For students like Annette Watts, gaining an education goes beyond the title or degree. It hits something deeper and more satisfying – a personal goal to inspire others that it’s never too late to return to school. Having completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology with ACU Online, Annette was eager to continue her education and is currently enrolled in the Master of Marriage and Family Therapy program as a first-year graduate student. Wanting to assist individuals diagnosed with autism and other similar conditions, Annette is the perfect example of someone who didn’t let obstacles get in the way of her future. Instead, they propelled her forward to make her into the woman, mom, and employee she is today.
Returning Back To School
Born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, Annette will be the first to tell you she was not “on the right path” as a young teenager. Having her first child during the initial months of her college experience, it became difficult for Annette to see beyond her circumstances as a single mother. After dropping out of school, working numerous jobs, and having her second child, Annette remembers the moment she realized she needed to go back to school: her son was diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Feeling overwhelmed and unprepared to provide, Annette recalls how drastic that wake-up call was for her and her family.
“After being given my son’s autism diagnosis, our whole routine changed, and it was really hard on the whole family,” Annette said. “I remember saying to myself, ‘Okay, you have to go back now. You need to. You need to provide for him.”
Annette recalls being afraid of what other people would think about her. Maybe she was too old to go back. After all, it had been over five years since her first daughter was born. Still, that fear didn’t stop her. Determined to finish her bachelor’s degree, Annette began searching for what school she wanted to attend. Considering that her stepmother was an ACU alum, Annette felt led to start looking more into the university’s mission, vision, and programs. After reading about ACU’s strong values and commitment to providing a solid education within a Christian environment, it didn’t take long for Annette to decide ACU was where she would pursue her psychology degree.
“I picked psychology because I liked the idea of seeing how people think,” Annette said. “It made me excited to go back, and since I was able to transfer credits, it just became the best choice for me.”
Now returning to school as a 30-year-old, Annette found ways to block out the negative thoughts about her age and started to listen to the encouraging words from her support system. And this time, she’ll finish. Within the next two years, Annette transferred her previous college credits to ACU and walked the stage with her bachelor’s in psychology degree. Something she never thought would have been possible.
And Annette didn’t stop there. Earning her bachelor’s “ was a great accomplishment,” Annette commented. “Like, it made me really think about those people with developmental disabilities like my son, and so I just said to myself that I needed to keep going and get my master’s degree. Thankfully, ACU had the Marriage and Family Therapy degree, so it was easy for me to take a small break and join [class] right after.” In just three years, Annette had gone from a single mother who’d dropped out of college and was struggling with her son’s autism diagnosis—to graduating with her bachelor’s and pursuing a graduate degree.
Life As a Mom in Graduate School
While the Master of Marriage and Family Therapy program can seem pretty rigorous to some, Annette didn’t think twice about it. She jumped right in and began to see how theory and conceptual issues play a role in understanding and assisting people with developmental disabilities. Combining her new knowledge of how people process information with her home life, Annette has changed how she interacts with people who have family members like her son. Remembering how lonely she initially felt dealing with the diagnosis, Annette strives to absorb as much information and experience in her program as possible. She yearns to become someone who can empathize and understand the family struggles and dynamics resulting from someone diagnosed with autism or ADHD.
“I remember feeling alone and abandoned and not being able to talk with someone about how I was feeling,” Annette recalls. “It’s ugly, and I want to become someone who people can feel like they can talk to.”
These days, Annette is also figuring out how to surmount other obstacles, such as juggling motherhood and graduate studies. Working part-time at the Tarrant County Public Health department, Annette can see the relationships between how agencies work with domestic matters and how children are affected. And while she does not get to work with clients on her own, Annette considers herself lucky to have a job that can provide for her family without compromising her studies or time at home.
Now happily married and enjoying life as a graduate student and mother of two, she is beyond excited to see where she lands next. Whether opening her own practice or finding work at a Fort Worth clinic that assists families and children with developmental conditions, Annette looks forward to seeing what’s in store.
“I just want to encourage people that it’s never too late,” Annette exclaimed. “When I finish in 2025, I will be the first in my family to have a master’s degree. That’s something I look forward to, and I hope it encourages others to do the same. Reach for your goals.”
Do you want to find your calling like Annette Watts? Visit our website or call 855-219-7300 to learn how you can step into a fulfilling future at ACU Online.