The study of psychology delves into how the mind works and can lead to a better understanding of others. But for four recent graduates of Saint Leo's online psychology degree program, the subject their major revealed the most about was themselves.

Brandy Rose was looking for a way to use her life experiences to help others. In the process of getting her degree, she learned she had both strength and resilience.

Codi Wallace uncovered her fierce tenacity and regained confidence in herself and hope for her future.

Donna Lawson realized she could reinvent herself after years in another field and find a way to give back to the community.

Iris Haile felt complete. "As a student, I not only had become responsible academically but socially as well," Iris says. "Through patience and perseverance, I was more confident and — more importantly — I realized that I, too, am worthy."

It wasn't always easy, but completing their degrees showed these four women they are equipped to handle the challenges that will arise as they enter new chapters in their lives. The graduates reflected on what brought them to Saint Leo's online psychology degree program and what they learned during the course of their studies.


Iris Haile

An evening of helping her son fill out college applications gave Iris Haile the push she needed to return to school herself.

She had received her associate's degree about 30 years earlier, and although she had always wanted to complete her college education, she had a lot of reasons why she couldn't. She was a single mother with a lot of responsibilities. The challenge of school seemed like too much to add to her load. She doubted her capabilities.

At the same time, Iris was frustrated at her job feeling that her skills, input and creativity weren't valued. She had worked hard for low pay and no chance at advancement.

"I had become tired of waiting for an opportunity to present itself," Iris says. "I had to move forward and make a difference for my future."

As soon as her son's applications were complete, she called to enroll in Saint Leo University's online program, based on positive feedback she had heard about the school. She first considered majoring in sociology, but her interest in how people think and multiple career opportunities prompted her to change her major to psychology.

It was a great fit.

"I am amazed at how professional and well-organized the psychology program is at Saint Leo," Iris says. "I was very fortunate to have been assigned to the most inspiring instructors and two wonderful advisors. I've learned from the best, and they have all played an intricate role in making sure that I reached my academic goals, and I did!"

Her proudest moment came when she visited the post office to check her mail and received a yellow slip instructing her to see an attendant to pick up one of her items. As Iris waited, the employee disappeared and then returned, beaming with pride. She had Iris' diploma. "I graduated with honors and just marveled at the honors emblem," says Iris.

Coincidentally, she shared another proud moment with the same postal attendant when she received her certificate of membership in Psi Chi, the international psychology honors society.

And Iris isn't done. She plans to pursue a graduate degree online. To others who have considered taking the leap but haven't, she offers this advice: "Find within yourself the strength, that light, in order to recognize and understand your purpose. Hold on to your vision."

Donna Lawson

Donna Lawson spent nearly two decades in a great career in accounting. But when the economy turned, she began to feel burned out. She started wondering if there might be something more fulfilling for her out there.

A new path was in front of her the whole time.

"One of my specialties is re-organizing financially stressed companies, and one thing I picked up on was that the primary problem of that company — most of the time — was its owner or chief financial officer," Donna says. "Their personal situations affected the business. My task would shift to helping these people become mentally healthy, which also helped cure many of the company's problems."

The realization that she had a passion for improving people's mental health led her to the decision to return to college for a degree in psychology. It was a "special and personal" choice and a way to serve the community, she says.

"There is a great need," says Donna, of Atlanta. "Communities are multicultural, and so many need mental wellness. I've been blessed to have a great career, but this time I will be a part of something greater, and it's not about me."

She researched online degree programs and talked to colleagues who had attended Saint Leo. What she heard impressed her, and her experience lived up to her expectations. She especially valued the professors and students she met and the help she received from counselors. Online degree programs require a lot of self-discipline and motivation, she says, and her proudest moment came when her counselor told her it was time to complete her graduation application.

But it's just the first phase of her decision to reinvent herself professionally. Donna plans to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology. She knows it will take a lot of work, but her faith in God and her desire to serve the community inspires her to keep going.

"To see the face of someone you helped and know that it made a profound difference encourages you to continue on," she says.

Brandy Rose

Studying psychology helped lead Brandy Rose to a healthier place. Now the Saint Leo graduate and Atlanta resident wants to use what she has learned to help other people as well.

Brandy, 24, recently completed her bachelor's degree in psychology and has her eye on a master's in counseling. Her goal is to become a counselor for children or families. She understands what it is like to need guidance — she has been there herself.

An abusive relationship a few years ago prompted her to make changes in her life, leaving the situation and getting herself into therapy. She also started looking toward the future and asked herself what she wanted to do and where she wanted her life to go.

She had enrolled in college in Georgia once before at age 18 as a psychology major, only to change her major twice before taking a semester off to work full time. A bachelor's degree was important to her to open up more opportunities professionally, but she didn't know how she would juggle her job and a traditional class schedule. She began searching for online programs.

Saint Leo University was a great fit for her. It had the online convenience she needed, but she loved that the university had a physical campus as well. She enrolled at Saint Leo at age 22 as a general education major before returning to her first love of psychology.

"I wanted to help people like me who had been through the same experiences I had been through," Brandy says. "It was that determination to become healthy in my personal life and to help people that gave me the ability to persevere when things became difficult."

Her parents, sister and boyfriend inspired her, supported her when she struggled and challenged her when she doubted what she could accomplish. Saint Leo student advisor Veronika Meyer was there to answer her calls and emails and guide her to graduation. Brandy also joined the psychology club and loved the connections she built with other students — something she didn't expect in an online program.

Throughout the journey, Brandy learned how to manage stress and that she was capable of more than she had dreamed.

"I learned how strong I really am and how resilient I am," Brandy says. "When things got hard, I worked through them."

She knows her degree is the first step toward a career where she can work with children, but she feels like the understanding she has gained of people will assist her in many situations.

"Psychology not only teaches you so much about other people but also about yourself. It gives you the ability to look outside of yourself and realize that the world is a big place and everyone has a place in it."

Codi Wallace

Codi Wallace's love for learning inspired her to pursue a college education. But the degree she chose stemmed from a need to turn a troubled past into a positive future.

For several years, Codi lived with her mother, who was addicted to drugs. Her mother was abusive and neglectful, and Codi had to drop out of high school so she could work to pay their bills. She sacrificed scholarships she had been in line for and postponed her dream of a college education. At 18, Codi moved out and, with help from her godfather, began to get her life in order and return to school.

Becoming a mother at 22 — and again at 25 — further strengthened her determination for an education. She wanted her son to admire strong women. She wanted her daughter to grow up to be a strong woman, one with ambition and goals.

Codi's story reveals that strength. She received an associate's degree in liberal arts at a Mississippi community college, focusing on psychology, and then turned to Saint Leo for a bachelor's degree in psychology.

Codi chose an online degree program because it had the flexibility she needed to juggle school, work and her children's needs. Saint Leo stood out to her because it expressed values she holds dear, such as honesty and responsibility.

The road to her degree was difficult at times, and she soon learned that she needed to fully commit to her education if she was going to make it to graduation. She designated specific times to focus on schoolwork, asking her husband or sister-in-law to watch her children while she studied.

Codi chose psychology as a way to gain insight into her own childhood and her mother, and she hopes the degree helps her help others. She wants to work with children who suffer from the same situations as she did when she was growing up.

Codi, 26, hopes one day her son and daughter see what she has overcome as proof that anything is possible if you put in enough time and effort. She knows she still has hard work ahead of her — and that's fine.

"I want to continue to persevere," Codi says, "to show them that despite any hardship you may encounter in life, if you approach it with grace, dignity and hard work, the rest will all fall into its proper place."

What is your motivation for enrolling in Saint Leo's online psychology degree program?

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