Debbie Cascio, the oldest of eight siblings, and Alice Marks, the youngest in the family, are adding two more accomplishments to the family tree: associate's degrees.
This spring, Cascio of Warrenville earned her Associate in General Studies degree from College of DuPage, while Marks of Lombard earned her Associate's Degree in Nursing. Both are returning adults, and while they didn't plan on attending school together, they can't shake the feeling that it was meant to be.
"Our mom is so excited," Marks said. "She is coming up from Florida just to celebrate with us."
Cascio originally came to College of DuPage fresh out of high school, staying for two quarters. But with no direction, she entered the workforce as an administrative assistant with the encouragement of her mother. After marrying and having children, she stayed at home before returning to work in customer service. Then she moved to the National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, where she currently works as undergraduate coordinator and international admissions counselor.
"I'm happy at the university and I love what I do, but if something happened to my job or I decided to move on, it's likely I wouldn't be considered because this field now requires a degree," she said. "As I encouraged other women to pursue their degrees at National, I realized I should take my own advice. I told myself 'one semester' and then I'd see how I felt. To my own surprise, I loved it!"
Cascio enjoyed the variety of classes she was required to take, from history to sociology.
"Every piece of knowledge I gained made me a better person," she said. "I also took classes just for fun that often led me to explore new things. For example, I enrolled in a hiking class that included a week-long trip."
Marks originally attended a cosmetology school after high school and worked as a beautician. But she was ready for something different. Seven years ago, she started taking her general education requirements at College of DuPage -- one class at a time. With three children, she knew it wouldn't be easy.
"I had a friend who told me, 'Ten years will pass regardless of whether you go to school or not,' so I decided to do it," she said. "I love working with people and wanted a career that allowed me to do so. Once I was accepted into the Nursing program, I knew the next two years would be intensive. It felt long and yet it went by very fast."
Marks credits her instructors, especially Nursing Professor Dilyss Gallyot, for "giving me more confidence in myself."
Both women spoke about the many friendships they made in their classes and were surprised at the number of nontraditional-aged students on campus.
"There is anxiety being a non-traditional student, but I was always treated just like any other student and my professors appreciated and acknowledged my hard work. It's been such an empowering journey," Cascio said.
Marks currently works at a pulmonologist's office and plans to start on her bachelor's degree in six months. Cascio's goal is to enroll at Columbia College in St. Louis to complete an online
bachelor's degree program.
"Returning to school so much later in life has made my confidence go through the roof," Cascio said. "It's a soul-satisfying experience. If I could give advice to someone out there contemplating this huge undertaking, it would be to start now and don't wait. Challenging yourself with an education reaps rewards that you can't even imagine. And getting your first 'A' feels like a golden halo was placed on your head. It's the best!"