Kentucky degree, single mom starts over with a new degree

Angela Sanchez enrolled at UK at the age of 38 after touring the university with her children.  She graduated from UK this weekend with a degree in landscape architecture.

Angela Sanchez enrolled at UK at the age of 38 after touring the university with her children. She graduated from UK this weekend with a degree in landscape architecture.

Provided by the University of Kentucky

Angela Sanchez’s life changed with a tour of the University of Kentucky.

The mother of four had spent years homeschooling her children. Wanting to encourage them to pursue higher education, she took all of her children on a tour at UK. While on the tour, her “wheels were kind of turning,” and Sanchez started looking into options for herself.

Four years later, Sanchez graduated from UK on Friday morning.

When she took that tour of UK, Sanchez had recently filed for divorce and needed to re-enter the workforce to provide for her family. She had graduated from DePaul University in 2001 with a degree in Latin American studies and Spanish, and had moved a lot because of her husband’s job in the military. She had mainly been a stay-at-home mom, and her family settled in Wilmore after moving for many years.

After that first tour, she looked over the programs offered at UK, and one stood out: landscape architecture.

“When I read the description, I just fell in love,” Sanchez said.

She scheduled another tour at UK, and for every hesitation she had about enrolling, UK provided a solution, she said. She was able to get several scholarships, and at age 38, enrolled in UK’s landscape architecture program.

“It was a leap of faith,” Sanchez said.

While that meant major changes for the family, her daughter Aviana Judd said it made perfect sense to her.

“It made sense, especially since she values ​​education so much, having experienced that with her homeschooling us and putting a lot of thought into what we learned, that she would choose something that forwards her own education,” Judd said.

The choice of landscape architecture felt natural too, Judd said.

“She would landscape any house we lived in,” Judd said. “Not just plants and flowers, but I remember her measuring and drawing out things, and picking plants very thoughtfully.”

While she initially enrolled to provide for her kids, Sanchez said she started noticing growth within herself.

It was hard at first, she said. She had to learn to accept help, and to ask for help when she needed it. She utilized services at UK like the Counseling Center and Big Blue Pantry to help her family.

She also saw herself growing socially. Through her time at UK, she was also exposed to a diverse group of people. Becoming a student pushed her into new social situations. Judd said she has seen growth in her mom too, more than just academically.

“I think I seem like a new person,” Sanchez said.

Angela Sanchez 2.jpg
Angela Sanchez, left, stands with her son Cyrus inside the Greenhouse at the University of Kentucky. Sanchez graduated from UK with a degree in landscape architecture on Friday. Mark Cornelison Provided by the University of Kentucky

Though there was an age difference between herself and other students, they were all in a similar place in life: starting a new chapter and attending classes. The younger students helped teach her about technology, and Sanchez said she was able to provide a mother-like figure for students who had just moved away from home. Landscape architecture is a small major, with about 25 people admitted each year, and quickly became like a second family to her.

“We just helped each other survive,” Sanchez said of her fellow students.

Jordan Phemister, a lecturer who taught Sanchez, said he has seen Sanchez triumph during her time at UK.

“She has navigated and balanced raising and nurturing amazing children, pursuing a time and energy-intensive major, working outside of school and persevering through personal challenges that would knock many people to their knees,” Phemister said. “She has succeeded on all fronts with grit, creativity and optimism.”

Her son, Cyrus, is a freshman at UK, and Judd will start at UK this fall. Sanchez has accepted a job at a design firm in Lexington, and her job will include designing city parks, something she is looking forward to.

“What I learned is that the worst moment, when you’re just failing and you’re on your face, has the greatest potential for growth if you choose to take it,” Sanchez said.

Monica Kast covers higher education for the Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com. Previously, she covered higher education in Tennessee for the Knoxville News Sentinel. She is originally from Louisville, Kentucky, and is a graduate of Western Kentucky University.
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