Since the mid-1990s, Lysa Young-Bates has struggled to find the right place and timing for her education.
Moves, motherhood and career opportunities all prolonged the process, but her dream of completing a degree remained throughout the years.
The ambition endured from when she first started taking classes at Houston’s Lone Star College in 1995 until she enrolled in the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ College of Business Administration in 2017.
But while she was always optimistic that the right time would come, her uncertainty followed throughout the decades, too.
Unsure of where to enroll or when to begin, Young-Bates started a graphic design and marketing career in Houston. Here, she developed a strong network and reputation, so she was comfortable putting her educational aspirations on hold.
But then a family move sent her to St. Louis in 2008.
While she was again optimistic about the transition, she also knew it meant looking for work in the heart of the Great Recession without a degree and without the connections she’d worked to develop.
As months passed searching for opportunities, she became increasingly aware of the steps she would need to take.
“I realized at that point that completing my degree was really important, but I just didn’t feel like I was at the right time and place to do it,” Young-Bates said. “I don’t know why I felt that way, so I started scrambling.”
This determination led her to an entrepreneurial path, where she started LifeChapters LLC, a one-person design and marketing firm that supported professional photographers and marketers worldwide.
“I knew there was such a strong design and marketing community in St. Louis, but people weren’t hiring at that time,” Young-Bates said. “So I thought, ‘If I focus on something very specific and also have more of a global focus, looking for customers throughout the United States and beyond, I could have more opportunity for success.’”
The business began with postproduction activities, particularly photo editing and wedding album design, and continued to evolve over the next nine years as Young-Bates began development work for nonprofits and marketing projects for corporate clients.
But even as her business grew, she knew her ultimate goal was to return to school – an ambition that further developed as she became a mother.
“I’m really glad that I started my business,” she said. “In doing that, you realize all of the other factors that go into owning and operating and all of the different hats that you get to wear.
“But then I became a mom, and that changed my trajectory, too. When my daughter got into school, I realized that I’ve had this wish of finishing my degree tucked deep in my heart for such a long time, and now is the time to do it.”
Even after finding the right time to enroll in UMSL’s marketing program, a new set of considerations rose to the surface. Seemingly simple choices – what classes to take, what campus organizations to be involved in – were not immune to her introspection.
“Going into business administration was a little scary because I always thought of myself as a creative person,” said Young-Bates, who started her return to school at St. Louis Community College. “But once I got into it, I realized that I actually really love it. It’s been a natural pathway for me.”
Along with learning the foundation of business strategy and data analytics, Young-Bates’ educational journey was also one of self-discovery. She pushed herself to balance studies, motherhood, work, volunteering and about a dozen campus activities.
“Returning as an older student, my life situation is really different,” she said. “But the experience has been amazing. Doing things that were scary, taking classes that I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is going to be really, really hard,’ have been the classes that I felt helped me grow the most. You come out of those realizing that you have so much more inside of you than you may give yourself credit for.”
She overcame these early apprehensions to graduate on Sunday with a certificate from the Pierre Laclede Honors College, a 4.0 GPA and as a member of multiple honor societies.
During her UMSL tenure, Young-Bates also was recruited as a supplemental instructor for probability and statistics courses, a teaching assistant for the Social and Digital Media Lab and as a student marshal for the College of Business Administration’s commencement ceremony.
“For me, I’ve been really appreciative of the foundation UMSL provided,” she said. “I feel like I’m better prepared now to go back into a corporate setting and lead conversations and bring more of the foundational understanding for marketing decisions and strategy. I think that is what I wanted to achieve coming back to school, and UMSL has absolutely delivered.”
In preparation for her final semester, Young-Bates dissolved LifeChapters to dedicate time to her 19-hour course load and to further consider her next career move.
While there are still some unknowns in her future, she is confident in her full potential. For the first time since moving to St. Louis, she believes the right timing, proper preparation and a strong network have all aligned.
“Marketers now have so much more that is expected of us,” she said. “We need to know how to write, create experiences that are compelling, understand data, which is the intersection of all these things that I developed over time. It’s the perfect time for me in the way that marketing is changing. It’s really exciting.”