When the economic downturn hit in 2008 it meant economic hardship for many realtors, including Emily Hetland of Olympia, Washington, who suddenly saw her income plummet. “Here I am with the recession hitting, in the middle of a divorce, and with two teenagers ready to graduate from high school,” said Hetland. A job search landed her a position with the Capitol Region Educational Service District 113 in Tumwater, bringing with it a stable income.
As a former business owner, she says she “wanted more,” so Hetland decided to pursue her bachelor’s degree at Evergreen State College in Olympia. Graduating in December 2012, her degree is in liberal arts with an emphasis in leadership studies and business management. “I waited six months to walk at graduation, but I did it,” said Hetland. “It was a major milestone for me.”
Hetland was just getting started. Continuing at ESD 113, she moved into human resources. When Brandman University visited last year to explain its MBA program, Hetland made sure to attend so she could answer any questions from colleagues. But her experience at Evergreen State convinced her that education would only help with her own future career opportunities. With a tuition scholarship offered, she signed up, attending classes at Brandman’s Lacey campus. “I feel that people with a master’s degree are taken more seriously,” said Hetland. “That designation counts because it shows dedication and discipline.”
So far, Brandman’s program is “exceeding expectations.” Hetland said the bar had been “set high” in Evergreen’s program, which emphasized critical thinking, public speaking and self-discipline. “I’m glad I didn’t wait two to three years to start on my advanced degree,” said Hetland. “The learning just builds on the previous knowledge. I leave class and I feel like somebody filled up my tank. Sometimes I think, ‘am I crazy to be doing this in my mid 40’s?’ But I feel challenged and fulfilled.”
And now Hetland is getting ready for another step forward in her career. On July 1st, she starts as the new human resource director for the Aberdeen School District. Even though having a master’s degree wasn’t on the list of qualifications, Hetland says it made a huge difference in how she applied for the job. “It gave me the confidence to apply, and the confidence in my knowledge that I can do the job,” exclaims Hetland. “Even if I don’t have all the answers, I know how to build a strong team and we can work together to find them.”
Like many others whose livelihoods were wiped out by the recession, Hetland is a shining example of resilience, reinventing her career through education. “I never thought I’d be pursuing my master’s degree,” said Hetland. “A bachelor’s is a must-have in this day and age, and a master’s is like frosting on the cake.”Hetland welcomes this new opportunity in Aberdeen and the challenge it presents. It marks another milestone for her since “losing everything” six years ago. “No matter what life throws at me, no one can take away my degree and the knowledge I’ve gained.”