I said okay I’m going to help them manage their finances through college. If you have to take out more than $20,000 of debt then you shouldn’t be going there. You should be staying at home and going locally. I think it’s so easy because people throw money at young people , but then students so often get into debt. Or sometimes they don’t finish the program so they come out without a degree and a lot of debt. And I’m confident that you don’t realize it when you’re young how much of a burden that really is to have $30,000 hanging over your head. So that’s what my advice would be. Again reach out to somebody who can help you. Just don’t just go to a school you can’t afford. Just be careful about the debt. If you feel that college is for you, get a degree in something. It doesn’t matter as much as what your degree is in, but just the fact that you have it makes you more marketable.”