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Heather’s Story: Non-Traditional Student Turns Challenges Into Career Opportunities


Heather proudly wearing graduation regalia

Heather Roberts is a recent alumni with a powerful story. She graduated with the Class of 2020 at the end of summer term. She double-majored in supply & logistics management and management & leadership. She was also in the School of Business Honors Program as well as the University Honors College. Before deciding to go back to school, Heather owned and operated a daycare for twelve years. She enjoyed the logistics and operations side of business, which is why she chose this field of study. She says “Stick to what you know you’re good at!” I got the chance to reconnect with her and talk about her experience at Portland State.

She told me “There is never going to be a perfect time to go to college, so go for it!” It is certainly a unique challenge to go to college while being a parent and working. Heather’s story is one of dedication, perseverance and flexibility. 

Her family consists of multiple PSU grads - her three sons graduated from PSU and her husband briefly attended as well. She wanted to go to college when she was younger, but she told me “life just happened!” When she realized her industry was changing and may lose profitability, she decided to take the opportunity to get a college degree and drive her career forward.

She told me that she loved attending school at the same time as her sons, who attended college right out of high school. She liked running into them at coffee shops and meeting their friends. She made homemade cookies during finals week to bring to her sons, their friends and professors. 

It was definitely a challenge as an older student. “Other students thought I was a teacher!” she told me, laughing. “But I was able to make connections with people in my cohort and study groups. These connections enhanced my experience and gave me deep connections with other students.”

During her time as a student, she strived to make strong connections with her professors and expand her skill sets, including improving her writing skills. “I didn’t come here to be around people like me; I came here to be challenged and have open discussions,” Heather told me. 

Heather was a commuter student and worked part-time while attending school. She lived over an hour away by Max light rail, so she limited her visits to campus to three days per week, sometimes only two. She recommends that students use the public transportation system in Portland because it makes it easy to get to campus. She bought a tablet and installed her textbooks on it so that she could study on her commute. Make the most of free time!

Heather had some amazing opportunities through PSU, including a study abroad program in Borneo. There, she helped build a micro hydro electric dam by installing a pipe that would bring electricity to remote villages in the Ula Papar region of Borneo deep in the jungle. “It was amazing! We lived in homestays in the community, totally immersed in the culture, eating and working with them. Personally, I learned to overcome obstacles. I was afraid of heights but pushed myself to cross suspended rope bridges, go into the unknown, and experience something vastly different and way out of my comfort zone.”

Heather and a team of students help to move a pipe

She also competed in the Northwest Boeing Business Competition at Portland State. This event gives students an opportunity to solve a business case involving supply and logistics. Each team has one week to develop a solution and present it. It is hard work to participate in this challenge on top of all the regular class load. Heather’s team won the PSU round and went to Seattle for the final competition. Unfortunately, the Portland State team did not win, however, Heather was able to secure an internship with Boeing by networking at this event!

I asked about her experience with graduation. “It was hard having a virtual graduation. I waited 30 years for this dream and I was really disappointed at the circumstances. But my sons and husband knew how much this meant to me and how long I waited. They surprised me by re-creating a graduation ceremony in our backyard. They ordered my regalia and everything.  There were 10 people present and a live stream of it so my family and friends could see it. They even had a close friend join me in the graduation ceremony.”

Heather and her three sons celebrating her graduation

She has advice for students who are considering applying to PSU: “Go for it! Dig in, do the work, meet your professors. Do what works for you.” 

Portland State is proud to support all of our students wherever they are in meeting their career goals. Sign up for an information session to learn how a degree from Portland State can give you the edge you need in your professional journey.