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Ashley Sodaro

Daniels alumnae shares story of going to grad school as a working mom

Editor’s note: Ashley Sodaro is an assistant director in Executive Education at the Daniels College of Business. As a full-time employee and full-time mom, Sodaro pursued a master’s in marketing at Daniels. Below, she shares her firsthand account of her journey and tips to help others juggle work and parenthood successfully while pursuing a degree.

In June, I graduated with a master’s in marketing from Daniels. The story of how I accomplished that is a bit of a winding journey.

After growing up in Oklahoma and attending Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, I took my undergraduate degree in education to Washington, D.C., where I worked for a technology company in marketing. When the company was acquired, I was relocated to Dallas, Texas, which worked out well given that I was dating a guy—Brian, now my husband—who lived there.

Sodaro with her family after graduation

Before long, I realized I was floating where the job took me. I wasn’t where I wanted to be, personally or professionally. Brian’s career allowed him to work from anywhere, so we chose to move to Denver and I focused on finding a career that used my love for education and my experience in marketing.

I started working at the Children’s Museum and at DU, both part time. I found both jobs fulfilling, but eventually ended up working full-time at DU.

DU is such a learning-rich environment, it wasn’t long before I personally felt the urge to start taking classes. I took a few leadership and marketing classes and loved being back in a classroom—learning, pushing myself, thinking differently. I quickly realized I needed to put those credits toward a degree to get the true benefit of my tuition waiver, which DU offers to all full-time employees.

So, in 2018, I decided to pursue a master’s in marketing at Daniels.

By that time, Brian and I were married and had bought a house and were ready to have children. I took classes while I was pregnant; took a break while I was on maternity leave; then started right back up again after our son, Kal Everest, was about a year old. 

I’m not going to lie to you, balancing a little one at home, a full-time job, marriage, life, relationships and grad classes is not easy. There were many times when I questioned if I was doing the right thing by focusing on school at all. I am very fortunate that my husband was so willing to take on more of the parenting and home responsibilities while I was in class because otherwise it would not have been possible. I definitely missed Kal on the evenings that I had class, but also really loved being in school.

Kal coming to class

For me, grad school was full of smart and funny classmates, invested teachers, interesting topics, in-depth discussions and a lot of late nights finishing papers. Knowing that Kal was totally fine at home made it easier to enjoy time in class. The other thing about being a working mom and taking classes meant that sometimes my husband would be traveling for work and was not readily available. Welcome to stress-land.

Not having a plan or set place for Kal to go meant asking friends, babysitters and neighbors to help out. Most of the time, I felt like everyone really wanted to help and loved spending time with Kal. The few times I couldn’t find help or muster the courage to ask, my last resort was bringing Kal to class with me. Yes, that happened. I did ask the professor in advance if it was okay, and was always conscious of the fact that test or presentation days were not the best times for a toddler to head to class, but overall my professors totally understood and were so gracious about it!

My most “mom” moment was rushing into class 20 minutes late to take a midterm with my dog Starbuck because my babysitter was running late and I had to take my dog out but then had to get to school, so I chose to bring him along. Good choice? Probably not. Entertaining choice for the class? Definitely. I earned an A in the course, my classmates loved my dog Starbuck and my professor never mentioned it again.

Long story short, different journeys and decisions might bring you back to grad school while you are balancing a new family and work but don’t let that stop you from pursuing your aspiration of getting a graduate degree. You are already a superhero, this is just a new superpower you will have.

Here are a few tips for other working moms thinking about grad school, based on my experience:

  • Remember, you can do this: You have a child, you might have given birth, you’ve gone without sleep already, you’ve most likely been pooped or barfed on recently—in other words, you’ve totally got this.
  • Ask for help: This is hard. But I can tell you right now you can’t do it completely alone and will occasionally need a helping hand. Whether it is bringing your child to class on rare occasions or discussing realistic time frames for a group project, it’s okay to be honest and ask for help.
  • Be ready to meet new people: It seems like there is either a phase of life or age we hit where meeting new people seems like more work than it’s worth. Stop that thinking right now because your fellow classmates will become closer friends than you realize. You will be working on endless group projects, leaning on each other for emotional support, group messaging about any annoyances and celebrating with each other after a great presentation or good grade comes through.
  • Buckle down and work hard: You thought your late nights were over but now, instead of sitting in a rocking chair, you’re sitting at your dining room table cranking out a paper. In the moment, homework and project work may seem insurmountable but once you finish the project, take the test, or give the presentation, you will be so proud of what you accomplished. Come up with a process or system that works for you and put it to work!

Reflecting back, I can’t tell if the journey went fast or slow. Sleep deprivation will do that to you, I suppose. As I neared the end of the degree program, I was feeling happy that I stuck with it and kept the momentum going. I had met so many great people, learned a lot and was really proud of myself for seeing it through. Now I know, if I can make it through labor and the marketing version of statistics, I can make it through anything.

Ashley Sodaro manages marketing for Daniels Executive Education, runs on the side, and occasionally teaches Salesforce.