By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri‑Cities

When it comes to education, Vanessa Moore shines as the quintessential example of patience, determination and endurance.

In December, Moore completed her bachelor’s degree in business administration at Washington State University Tri‑Cities. But she didn’t do it in a flurry. She earned it one class at a time over 40 years. That’s right, 40 years.

As a current employee at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, she said she now has a sense of professional security and knowledge that she will utilize throughout her professional career.

Her journey began in the mid‑1970s when she got involved in business programming as a student at Hanford and Richland High Schools. That triggered an interest in business and led her to participate in the Cooperative Office Education program and in Future Business Leaders of America.

Deciding to pursue a degree in business administration, she chose to attend WSU in Pullman, because she liked the smaller university size and the close‑knit community atmosphere.

“My plan was to go for five years and get two degrees — one in accounting and the other in business administration,” she said. “But plans change.”

Switching gears midcareer

Moore got married in the spring of 1976 and decided to continue her education by pursuing an associate’s at Columbia Basin College in Pasco. While raising two sons, she took one class at a time at CBC before earning her associate’s. The slow process allowed her to focus on her family, while gradually working toward her degree. All the while, her husband managed his family’s business.

“I was fortunate to be a stay at home mom at the time, so I was able to take one class at a time and study,” she said. “I wouldn’t have to be away from home that much. I could fit study time in between. And all the while, I could make sure there was no financial burden on our family.”

In 1985, Moore returned to the workforce, holding various positions with Bank of America, until taking a job with a contractor at Hanford. With improved financial security, she said complacency set in, and she took a break from school. A few years later, she was laid off due to workforce restructuring.

Knowing that getting her bachelor’s degree would provide her with a safer foundation in the future, she enrolled at WSU Tri‑Cities in 2009. Once again, taking one class at a time.

“I never wanted to be in that position again — not having a bachelor’s,” she said. “I remember looking at the job postings when I wasn’t working, thinking, ‘Sure I have years of relevant experience, but you have to have a degree.’ It motivated me to get back in and go until I was finished. You always want to be prepared.”

Why WSU Tri‑Cities?

Moore said WSU Tri‑Cities provided a great local option for higher education, as well as the rigor and reputation of an established business program. And, many of her family members are WSU Cougs. Moore’s brother, Duke Mitchell, previously served on the WSU Tri‑Cities Advisory Council, and on the board at Columbia Basin College.

“Of the six of us siblings, four of us are Cougs,” she said. “It’s special knowing that you all have this connection to the same school.”

While studying at WSU Tri‑Cities, Moore said she relished the interaction she got from the diverse group of students on campus, as well as her professors. The age range of the students, she said, provided an atmosphere in which she felt comfortable with people her own age, as well as  with younger traditional-aged students.

Her age allowed her to connect to current events, and to offer explanations that sometimes helped younger peers.

“I was able to provide my perspective of what it was like in the real-world, and I think some of the other students appreciated that,” she said.

She also enjoyed the classes, themselves. From her business programming, which is directly applicable in her current position at PNNL as a staffing coordinator for the work‑based learning department, to her core‑curricular classes ranging from history to science, she said there was always something applicable to her life to be gained.

Her business courses were taught by professors, who, in conjunction with their role as educators at WSU Tri‑Cities, also held current or former jobs out in the business sector.

And while on her educational journey, Vanessa used what she learned to co‑found three companies and guide two charitable organizations through the nonprofit solidification and requirements process.

A bachelor’s degree is worth it

Having landed her degree, she said it feels surreal driving to work every day to PNNL and passing WSU Tri‑Cities without having to go to class, but that the effort was worth it.

“I am very grateful for my experience here and the people I came to know and what I have gained as a result,” she said. “Getting my degree was important to me, and I wanted to finish it without accruing any student loans. The feeling of completion and accomplishment and knowing that I did well is so validating.”

She also is thankful to her family and PNNL for their support.

“My husband, Leonard Moore, was so supportive of it all and patient in understanding why it was important for me,” she said. “He, I and the boys kind of went on this journey together …. I am also thankful to my employer for the tuition reimbursement program, and to my colleagues. My manager at work was so excited for me when I finished.”

Moore’s brother, Duke Mitchell, said seeing his sister graduate from WSU after all these years is inspiring.

“In my opinion, higher education is one of the primary keys to success in life for everyone, not only now, but throughout history,” he said. “I am so proud of Vanessa … She has raised children and helped raise grandchildren and she has always been a great role model for everyone throughout the years. Her graduation from WSU now is just one more example of her strength and character.”

Don’t wait and lose out

Moore encourages people to take advantage of the opportunities while they are younger.

“It definitely got harder as I got older — the ability to stay up late and study and remember it all. I noticed a big difference in my 60s as compared to my 40s.”

She also encourages people to think about the earning potential and possibilities at stake without a bachelor’s degree.

“Think of the earning power that was lost and the opportunities,” she said of her years without a university degree. “There are a lot of benefits that come with a bachelor’s degree. Don’t wait and lose out on those opportunities.”


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