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Walden Magazine // Aug 01, 2019

Lifelong Learners: Driven to Success

The final lap of an educational tour de force

Dr. Nickole Cottrill ’18, ’15, ’13
Photo by Corey Ann.

The drive to continue pursuing degrees can be traced to two significant events that changed Dr. Nickole Cottrill’s life and perspective on learning. One was a failed job interview. The other was Jayden Mykel. Cottrill was trying to help her family when she landed an interview for a telemarketing job. “I didn’t get the job because I had dropped out of school in 11th grade when I was pregnant with my first child, Krysta,” she says. “Before that interview, I hadn’t considered going back to school. Afterward, I knew I had to.”

The second, and perhaps most profound, event was the birth of her son Jayden. Jayden was born with severe autism, cerebral palsy, and epilepsy. She knew from the start that no one would be able to care for Jayden like she could, and she wanted to know as much as possible to best support him. After finishing her high school education, Cottrill took her first psychology class and fell in love with it. “I knew that was what I wanted to pursue,” she says.

Cottrill chose Walden after researching several universities and psychology programs. “What initially convinced me was the flexibility and wonderful people I communicated with at Walden,” she says. “From the minute I enrolled, I knew it was right for me.”

She graduated with a BS in Psychology in 2013 and earned her MS in Psychology in 2015 and a PhD in Psychology in 2018. As the final lap to her educational tour de force, she’s completing what she says is her final degree—an MS in Criminal Justice.

Cottrill’s educational journey has led her down numerous paths. She currently serves as a PhD mentor and editor, working with nearly 40 Walden doctoral candidates at any one time, and works as an online tutor in a range of subjects.

She’s also deeply involved with Judge Free Moms, an online group of more than 4,000 women worldwide focused on growing and learning without fear of judgment. She uses her psychology background to regularly blog on the group’s website as well as her own, which is dedicated to sharing insights on raising a child with autism.

At home, she’s using her degrees to support her own children, providing constant care for Jayden, now 10, and homeschooling both Jayden and his sister Krysta, 17.

Cottrill has come a long way from the person who couldn’t get a job for lack of a high school diploma, and she gives much of the credit for that journey to Walden and Jayden.

“I want to help people—starting with my own family and then others—dealing with the same issues I am,” she says. “Having the education and knowledge to back me up has made such a difference. I tell everybody to go to Walden because it’s helped me help others.”