Saddling Up for a New Career


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Tuesday, June 6, 2023
image of Alicia McNeil in graduation cap and gown

Horse Professional Pivots to the Paralegal Field After Earning Degree

By Mira Radovich, Senior Contributing Writer

Alicia McNeil loves horses. In fact, her dream from a young age was to become an Olympic rider. While that did not come to fruition, McNeil’s foray into classes at the Maricopa Community Colleges (including concurrent enrollment at Rio Salado while in high school) did lead her to a horse-related career.

“I was taking a physics class around 2000 at Mesa Community College,” McNeil said. “The instructor let us write a paper on any subject we wanted. As a horse professional, I chose to write about the structure of the equine hoof. This eventually led me to intensely study the hoof over several years and I learned to trim.”

In fact, McNeil built a hoof-trimming business that saw her flying between Arizona and Oregon to help client’s horses.

“It was very satisfying,” McNeil said. “Because of that physics class, I was inspired to study something and turn it into a successful business where I got to travel.”

Things changed after McNeil welcomed her first child.

“After the birth of my daughter, I no longer felt the need to work with these lovely, but dangerous animals,” McNeil said. “I didn’t want to work nearly 365 days a year and have no benefits to provide her with if I was to become injured.”

McNeil had accumulated college credits (and two associate degrees) from several schools over the years. Now that it was time to revise her career options, she just needed to decide what to study and where.

“There were some personal events in my life that propelled me into the legal field,” McNeil said. “So, I took it upon myself to learn how the legal system works by pursuing a paralegal degree at Rio Salado.”

She chose Rio because online classes let her fit education into her life.

“Online classes are great,” McNeil said. “As a single mom with two jobs, I needed to be able to study and complete assignments anytime. Finishing my paralegal degree was easy to do. Rio has always been easy to work with, affordable and flexible.” 

While McNeil enjoyed the online environment, she offered a few tips to help online students succeed.

“I spend the first day making an outline for how I will complete the assignment,” McNeil said. “That leaves the next couple of days to think about what I need to research and read the textbook. If I have questions at this point, there are still a couple of days to get answers.”

She also recommends eliminating distractions around the house while studying, and color coding lesson notes.

“I highly recommend learning how to take notes and highlight text that may show up on an exam,” McNeil said. “I use a variety of highlighter colors both in my notebook and on the screen because it helps me recall the information faster.”

McNeil, who completed her associate degree in Paralegal from Rio Salado in May, looks forward to the next chapter of her professional career in the legal field.

“I would love to find the law office I want to work at until I retire,” McNeil said. “I want to help people so they can sleep better at night and rest assured knowing they have competent legal help.” 

McNeil credits her Rio degree for helping this dream become a reality.

“The education I received was immensely helpful in my personal life and now I look forward to using it in my professional life,” she said.

McNeil is also grateful for the life lessons her daughter learned along her academic journey.

“I’m very proud of how much I’ve been able to show her what hard work, dedication and love of learning can do,” McNeil said. “All along this path to graduation, I’ve known that I will be able to create a better life for both of us.”


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