When doctors told him he would never attend college, Robert Chavez not only earned his M.S. in Psychology, but is now pursuing a Ph.D.

January 2011

DEGREE EARNED: M.S. in Psychology

HOW I PAID FOR IT: Student loans and need-based scholarships from Walden University

HOW LONG IT TOOK: 18 months

WHAT ELSE I WAS DOING AT THE SAME TIME: I sustained traumatic brain injuries during my time in the U.S. Army. I was involved in a jeep accident while serving in South Korea and also was injured by several explosions that occurred when my unit was engaged in the invasion of Panama. I am now permanently disabled. I also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. While earning my master’s, I balanced attending weekly therapy sessions, teaching adults to read, and raising my daughter, who was 15 then, as a single parent. When doctors and administrators at the Department of Veterans Affairs told me that I would never be able to sit in a college classroom or earn a college degree because of my disabilities, I had to ask myself what I wanted to do with my life: Am I going to be stagnant or am I going to move forward?

WHEN I STUDIED: I got up at 4 a.m. each day to study before I took my daughter to school.

WHERE I STUDIED: I made a quiet place for myself in the family den, following Walden’s advice for doing so to a T. My study space has everything I need on hand so I’m not distracted. That includes a rare coin awarded to me by a former senior commander and a four-pound box of red licorice. The coin reminds me that difficulty can be overcome even when it seems overwhelming and to never forget where I came from or the people who encouraged me. The licorice is to remind me that not all of life is about studying and research. Life’s simple pleasures can be as important as a peer-reviewed journal.

MOST CHALLENGING PART: At one point during my studies, the doctor working with me in my biofeedback treatments left the VA hospital. Without therapy, I couldn’t focus. I had to read material repeatedly, watch DVDs over and over. I studied until 1 a.m. and got up at 4 a.m. to continue. I didn’t want my naysayers to know I was struggling.

WHAT I LEARNED: I volunteer at a battered women’s shelter. My degree has changed my perspective when working with these women. Prior to earning my degree, I couldn’t understand why women, or anyone, would allow themselves to live in these abusive circumstances. My classes at Walden helped me to better understand other cultures and perspectives and further fostered a desire to give back. It’s like the books I read came alive to me.

BEST THING OTHERS DID TO HELP ME: One commander gave me a pep talk, saying he couldn’t believe that I, one of his best soldiers, would allow anyone to discourage me.

HIGHEST POINT: When I got that diploma in the mail, it suddenly registered what I had accomplished.

MY NEXT BIG CHALLENGE: I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Psychology with a specialization in Health Psychology from Walden. I eventually want to start a nonprofit to help people better cope with the stress in their lives. Using my life experiences, I will show them that when someone says you can’t accomplish something, yes, you can.

Tell us how you did it at MyWaldenImpact@waldenu.edu