Both kids are sleeping soundly and Kim pulls her knees up on the couch, snuggled beneath a cozy blanket. She pinches out a piece of beef jerky and sets the bag down next to the crackers and nuts she brought from the pantry. She scrolls through facebook, stopping at interesting articles or pictures.
Her life appears idyllic to many; however, few know the challenges she faced along the way.
ISO: When did you decide you wanted a college degree and why was it significant to you?
K: That’s in interesting question being that neither my Mom nor Dad have a degree and my Dad has been very successful in his field. Grandma Doris got her degree in adulthood. I think Grandma Laurie has one too, she worked for the Los Angeles times…
I’ve always loved school and enjoyed learning. I didn’t think that was weird I guess, being brought up as a home-schooled kid, where education was paramount.
The running joke was that if I wanted another animal I had to read three books about it and write a paper.
This wasn’t a one-time decision, it was baby steps. At eighteen I started at the community college; I had always wanted to be a Veterinarian and knew at least eight years of school were ahead of me. I was working two jobs and taking 18 credits per semester.
Oregon tuition was around $90/credit in 2014 and Kim didn’t have financial aid. While her grandparents encouraged her to continue her education and offered to help pay for books, she was unable to pay her entire Oregon tuition alone. Kim decided to move down to California with a friend, Molly, for cheaper tuition and better career opportunities. She had to wait one year to resume her studies while she gained residency.
K: At that point I knew I was aging…
ISO: At 19?!
K: Yes, haha! I knew I wasn’t taking the usual path toward a degree. That was the first delay.
Then I met Neal (hubby) during my first year in San Diego, he was going to school with the GI bill. He also loved education and was an encouragement to continue.
I’ll never forget when Neal, Molly and I drove up from California, we listened to a Malcolm Gladwell audiobook, he’s a scientist, and Molly was about to jump out the window! We were all “ooh mmm, that’s so interesting!” And she was beating her head against the door. I think that’s when I realized this wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea!
Neal and I got married and moved from San Diego to Eugene Oregon for him to finish his bachelors degree at U of O.
ISO: Did you continue your prep course work in Eugene?
K: Originally we thought I would continue at the community college, but the vet tech hours were not conducive to school, or life in general for that matter!
Working as a vet tech I saw what vet’s actually have to deal with and had my first existential crisis!
People don’t want to pay. It’s not like human care where people say ‘do whatever it takes, just save them!’ as a tech I was the one presenting the treatment plans and got to experience the push-back from pet owners.
ISO: Eugene was the second delay?
K: Yes, we were in Eugene for three years and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to go to school for anymore. There were a lot of gaps along the way where I could have easily just said ‘this isn’t working out, this is taking too long.’ Because there were aspects within the goal that I enjoyed, the competition and enjoyment of learning, I think those are what kept me going during the hard times. It helped that my partner, Neal, was getting his degree.
I do remember when he was shocked that I did so well early on, though. I was trying not to be offended. He may have still had a stigma against home-schoolers or something, he just didn’t know I was a smart cookie. You’re not the only smart one!
I think there is a stigma in the conservative community that woman don’t need degrees, that men are faster, stronger and smarter. I’m married to someone who is the furthest thing from a chauvinist, but I see the culture in which he was raised at times, like being surprised I got all A’s.
ISO: When did you pick school back up again?
K: We sold everything and moved back to California, Long Beach this time, for Neal to finish his Masters at UCLB.
This is where things really get interesting.
Kim pulls up a map on her phone and shows me her weekly commute, from work to four different campuses. They are all fanned out from her Long Beach location. She points out their old apartment near signal hill.
K: California schools are subsidized, so they have cheaper tuition, about 50 bucks per credit, this means everyone is going to school and the programs get impacted.
That’s why I had to travel to four different campuses to get all of my classes done. Cyprus, Compton, El Camino and Grossmont. I was driving all over tarnation!
If anyone ever asks for my transcripts it would be hysterical!
ISO: So you had decided on Nutrition sometime during your second bout in California?
