Grandmother. Diehard New Orleans Saints fan. Online college student.
Liz Matthews, 59, is all of the above. In about another year, she'll upgrade her status from student to graduate when she completes the Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice online program at LSU Alexandria.
"I went to LSUA in the late 1970s when I got out of high school," she said. "I got married, had kids and didn't finish. I didn't realize your credits don't go away. Last year when I switched jobs, I thought about going back. I had some personal issues, some life changing events that made me realize even more the importance of family. And I decided to do something for myself."
Matthews originally enrolled at LSUA to prepare for a career in special education. Once she returned and discovered how close she was to an associate degree, she decided to take it a step further and earn a bachelor's degree.
"They prefer a bachelor's degree where I work," said Matthews. "I said, 'Okay, let me see what I can do.' I have 13 years of law enforcement experience. I'm a POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) certified corrections officer."
The online format has worked out well for Matthews. In addition to her full-time job as a Workforce Professional at the Rapides Parish Police Jury, Matthews works on Sundays at her church's nursery and spends as much time as she can with her grandchildren and, of course, rooting for the Saints.
"I like online classes," she said. "I'm divorced, and I have no children at home. I have nothing I have to worry about when I get home. I can put everything aside. I can do some classwork over my lunch break at the office."
Matthews was born and raised in Alexandria. Her father was a major in the sheriff's office, which eventually helped lead her into a career in law enforcement.
"I've worked for the city, parish and state," she said. "I grew up in politics. Sometimes that was a good thing, sometimes it was a bad thing."
Her parents also owned a local gas and diesel company they purchased from her grandfather. Matthews ran that company for eight years before she went to work at a juvenile psychiatric hospital the local sheriff had opened. Two years later, the hospital closed. She then became that sheriff's human resources administrator, a position she held for a decade.
"A lot of my law enforcement experience is HR-related, policy-and-procedure-related," she said. "My minor is going to be psychology, so that will assist in what I do now. It's going to help out a lot."
Most of her current job entails visiting college campuses and providing grants to nursing and education majors who are close to graduation. "Of course, none for me," she joked.
Matthews believes that earning a criminal justice degree will not only continue to enhance her skills and knowledge, but it will also open up more career opportunities.
"I had thought about earning a degree, but the jobs I had didn't require it," she said. "I have two children -- one is a college graduate, one is not. They're both successful in what they do. It was just kind of something that was a personal thing. I wanted to be able to do it before I retire. I'm not going to retire for a long time."
Eye on the Prize
Matthews enjoys the pace of the online program. She typically takes two courses at a time, although she said she might try three in future sessions, and works on school about 20 hours per week.
"I like to have freedom," she said. "Online classes are 16 weeks of work in seven weeks, so I'm taking a full schedule. It works for me."
Her favorite criminal justice course so far is CJUS 3025: Ethical Leadership in Criminal Justice.
"I liked it," Matthews said. "It's an interesting subject matter. Plus, I had personal experiences working in government agencies."
She has also enjoyed plenty of encouragement since she returned to LSUA, which has helped motivate her to work hard.
"My daughter stays on me about school," Matthews said. "If I want to venture off during the week and do something different, she says, 'No, do this, mother.' My friends have been really supportive. It's nice.
"I keep my grandchildren a lot mainly because I enjoy them, but my daughter-in-law will say no sometimes and get my daughter or their grandfather to watch them. She says, 'You need to do your schoolwork.' They're very supportive and very proud."
She has also learned that one of the most important elements of online education is time management.
"You definitely need to be able to manage your time," Matthews said. "You have to be disciplined. You can't just go through the motions. You have to put yourself in there. You can't just wing it and take the test. There's more to it."
Matthews will spend the next year maintaining a very busy schedule with school and work. But with the help of the flexibility of the online format, she will still have time to spend with her family and cheer for the black and gold.
"We love our Saints," she said. "I'm a big NFL person. We try to make one or two games. It just kind of depends on what's going on."
Matthews is glad she decided to return to college after a long hiatus.
"I figured after so many years, I'd have to start over," she said. "When they told me I didn't, I thought, 'If I would have known that, I could have had a Ph.D. by now.' I will stop at a bachelor's degree -- I promise."
Learn more about the LSUA online BS in Criminal Justice program.
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