This Pirate takes on challenges
to achieve long-term goals
Anita Ward is pursuing a business degree
Distance education student and cancer survivor Anita Ward is determined to finish out this school year strong.
Fifty-year-old Anita Ward doesn’t let too many things slow her down. In the summer of 2012, with 30 years work experience, Ward enrolled at East Carolina University.
“A coworker of mine who had attended ECU as a distance education student said she had a positive experience. I reviewed the ECU web site information about the College of Business and was impressed with what I saw. I applied right away.”
Ward is working toward a bachelor’s degree in business with a concentration in management.
“(Getting a four-year degree) had been a goal for so long and I knew that I wasn’t going to stop working after I retired from the state,” said Ward, who completed her tenure as chief information officer at the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management. “I was thinking I’d probably want to for work another 10 years.”
Ward’s journey toward a four-year degree began years before, when she first decided to pursue a career in computer programming. Two years after enrolling at North Carolina State University, Ward put her educational goals on hold to care for her children, who were 3 and 8 years old at the time.
“Back then, I thought I was just taking a break for a while, but…deep down I knew that there was no way I was going to go back with my kids and work,” said Ward. “And sure enough, I stopped (attending school) in ’97 and I didn’t go back until 2012.”
Balancing her workload is a challenge, said Ward, but she likes distance education because of the flexibility.
“When I was taking classes at N.C. State, I would have to leave work, go to class. I might have a half hour between classes,” said Ward. “I’d get home at 10 o’clock. It was just really difficult. With distance education, you still have to be disciplined, but you can work it in around your schedule.”
Ward’s return to education hasn’t come without challenges. In July of last year, two weeks into her second summer session, Ward was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer.
While undergoing chemotherapy treatments in fall 2014, Ward took a semester off. “I hated to take a break, but I knew I needed to,” said Ward. “It was the right decision, but I think it was just because I had that goal to be finished in July. I was like, ‘I can still be done in 2015 if I jump back in.’ I’m determined.”
In January, Ward resumed her course load. “I just took classes this summer (and) things are a lot better,” said Ward.
Ward is the recipient of the Emma Morris Scholarship, an award honoring the mother of retired College of Business professor Judith Hunt, who graduated with a bachelor's degree at the age of 50.
Ward expects to graduate in December. She plans to continue her education by pursuing a master’s degree or additional certifications. In the meantime, she is preparing for a new career as an information systems consultant.
Was there anything that made you think, “Now is the time to go back to school?”
It was partly that it was always a goal of mine and partly for opening up opportunities in the future. It is probably 60 percent a personal goal. When you apply for a job online, they’ll screen you out if you don’t have the education. It’s not even like you can say, “I only have a two-year degree, but I have 30 years of experience.” I knew that I was going to need that. My kids had finally grown up and they were out of college so I thought, now is the time when I can focus on it.
What advice would you give to other students who have had to leave school because of challenges or decided that they wanted to go back?
Even if you have some setbacks, you can keep going. You can even take a break; it doesn’t mean that you can’t complete it. Everybody’s circumstances are different. It’s all about trying to balance things. I’ve seen people who…are taking more classes than I am and working and raising young kids. You can tell they’re not enjoying the experience. I want to be able to enjoy and learn and not be more focused on getting it done than actually learning. I would say…not give up if not everything falls in place perfectly like you want it to. That doesn’t mean that you can’t accomplish it.
Photography by: Cliff Hollis
Written by: Summer Tillman
Clubs & Organizations: Church choir, chair of Council of Ministries at Knightdale United Methodist Church, Phi Kappa Phi, Beta Gamma Sigma
Place on Campus: Joyner Library
Class: Mgmt 4343 - Organizational Leaders and Leadership
Hobbies and Interests: Reading, martial arts, gardening, home improvement
TV Show: "True Detective"
Musician/band: Dave Matthews Band
Movie: "The Shawshank Redemption"
Most Influential Professor: Dr. Andrew Herdman
Dream Job: Having my own information systems consulting business.
Role Model: My parents
Words to Live By: Always keep a positive attitude and it will make a big difference in how you feel and will have a positive influence on those around you.
Advice for fellow students: Make the most of the experience, do your best and encourage your fellow students.
Something cool about ECU you wish you knew during your first year: I wish I had visited campus. I think it would have been nice to visit the bookstore, which I plan on doing this fall. Also, my husband and I just bought season tickets to the football games, which I wish I had done sooner.
"Always keep a positive attitude and it will make a big difference in how you feel and will have a positive influence on those around you."
– Anita Ward