After more than 20 years in the insurance industry, Johnetta Thompson is starting a new career to help students overcome the same obstacles she faced when she went to college the first time.
Thompson graduated from Shortridge High School in Indianapolis and signed up for college without much thought. “My best friend was going off to college, and, to be honest, I didn’t know too much about it,” Thompson says. “My mother made me stay for one year, and then I left. I couldn’t deal with the school environment. I wasn’t ready for it.”
She went back home and started work. In 2005, her employer closed its claims department and Thompson decided to go back to school to earn a degree in the hospitality industry. Thompson earned an associate degree from Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, but after working in the field, she wasn’t happy with her prospects and decided to go back to school again.
On choosing the University of Indianapolis: Thompson considered two other college programs before visiting UIndy. “I knew right away this was my school,” Thompson says. “It felt like a family.” She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in organizational management with the help of the program’s structure, in which students moved as a cohort group to completion. “I loved it,” she says. “Everyone at UIndy was there for you, whether it was academic or personal. I can still pick up the phone and ask for anything. They still care and want to help me.” Thompson relied on grants and scholarships to help with the cost.
Getting a master’s degree: Her advisor at UIndy suggested that she use her passion for young people to become a counselor or an academic advisor, a career that requires a master’s degree. Once again, she considered several schools before deciding to pursue a graduate degree in counseling from Butler University. The program allowed Thompson to work during the day and attend classes in the evening from 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. But it hasn’t been easy for the single mother of two. She took out student loans that will have to be paid back. When her father died, she took a year off from school. When her employer could not accommodate the schedule change she needed to complete her required internship, she quit her job to finish her degree. “It took a lot of sacrifice,” Thompson says. “There were many times my friends wanted to do something and I had to say ‘No, I have homework,’ or ‘No, I have class.”’
Advice: Whether Thompson is talking to high schools students at the non-profit Center for Leadership Development in Indianapolis where she works, or to her adult peers, the message is the same. “What’s stopping you from continuing your education? What degree program and career track are you on? It may take awhile and it won’t be easy, but you can do it. There will be times you say, ‘I am not doing this anymore, I’m done.’ But you have to remember why you are doing it.”