Successfully balancing a full-time job with a full-time online degree program, a marriage, and homeschooling three of their four children is an extraordinary feat. But together – and individually – Brandi and Walter Phillips pull it all off with grace, humor, and seeming ease.
The female member of this dynamic duo is maintaining a 3.8 GPA as she nears completion of ACU Online’s Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree program. Her male partner in excellence boasts a 4.0 in his B.S. in Information Technology Administration program. Brandi anticipates a summer 2021 graduation date, and Walter is targeting the end of 2021.
When asked how the couple has managed to stay on top of the many commitments they share, Brandi says, “I’ve gotten so much better about it, because, at the end of the day, family has to come first. For us, it’s God, family, and then school and work, and I didn’t say it out of order. School comes before work because if you don’t finish school, how can you advance where you’re at? For me, it’s hard, but we’ve been managing it. We’ve managed it for the last four years.”
Brought together by education
The Phillips’ 15-year marriage was the fortuitous result of their meeting at Prairie View A&M University about 20 years ago. Brandi recalls, “We were both going to school there, but we didn’t finish school. We both got into just trying to make a living and working. Got married, four children, and before the last child, she’s only 2 now, we were like, ‘We should really finish school.’”
Brandi returned to school in 2015 while the couple was living in Denton and earned an associate degree from North Central Texas College (NCTC). Walter was not as enthusiastic about enrolling, but Brandi’s supportive assurance—”No, you can do it, you can do it!”—convinced him to start taking online classes again.
Getting prayed to Abilene
Moving to Abilene was not on the Phillips’ to-do list. But Jennifer Rogers, an instructor in the Teacher Education Department at ACU and one of Brandi’s best friends, had another vision. “She prayed us here — that was not our plan, but God always has a different plan.” Brandi said.
Brandi had accepted a new job and they “accidentally found a house” on the same day Walter accepted his technician position at Toyota. “Everything lined up the way it needed to, and somehow or another, we wound up enrolling at ACU … it was so crazy how it happened. Within 24 hours, we had our lives figured out, out of the blue!” Brandi recounts.
Smooth sailing during the transition to ACU
After earning her associate degree, Brandi wanted more from a college experience. Several family and friends had either studied or worked at ACU, so the couple quickly realized they’d found a new educational home. Walter shares, “It was kind of an easy sell with the school being here in Abilene and the online programs that we were interested in.”
Brandi began her Psychology B.S. program in August 2019, and Walter started his IT bachelor’s program in January 2020. Like most applicants who turn to ACU Online’s support staff for help during the enrollment or transfer process, the Phillips were impressed and reassured. Brandi says the transition from NCTC to ACU was “too easy.”
“We did our initial application with Heather. She had already explained so many things to us about how the (transfer) credits work. She really encouraged us by saying, ‘Don’t worry about what you don’t have. Let’s see what you’ve done.’”
Brandi also praises ACU’s transparency and thoroughness when it comes to providing prospective students with all the info they need. “There were no secrets … everything was laid out very well. It was explained to us. I didn’t have any doubts.”
Walter admits he’s the doubter in the family. Brandi again took the encouraging facilitator role, obtaining her husband’s transcript and scheduling a phone appointment for him with Heather. She hoped that if someone else reinforced what she’d been telling Walter about her positive experience with ACU Online, he’d be inspired to join her. The plan worked. Brandi says that after Walter spoke with Heather, “It’s like she lit this fire. The fire is blazing, and we’re almost done!”
Any doubts in Walter’s mind were very quickly put to rest. Walter shares, “Everybody came on board and introduced themselves—the financial advisor, counselor, and admissions people. They kept us in the loop. ACU Online had their stuff together. Somebody would get back with you in a very timely manner.”
Putting their degrees to work
Psychology was a natural choice for Brandi, who is “really good at talking to people” and “passionate about people helping people.” Her current position at 2INgage, a subsidiary of Texas Family Initiative, gives her ample opportunity to help.
Brandi’s not stopping with a bachelor’s, however. “Next week, I’m going to apply for my master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy with ACU. I’m just over-the-moon excited about being able to say ‘I’m applying.’ I know that I’m getting ready to cross that finish line, and one day I’ll get to be a therapist, hopefully for the company that I work for now. I’ll be one of their first therapists, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Walter has always been interested in IT, but he originally went to college to study engineering. His younger brother, who’s been working in IT for 15 years, “was always telling me, ‘Man, you can do this.’”
“It’s a little less technical than I thought, and you need to use a lot of creativity in problem-solving, so that part’s been a fun challenge for me. I was kicking myself. I could have done this 20 years ago.” Walter currently has his sights set on a career in cybersecurity.
Final thoughts from the Phillipses
Brandi and Walter Phillips study at home right alongside 14-year-old Teyla, 11-year-old Noah, and 9-year-old Kailynn. Two-year-old Silver keeps a watchful eye on everyone’s progress. The Phillipses plan to walk the graduation stage together, both as a well-earned celebration and as a demonstration for their kids of what can be accomplished with persistence, hard work, and commitment.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Brandi says. “And I think that you can do anything you want to do. If you can put God first, and you can trust him for real, that when He says ‘Do’ you just do it willingly—I think you can really achieve something that maybe other people feel like you can’t, even things that you feel like you can’t. With God, you can do anything.”
Walter adds, “Even if you don’t trust yourself, or have confidence in yourself, if you trust God and you give your best effort, you can do things that you never even imagined doing.”