Non-traditional student overcomes obstacles and discovers empowerment through education

Psychology major Kizzie Bell, 40, took the long road to education. At 16, she had her first child, and her path was forever changed. Her pregnancy was considered high-risk due to the fact that she has sickle cell disease, and she left her traditional high school as a result. Three years after her scheduled graduation date, she received her high school diploma through an independent study program, but was too intimidated to strive for a college degree.

“For years I had low confidence and self-esteem in my professional life because I lacked a formal education,” Bell said. “I finally took a leap of faith and decided not to allow fear to keep me away from getting a college degree any longer.”

Bell chose Georgia Gwinnett College because it was affordable and a good value, and because of its reputation as the fastest growing four-year college in Georgia. She also favored the smaller class sizes that felt more welcoming.

Once on campus, Bell discovered herself and her capabilities due in large part to her professors. Each time she would experience crippling self-doubt, one of her professors would give her much needed motivation and support that gave her strength and encouragement.

“My education has been a collaborative effort with my professors, many of whom shaped me into the person I am today as a senior here at GGC,” she said. “Dr. Karen Jackson set time aside for me monthly in order to help direct my next plan. Dr. Stephan Desrochers simply made a comment to me that he ‘expected better.’ With those words, he strengthened how much I believed in myself. Dr. Aris Winger waited for me to get off work at night in order for him to tutor me in statistics.”

Being a teen mom profoundly impacted Bell's life and gave her the desire to lead her child and other teens by example. Bell now works passionately to better the lives of teens in her community through her part-time job at the YMCA and volunteer work with the youth ministry at her church.

“I’m interested in providing a place where teens can learn to become productive members of society,” Bell said. “I can’t expect them to know how to behave if good behavior isn’t modeled for them. I want to provide a place that will give them the exposure they need to think outside of their environment. My passion for teens drives me because it’s never too late to change their minds about who they want to become.”

After graduation, Bell plans to work at a large non-profit as a director and eventually develop an organization that will serve youth and young adults in education, work force skills, and resume writing, and be a safe place to hang out.

But for now she says, “I’ve learned to stop thinking so much about my future and to slow down and enjoy the ride. I’m enjoying being present in the moment.”