Meet Commencement Speaker Michelle Meadows


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Tuesday, April 30, 2024
Congratulations Rio Salado College Class of 2024. Graduate spotlight Michelle Meadows

First Degree at 40 to Make Her Daughters Proud

By Mira Radovich, Senior Contributing Writer

Thanks to Rio Salado College, for the first time in her life, Michelle Meadows has a college degree and a plan for her future. She also has a Plan B just in case.

“Prior to starting school with Rio in 2021, I had no future plans and no goals that I was aiming for,” Meadows said. “I now have a complete plan, and a backup plan if that doesn’t quite work out how I wanted.”

Meadows’s education journey took a detour when she dropped out of high school due to personal issues. She earned her high school equivalency in 2002, and was seemingly back on track when she enrolled in an in-person program at a local community college.

“I did not succeed there as I was just not in the right mindset to succeed at anything,” Meadows said. “For many years after, I thought education was just not for me.”

Meadows tried again in 2011. She took a few online classes at Rio Salado College, but stopped again to devote her time to raising her two young daughters.

By 2021, Meadows decided to give it one last chance.

“I was a stay-at-home mom for 17 years,” Meadows said. “I did some research, and found that Rio had everything I wanted. I could work at my own pace and still have time to be with my daughters and be in school.”

She enrolled in classes to pursue an associate in arts degree with emphasis in history.

“I knew that following my love of history was the path I wanted to take,” Meadows said. “I was accepted into school and got financial aid. I was so excited because I could not afford school on my own.”

Meadows took 12 credits her first semester, and to her surprise, she flourished.

“I feared failing and disappointing my two daughters,” Meadows said. “However, I ended the fall 2021 semester with three As and one B. I was so proud of myself. It encouraged me to go further.”

Meadows was initially hesitant to embrace online learning.

“I had worried that taking classes online might cause me to miss out on instruction and guidance from teachers,” she said. “Fortunately, most of my teachers were great. They communicated with me almost like we knew each other.”

Meadows experienced some ups and downs during her studies.

“I had some challenges while going to school at Rio,” Meadows said. “Sometimes I needed to focus on my daughters, and that was hard during exam weeks. I also found myself and my kids with food insecurity and mental health issues for a period.”

When that happened, Meadows reached out to Rio Salado counselor Amberly Lebeck Brown.

“She became a lifeline for me,” Meadows said. “She helped me work through some personal and school issues, and encouraged me to apply for a part-time position at Rio Salado Northern.”

Meadows completed her associate degree program in December, and then worked with her academic advisors Jenifer Chiara and Mike Ross to create a plan.

“They encouraged me to start working toward the credit transfer program for Northern Arizona University,” Meadows said. “Now I am taking justice studies classes at Rio and hope to earn more certificates or a bachelor’s degree through Rio or NAU.”

Her new career goal was inspired by her Rio experience.

“My career goal is to be an academic advisor,” Meadows said. “I would love to help other students find their path and be there to encourage and help guide them on their journey, just like Rio did for me.”

Watch Commencement live 7 p.m. May 2