Monday, May 16, 2011

Education, Degree Lead Student to a New Life

Two weeks ago, Catherine Hendrickson celebrated at Rio Salado College’s graduation, along with hundreds of other students. She worked hard the last few years as a full-time student, even making the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. She earned an associate degree in chemical dependency, and yet, that was only half the battle.

“I was sentenced to prison, and used it as an opportunity to change my life,” said Hendrickson, detailing the adversity she has had to overcome to reach her educational goals.

Hendrickson lost her parents at an early age, and had a turbulent upbringing – at one point she was forced to live on the streets - which eventually led to her incarceration.

“I was driven to make terrible choices in my past, which in turn led to the consequences of criminal activity,” Hendrickson said.

However, incarceration may have led Hendrickson on the road to a better life.

“I did not want prison to be an end, but a new beginning,” Hendrickson said. “I began my journey by enrolling in computer technology classes held at the prison, through Tempe-based Rio Salado College. To my amazement, I completed my first class with an A. That was all it took.”

Hendrickson set about taking all the classes toward a computer technology degree. And yet she found something was missing.

“I came to realize that the motivation behind this field of study was financial security,” said Hendrickson. “I knew that if prison was truly a new beginning, I needed to make the right choice and follow the passion of my heart.”

Hendrickson changed her major to chemical dependency, and has never looked back.

“I was release from prison a year ago, and clung to my graduation goal with fervor,” Hendrickson said.

She credits Rio Salado’s online instructors, her family, friends, pastor, and her own determination for her success.

“It has been through hard work, diligent effort and staying focused on making the right choices that I have accomplished so much,” Hendrickson said. “I have finally become the person I was created to be.”

That person is someone who is dedicated to helping others.

“My life now is about giving back to others by helping them make better choices,” Hendrickson said. “If I can even help one person, then I will have touched the lives of countless others throughout the community.”

In the future, Hendrickson hopes to work with incarcerated women, to help them overcome the obstacles associated with drug addiction.

“We need to become a proactive society in dealing with issues of chemical dependency,” Hendrickson said. “It is far more beneficial to address the problem in its beginning stages than to clean up the collateral damage.”

Earning her degree has also intensified Hendrickson’s appetite for education. She has been accepted into a bachelor’s degree program in counseling, and hopes to ultimately earn a doctorate in behavioral health.

“I know without a doubt that if Rio Salado had not provided the opportunity to start classes while in prison, I would not be here today,” Hendrickson said.

For more information about earning an associate degree, contact Rio Salado College.