Associate degree pays off in a big way for Stark State alum

Barb Carlile

The best thing about Barb Carlile’s Stark State associate degree in biotechnology may be the payoff it had … for her kids.

“We did it together,” she said. “We all sat down and did our homework at the same time. We made education a priority. When I graduated they were jumping up and down and cheering, ‘That’s my mom!’”

Not that it was easy, juggling the demands of a young family along with her schoolwork. But even before she graduated in December of 2010 with a degree in biotechnology, she was working in an internship as a research lab assistant at Phycal, an alternative energy company in Cleveland.

“Everything about my major was cool, an interaction of chemistry, biochemistry and technology,” she said. “It’s amazing what you can do with that.”

Science was the subject that sparked her interest at Jackson High School and prompted her to major in chemistry and physics at Ohio University. She dropped out of college to get married and later in life found herself unfulfilled in a sales career. During a stint as a stay-at-home mom, she knew it was the perfect time to make a change. “I got to the point where I had to put one foot forward,” she said, “and I made an appointment with an admissions counselor at Stark State.”

Her children, then ages 7 and 10, saw her as their academic role model. “I made them part of my education, and education a part of our home,” Barb said. Now they, too, envision careers in the science field. No wonder, with their mom working in a place that researches things such as a strain of vegetable that will produce more sugar for energy than corn, and using algae to make oil and jet fuel deemed top-grade by the U.S. Air Force.

The Stark State alum was the first person the company hired with an associate degree – and she’s working among peers who hail from alma maters such as Case Western Reserve University and MIT. She’s been so invigorated by her new field she’s now taking online classes in management, eying a job as a lab supervisor. “The science program I wanted wasn’t available, but I wanted to keep the momentum going,” she said.

Earning her SSC degree, she said, was challenging, but doable. “We got down to the nitty gritty right away. The classes were tough, kind of like when the balls are coming at you in a batting cage and you have to stay focused.” If you struggled at all, though, the professors were “amazing” in offering extra assistance, she said. “I can’t think of anything I’d change. Every class was extremely important – even English classes taught you to write better lab reports.”

Her associate degree transferred seamlessly to her bachelor’s program at Malone University. “They said they liked the quality of education coming out of Stark State,” she said. So all around, Stark State was the perfect choice, she said. “It’s affordable, it’s close by, professors understand when you had conflicts and were flexible. I wouldn’t change anything.”

Anyone who wants to can make a life change,” she said. “If you want to work hard and achieve your end goal, if it’s important to you, you’re going to do it. It was important to me.”