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MLA Graduate Finds Life-School-Work Balance

Ashley Easterwood has achieved more major life milestones in the last two and half years than many people experience over the span of a decade.

In the midst of getting married, relocating to Houston, having a baby and working full time as a marketing director and technical writer for an oil and gas company, Easterwood managed to earn a master’s degree from the University of St. Thomas. The Spring area resident will graduate from UST in August with a Master in Liberal Arts concentration in English.

It’s all about finding a work-school-life balance, Easterwood says. With a flexible employer, family support and convenient evening classes at UST, she was able to do it all.

When Easterwood and her husband, Jeff, relocated to Houston from Bryan/College Station in 2008, she was able to keep her job at Otis Instruments. She now works from home four days a week, and commutes to the office in Bryan one day a week. Easterwood enrolled in the St. Thomas MLA Program while she was expecting her first child. By the time she graduated from UST, she was expecting her second child – due in September.

“I chose St. Thomas because it's a school that offers interesting classes that will help me to prosper professionally, as well as stimulate my personal interest,” Easterwood said. “I chose the St. Thomas MLA English concentration because I have a passion for writing, and I liked the variety of courses I could take within the English Department; I didn’t have to study just literature.”

Easterwood said the availability of evening classes enabled her to complete her master’s degree while she was working full time.

“Every class I have taken has been at 5:30 p.m.; I know UST offers Saturday classes, but my limited time with my family was not something I was willing to give up,” she said. “It works out that most of the classes are in the afternoon or evening, and many of the professors understand that the majority of the people in the program have full-time jobs.

“Even if I was late for class, professors understood and let it slide a couple times,” Easterwood said. “Just because we have other things to do, it doesn’t mean we don’t care about the class, we are just trying to make it work in our lives.”

That faculty flexibility came in handy the summer Easterwood was expecting her first child, Cera.

“I didn’t know if I was going to make it through the summer semester without going into labor,” she said. “I kept going to class up until the end, but my professor sent me home. He even let my husband drop off the take-home final exam.”

Easterwood said her day revolves around a schedule, and absolutely everything has to fall into place. Despite her numerous commitments, Easterwood said Cera has never been to daycare, and  spends the days home with her while she works in her home office.  

“My husband is really helpful,” she said. “A few semesters, I would have to drive by his office on my way to class and we would switch off with the baby. He always understood that going to school was something I was doing for myself – it was my time. My classes helped me stay current on what was going on in the world around me, and gave me the opportunity to have adult interaction instead of just talking to babies or writing technical manuals all day.”

For now, Easterwood plans to continue working from home, but hopes to someday find a career in magazine writing and editing.

“Earning another advanced degree isn’t out of the question for me and Jeff, but for now, we plan to focus on Cera, the baby and our careers” Easterwood said. “It’s been pretty hectic the last two years, and it will be nice for me to have a break.”