For associate business professor Beverly Holmes, everything is a story.
Or at the very least, everything starts as a story, before morphing into a opportunity to learn.
A story about how she got her professional start is a lead into a lesson on statements of cash flow. A yarn about her favorite high heels spins out into a chestnut about the importance of getting enough exercise. And a narrative about how it took her more than 20 years to finish her bachelors degree turns into a talk on the importance of mentorship and planning.
That last one, Holmes says, is her favorite anecdote to share with students, particularly those who have also had unconventional paths to earning a degree.
Path to APU
Holmes said she always loved school — it was her refuge and favorite place. It was something that simply made sense. So when she was accepted to San Jose State University in her hometown, she jumped at the chance to continue her education — the first in her family to do so.
There she bounced around from one degree path to another, trying on everything from Art to History to Business on for size.
“It was all so fun and exciting, but the problem was I didn’t have a plan,” Holmes said. “And because I was the first in my family to go to college and was at a school with so many students, there wasn’t anyone to show me the way and I didn’t have any support. Plus, it was the height of the hippy days, the summer of love, so I had a hard time focusing.”
To pay for her schooling, Holmes worked at the front desk of a Holiday Inn. It was there that she met a young man from Fairbanks who wooed her with tales of the endless summer sunlight and the promise adventure in the 49th state.
Unsure of where she was going with her education, she decided to take a chance on Alaska instead. Soon she’d talked a couple friends into moving from California to the Last Frontier with her. The trio (and their collective four dogs) piled into a car bought for $100, and spent a few weeks during the summer of 1971 driving up the ALCAN Highway. Once in Alaska, Holmes found employment at another hotel.
“My life was going well, I had a job I enjoyed and was good at, but I kept having this nagging desire to go back to school,” Holmes said. “It was unfinished business.”
In the years that followed, she moved up through the ranks at the hotel and she took a couple classes at other area schools, but didn’t feel like her brain and their teaching styles meshed. She enrolled and dropped out four more times. Eventually, she heard from a friend of a friend that APU was finalizing the accreditation process of a degree completion program.
“I wasn’t sure, because I had so many credits from different places, no path towards completing anything and didn’t want to feel like I’d failed again,” Holmes said. “But I came in and sat down with a Business Admin who put a spreadsheet in front of me showing this is what I have, this is what I need, this is the plan to get from here to graduation. All of the sudden it felt attainable.”
From student to educator
By 1995, Holmes had finished her bachelors degree in Organizational Management, more than 20 years after starting college for the first time. It only took her until 1998 to get her masters degree, also from APU. It was then that she started teaching as an adjunct business professor, a role she maintained until 2007, when she was hired on full-time.
Holmes said one of the more rewarding parts of her job is helping adult students find their own paths to a degree and their dream careers.
“Students come in, just like I did, desperate for more, but not sure how to get there,” Holmes said. “I get to be the person who gets to make that happen for them. It’s magic.”
Her other driving force is the satisfaction of students “Aha!” moments — when the light for students clicks on and the material makes sense or when they realize they’re capable of more.
Her fondest memory in her time at APU, she said, was when a professor of her’s helped nurture her “Aha!” moment.
While sitting in one of her bachelors degree classes, Holmes and her classmates were tasked with coming up with the answer to a problem. When all of the other students started presenting their answers, Holmes realized hers was way left field.
“I felt so overwhelmed and intimidated,” Holmes said. “When the professor asked for mine, I put my head down and told it was really different from everybody else’s answers. She told me that it was ok, and to tell her my answer anyway.”
It turned out, Holmes had the only correct answer.
“I was floored,” Holmes said. “And I knew I’d be OK after that, because I’d found a safe learning environment. It’s so vivid to me, because I knew that day that I could get a college degree.”
Next year will mark Holmes’ 20th year teaching at APU, a milestone she said she never would have perdicted for herself as a young woman in California.
“People ask me why I’ve stayed with APU so long, and I say, ‘because APU,” Holmes said. “Because of what it’s mean to me, what my time here has given me. People will tell me how loyal I am to APU, but it’s more than that. I’m emotionally attached.”