K: Yes, that was my third or fourth crisis point. I knew that if we had kids, I didn’t want to be a working mom, but potentially I would need to bring in income. I narrowed it down to CPA and Nutrition. At that point I didn’t know what that meant exactly, Nutrition, as far as career paths go, but I had taken a nutrition class at Grossmont and loved it!
I had always worked in accounting and was comfortable with accounting. I knew I wanted a job with nontraditional hours.
I honestly could not decide. The pros and cons were dead even between accounting and nutrition. That was the crisis. Neal looked over the list and confirmed that the two paths were even, it was just dependent on what I wanted to do.
The whole point of doing this was for logical reasons. I’m very much a logical person, that’s just me. So, to have me do something based on passion just went against me, that wouldn’t make sense. I had thrown around the idea of becoming a chef, but I thought it would suck all the joy out of it.
Looking back know I probably should have done one of those Cordon Bleu, six months or a yearlong culinary schools and been done. That probably would have been fine!
Once I finally decided and transferred into Cal State I realized I only had one or two nutrition classes per semester. At that point I was thinking the entire four year system was a freaking joke and they were making billions of dollars by telling kids they need to have these degrees.
I don’t want to say you get what you pay for, but Cal State is a state school, it’s not a UC or a research school. I think, personally, that effected the caliber and depth of the classes. This was during the California budget crisis, they were cutting teachers salaries, still letting people into the programs but not hiring more teachers. It was crazy.
The teachers should have expected more from us. The fact that I could be a full time student and still work 30 hours a week while pregnant and be at the top of my class seemed wrong. Shouldn’t it take more than
ISO: Sounds like disillusionment was setting in, did this effect your internship
K: Not exactly. One of the reasons I didn’t pursue the internship after graduation was because the crediting body of nutrition had designed a lot of the internships to be built into the masters degree programs and there was less than a 50 percent placement rate into a program, not because students didn’t qualify, but because there were just too many students applying.
And yes, at that point I was feeling fed up with the whole education system and nine months pregnant, just feeling like you spend so much time spinning your wheels and really wanting more out of it.
We take a break to put the snacks away and Kim checks on Ezra, her eight month old son. Kim has a dish towel that reads ‘skinny bitch, please eat a cookie!’ I have a few more questions about her nutrition career.
ISO: At what point did you think maybe you should have done accounting instead of nutrition?
K: Probably when I realized I didn’t want to do clinical nutrition, and it’s very hard to monetize personal nutrition. It would be easier if I were someone who could just take the data and decide we should tell people, what they should and shouldn’t eat.
So little of what is taught to the masses about nutrition is convoluted or generalized, or just plain wrong. Nutrition does not exist in a bubble, it’s affected by individual bodies, cultures, jobs. It’s not a black and white field. I was longing for the black and white of accounting.
Nutritionists of the past would say ‘just eat a balanced diet’, but that wasn’t good enough, people wanted more specific guidelines, but now we are coming back to that.
People ask which fruits are good. Apples are good but grapes are bad, right? Because there is too much sugar in them, right?
In the United States we have made food a moral choice; it’s out of control.
ISO: Do other Countries not ascribe morality to their food?
K: Nope, not even close. You won’t see people patting themselves on the back and saying they were ‘good’ today for eating a salad, or that they are going to be ‘bad’ and have the chocolate or wine.
I want to empower people. You know what to eat! You don’t need someone to tell you exactly what to eat. You just need to realize that you need to change your lifestyle and behavior.
I feel a balanced approach to food is the reason I maintain my own weight, but no one wants to pay someone to tell them to eat a good amount of protein, healthy fats and plenty of fruits and veggies. I’m am so grateful for everything I learned. I did have a couple of good teachers in that regard who really challenged the accepted ideas.
My advice to students today: work your way through it! It is possible! Unless you get pregnant, then that’s a bummer! haha. Don’t get student loans, but don’t tell anyone school is a waste of their time or money either. Education is very valuable.
A decade later Kim’s dream is accomplished. Her ambition for a college education endured through independence, marriage, career and location changes and saw her into the next great summons, motherhood.
I asked Kim if she regretted the path she had chosen. “No,” she said, “but I would have regretted not doing it”.
And that, my friends, is reason enough for any pursuit.