Although Kimberly Gombola is the youngest of her family, she was the first to enroll at Walden University, in the M.S. in Education program. Soon after enrolling, Gombola referred her mother, Sharon Kershner, who enrolled in the M.S. degree program in Nursing, and brother, Chris Kershner, who chose to pursue a Master of Public Administration. Thanks to Gombola's head start, she was the first to graduate, in 2008, followed by her mother. But because the experience had become a family affair, Gombola and her mother waited for Chris Kershner to complete his program so they could celebrate graduation as a family. At the January 2009 Walden University Commencement Ceremony, all three walked across the stage and received their degrees. Here, they reminisce about sharing the Walden experience.
In the future, how will you describe the process of earning your graduate degree, alongside your family, to your children and grandchildren?
Sharon: I will tell them how we worked so hard together, and it took a lot of determination. Many times, with our different family gatherings, we had to work on papers. We ate our popcorn, and we would have three laptops going at the dining room table. I think it will be fun to tell them stories like that when they're students.
Kim: I'll explain to them that I wanted to finish my degree before I had them, and I was pregnant during the program.
How did having a new family member on the way affect your family's experiences at Walden?
Sharon: When Kim had the baby, I was toward the end of my program. I had so much work to do, so I would stay up with Kim to help with the baby, and then work on my laptop. It worked out so wonderfully, because with Walden you can get your higher degree from anywhere in the world.
Where did you hang your diplomas? Are they all in one place at mom and dad's house?
Kim: Actually, we all hung them in our offices.
Chris: But if mom would like me to hang it at her house, that would be fine with me.
Did you use one another's test scores to motivate each other?
Chris: My mom led the pack with the best grades. She set the bar for us.
Kim: We never had real competitions, but we would call each other and say, “I got a four out of four” or “I got an A”—it was an indirect motivation to push harder.
Did you organize any special family events around the educational process?
Sharon: While we were all students, we had a family vacation in Hilton Head. I had to make sure that there were places to plug in all the computers and that we could get the Internet. You're always thinking that way.
Chris, you said your mother was your ‘inspiration.’ What in particular inspired you about her and her experience?
Chris: My mom is the mother of three children, she has two grandchildren, and she has been married for 36 years. She has been a nurse for over 30 years, and she is in her 50s. To take on the challenge of pursuing a higher education degree at this point in her life is a tremendous task. If she could do it, I knew I could do it.
How are you applying your degrees?
Kim: I am using my master's focus in reading to improve the literacy of my students.
Sharon: My degree marks a personal achievement after 30 years of nursing.
Chris: My advanced public administration education serves my role as vice president of public policy and economic development at the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce in Ohio.