Adult hand holding child’s hand.

Balancing Act:
Stories from CSU Student-Parents

Between raising kids and getting an education, these students manage a tight schedule. Take a peek into the lives they lead to give their all in the classroom and at home.

 

They may not wear a cape or a shirt emblazoned with a giant “S” (at least not to class), but supermoms and superdads can be found all over CSU campuses.

We spoke with six student-parents to see how they juggle a demanding academic schedule, raising children and, very often, working.

Steven Sutherland walking down outdoor stairs with his daughter.

Steven Sutherland

CSU SAN MARCOS | BUSINESS MARKETING

If you spot Steven Sutherland hurrying across the CSUSM campus to a meeting for a group project or a student networking event, he usually has a pint-sized companion in tow—his two-year-old daughter Julianna.

“[She] actually comes with me on campus a lot,” he says. “At networking events, a lot of the time, my daughter's right there next to me. I'll put her in a little dress and I'll make sure that she's got snacks and a teddy bear or something to try to keep her calm.”

Steven brushing his daughter’s hair. Steven and his daughter brushing their teeth.

Because Sutherland’s wife Gina works full-time as an operations manager at a dental practice to provide for the family, he’s the one at home with their daughter during the week. Understanding classmates and professors—like the faculty advisor who held Julianna on her lap while Sutherland rehearsed the final presentation for his Senior Experience Project—have made it a lot easier to balance school with parenting. (While he is in class two days a week, a woman from the couple’s church cares for Julianna.)

But time is nearly always tight for the business marketing major. Saturdays often mean eight hours of studying in a Starbucks and many are the late nights he spends with his laptop and textbooks. That way, he can also dedicate evenings to Gina and “not just dump the baby on her,” he explains.

Steven reading a children’s book with his wife and daughter. Steven reading in the campus library.

Sutherland credits his “hardworking wife” and his faith for helping him overcome his struggle with depression and inspiring him to earn his degree after he left the Air Force in 2015. And, he says that while he’s enjoyed his time at CSUSM, he’s ready to move on to greater things and join his wife back in the workforce. On track to graduate with his bachelor’s degree in 2020, he plans to go into the recruitment industry or entry-level management.

By accomplishing this feat, he hopes to set an example for Julianna.

“I always thought of hanging our degrees on the wall and giving her something to look at as she gets older—something to aspire to,” says Sutherland. “I want her to be able to see that Mom and Dad have accomplished something. That makes me more motivated to go on in the times that I'm feeling like I want to just stop.”


22% of undergraduate students are parents

– U.S. Department of Education


Arlene Gutierrez playing video games with her son and daughter.

Arlene Gutierrez

CSU CHANNEL ISLANDS | SOCIOLOGY

Gutierrez’s days are full. The sociology major and developmental psychology minor at CSU Channel Islands balances 14 units with a part-time job in retail and raising three-year-old Lorenzo and two-year-old Aubrey.

“I always told myself: I'm going to graduate high school, I'm going to go to college, I want to be the first one in my family to do this,” says Gutierrez, a first-generation student. “Having both my parents not have that much of an education in their life is what pushed me to be even better than that, because growing up we were a low-income family. I didn't want that for myself or for my kids.”

Arlene and her son getting out of the car. Arlene with her fiancé, son, and daughter.

With help from her fiancé and his mother, Gutierrez sticks to a strict schedule to get everything done. A particularly busy day starts with a 6:30 a.m. wake-up call to get Lorenzo and Aubrey dressed and to preschool and daycare before her first class.

Arlene working at her classroom’s whiteboard.

Later, Gutierrez will drive her son from preschool to daycare. After studying for a few hours in the library or meeting with her academic advisor, she takes both kids home for some time together before heading back to campus for her evening class.

“The entire day is just trying to get through the day-by-day-by-day, because there are days where I … lose out on hours of sleep,” she says. “For me, as long as my kids are happy and my grades are good, I feel like losing out on a couple hours of sleep is okay for me.”

Once she graduates, Gutierrez has her sights set on a master’s degree in social work; she’d like to become a social worker who helps children and adolescents in need.

