|Paying it forward for family
Aisha Jill Morgan gives her stepdaughter the gift of an education
Between 48-hour shifts at the Marin County Fire Department and raising her six-year-old son, Rachael Phillips found it difficult to find the resources to go back to school, a problem recognized quickly by her stepmother, Aisha Jill Morgan. An alumna of University of Phoenix with her Master’s Degree in education, Morgan is no stranger to the worth of a good college education and the positive change it can bring to someone’s life.
“I’m a life-long learner; I don’t go a day without learning something,” she says, having worked in the field for almost 40 years. “Education comes in every activity and interaction we have if we want to approach life as an opportunity to learn.”
Education is not free, nor is it particularly convenient for those with a busy lifestyle, which is exactly the reason Morgan’s gift to her stepdaughter is so invaluable and why the University of Phoenix began the Paying it Forward scholarship back in 2006. Offered to all alumni, it was an opportunity for Morgan to provide Phillips with a full scholarship so her stepdaughter could attend one of the university’s numerous online Bachelor’s programs.
After the application process, including an essay explaining her situation and why continuing her education is so vital to her, Phillips became one of 30 recipients to receive full tuition this year. Valid at any of its 200 nationwide campuses, she chose online courses, providing her with the ability to work with students from all over the country all striving for a similar goal from the convenience of their own home.
“I had tried online school before, but it just wasn’t structured enough,” said Phillips, who is able to turn in papers from her laptop or an easy iPhone application. She explains counselors are available by phone anytime of the day, making her feel on campus wherever she may be.
“It’s perfectly suited for my lifestyle and feels completely legitimate in its quality. This is my campus. Everywhere I go is my school.”
A Rohnert Park resident since 1992, Morgan works with teachers and policymakers nationwide in order to implement new tests, rubrics and manuals for children learning English as a second language. Her flawless ability to apply teaching into every aspect of her life comes naturally; appointed by Jake Mackenzie to the city’s bicycle coalition, she also teaches yoga and is a volunteer speaker for the Islamic Networks Group, whose motive is to educate Americans on Muslims and Islam in the country. Currently, she is involved in a trial for a new version of language testing which will be employed to schools in upcoming years.
“The Paying it Forward Scholarship makes you feel like someone believes in what you’re doing,” says Phillips as she breathlessly explains how shocked she was to receive it. “I’m excited and really grateful. It makes me work even harder, because I really want to prove that I deserve it. And I want to make sure that I’m earning it all the time.”
Having finished her General Education transfer requirements in 2000 at Santa Rosa Junior College, Phillips went on to paramedic school and attempted to continue toward a Bachelor’s about three years ago, but found it difficult to continue. In 2010, because of a severe back injury, Phillips realized she would eventually need a less physically demanding job but wished to remain in the Emergency Medical Services (EMS). By spring 2014, she hopes to have her Bachelor’s in heath administration with a concentration in health management and feels driven to improve the gap between the state’s healthcare and EMS.
“The people who don’t have access to healthcare call EMS, because we treat emergencies. They use us as their regular care since they can’t afford to walk into a doctor’s office.” She hopes to interlace these two key services so hospitals and paramedics can work mutually and serve citizens no matter their financial situation.
Stationed in Point Reyes and responsible for the entire peninsula area, Phillips, who has been a firefighter for 11 years and a CPR instructor for 14, spends her shifts doing physical and fire training, EMS drills and regular inspections all between regular calls.
“I think what is really exciting about it is you never know what you’re going to see,” she says about her job. “You can come across anything. Anytime the phones could ring and you could be cutting a car apart, or going over a cliff…any situation.”
Online education is clearly ideal for the unpredictability of her career, but because participating students are from various locations, Phillips touches upon the idea of schooling as a type of timeless social network, separate from popular media sites.
“Not only does it give you the ability to learn, but it teaches you how to connect with people in a way that you otherwise would not.”
Determined to prove herself in such a fortunate opportunity, she began taking classes this past winter soon after she received confirmation the scholarship had indeed been granted. She had structured the rest of her life around her online classes, never taking a moment or ounce of information for granted.
“It’s what you take from school that you then put into relationships in your life; that’s the value of education. It’s not how much money you make or what you’ve done. I’m based on what I have learned, and I’m going to share that with others as well.”
Phillips compares the Paying it Forward Scholarship to the idea of people paying for the drink of the customer in line behind them in hopes the good deed will continue down the line. Morgan, however, passes on something much more valuable then a cup of coffee, and because Phillips is so passionate in her new educational career, it is certain she will be steadfast in continuing the favor by sharing her enthusiasm with everyone she meets.