“I want to be able to have a good career where I can sooner or later have my own place, be able to pay my bills and set a good example to my children to let them know: yes, you may come across difficult times in your life, but if you keep pushing, you will succeed in life and be able to be proud of yourself at the end of the day.”


“Every day when I wake up and I look at my children, I just know what I'm doing is for the best for them.”

– ​Arlene Gutierrez


IT TAKES A CAMPUS COMMUNITY

To help student-parents succeed at school and at home, many CSU campuses provide resources that help ensure students get all the classes they need to graduate, receive necessary financial aid and can access services needed to care for their children while they’re in class or studying.

“Being a student-parent is a bigger commitment; we recognize that,” says Ana Aguayo-Bryant, Ed.D., Assistant Director of Student Programs in Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at the CSU Office of the Chancellor. “Our campuses are friendly to students who are parents, from financial aid to the different course offerings in different formats to meet their needs and make higher education accessible.”

Student-parents can apply for financial aid and academic support programs like the Educational Opportunity Program, which serves first-generation and low-income students by offering academic assistance, priority registration and other services. Many campuses also offer online and evening classes so those with children can create a course schedule that fits their lives.

In addition, 20 of our 23 campuses house on-site child development or daycare centers. “The centers really are for the students,” stresses Dr. Aguayo-Bryant, “s​o the students have the peace of knowing that their children are safe and they’re in good learning environments while they’re going to class.”

MEET FOUR MORE CSU STUDENT-PARENTS

Rachael Thacker and her family in the snow.

RACHAEL THACKER

HUMBOLDT STATE | COMMUNICATIONS

A first-generation student, Thacker enrolled at Humboldt State to finish her four-year degree after the Coast Guard stationed her family in the area in 2014. When she’s not in class, the mom of 16-year-old Gabbi and 13-year-old Paige also works part-time in the university’s communications office, volunteers and spends time with friends and family.

“I had to just accept that life as a student and a mom wasn't going to look the same as it did before,” she says. “Dinner isn't cooked, laundry isn't always done, and sometimes I have to call in some favors. I just try to remember that the most important part of parenting is making a connection with your child each day. … Our culture expects women to work like they don't have a family and parent like they don't have a job, and that just isn't realistic or healthy.”

Genet Tesfai carrying her two sons.

GENET TESFAI

FRESNO STATE | SOCIOLOGY

Tesfai returned to school to provide a better life for herself and her twin seven-year-old sons, Tesfai and Nak-fa, after she became a single mother. As a student, she often wakes up between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. to complete assignments during the quiet morning hours so she can save the evening for helping her boys with homework, making dinner and spending time together.

“I knew if I wanted a healthy and safe life for us, I had to get back up. I had to make changes; going back to school to get an education was one of the best choices I made,” she says. “Going to school has given me a better understanding of the world and confidence. I want to prove to my sons that no matter what obstacles you endure, you can accomplish anything.”

Yuliana Rosas and her son lying in the grass.

YULIANA ROSAS

CAL POLY POMONA | SOCIOLOGY

During her first year at Cal Poly Pomona, Rosas found herself and her son Adrian homeless. Campus staff connected her with CPP’s survivor advocacy services, which helped her locate a nearby women’s shelter. With their support, she was also able to enroll her son, now five, in the on-campus children’s center and ultimately find a permanent place to live.

“The campus provided me with so much help and support; I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for the help of my school,” she says. “Thanks to them, I am in a better place. I’m in a stable home, a healthy environment and living with so much peace.”

Amilya Franzen and her daughter at a Disney theme park.

AMILYA FRANZEN

SACRAMENTO STATE | CHILD DEVELOPMENT

Franzen had her daughter Alani when she was a sophomore in high school, but that didn’t stop her from pursuing an education. After graduating from a continuation high school program geared toward young parents, she attended a community college and then transferred to Sacramento State. She’s set to graduate this year.

“I wanted to be independent, and I didn't want to have to depend on anybody,” she says. “I knew that the way the economy is going in jobs, you needed a degree. That was the drive for me to keep pushing through and continue my education.”

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