Mom of 6 went from caring for the ‘screaming masses’ to getting a bachelor’s degree in 3 years
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.
While Carmen Staicer began raising what became a total of six children, she created a blog.
“My kids were really small. I had six kids in 11 years,” said the Virginia Beach, Virginia, resident, who in May 2022 will graduate from Arizona State University. “Two were special needs. It was perpetually loud all the time.”
So she named her blog, “Momtothescreamingmasses,” all one word.
“It was pretty well-received. I was interviewed by a couple of news stations,” said Staicer, 52. “People liked that I didn’t sugarcoat things. I’d say, 'Hey, this is what’s going on.'”
The attention landed her a longtime writing and editing job in social media that she could do from home while attending to her children. It helped acclimate her to pursuing an online degree, since she had spent so much time online for her job.
Today, Staicer has earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in community advocacy and social policy from the School of Social Work at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, with a minor in criminology and criminal justice.
Her returning to school after many years wasn’t much of an impediment to her success, she said, but sometimes, a lack of self confidence was.
“I wasn’t a good student when I was younger, and I had family members who were good students,” Staicer said. “There was the smart one, the pretty one and me. I was, ‘Get a 'C' and it’ll be OK.’”
Staicer’s decision to return to school shocked some of her family. “They said, ‘You? Going back to school?’ I was offended by that. It was really good for me that I could handle this and all the challenges that come with being an older student: a spouse, mortgage, children, grandchildren, job, other things that younger students may not have all at once.”
She said it has been a challenge physically, too. Staicer works at Starbucks, getting her degree through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, the coffee chain’s partnership with ASU for employees to earn their degree online with full tuition coverage.
“I’m at work at 4 a.m., then I take care of my 2-year-old granddaughter. Then I cook, and then I have study time,” Staicer said. “I’ve been known to fall asleep at inconvenient times.”
She fought off the recurring voice in her head telling her to quit, taking six classes a semester and continuing to enroll during summers. Staicer, who has children in college, is getting her bachelor’s degree in three years.
Read on to learn more about Staicer’s ASU journey:
Question: Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?
Answer: I live in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I've lived here since I was almost 5. I had thought a bit about moving when I graduated high school at 17, but wasn't able to afford it and didn't have any idea where I would go. I met my husband the week after I turned 20, and we were married 30 days later. His family moved here from Queens, New York, and so it was natural to stay. I have six kids, ages 18 to 30, one 2-year-old granddaughter and a grandson due at the end of April. I have two pit bulls and a huge love for the bully breeds. I’m deeply political and love to read just about anything, which has been helpful in school.
Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
A: I have volunteered in the homeless community for eight years and want to work to help this community. I wasn't able to be taken seriously when I applied for jobs because I didn't have a degree, so I decided to go back to school – I had done a semester at community college right after graduation, but wasn't able to pay to continue, so I dropped out. About 18 months into my studies, I further narrowed my focus to crisis intervention – the George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery cases helped me see that it was a field that really needed more people. I added a criminal justice minor in order to make myself more marketable. I’m glad I did, because the classes were very, very interesting.
Q: What have been some particularly hard challenges you’ve had to face while pursuing your education?
A: My husband works six days a week, 14 to 16 hours a day. I am the only parent at home, and when I started back to school, I had four of my children living at home, one of whom worked nights as a nurse and slept days. My dogs are very high needs. I work at Starbucks 30 hours a week, it was a pandemic and I had a severe shoulder injury that required extensive surgery after two years of trying everything else. Trying to balance it all has been incredibly challenging. I set a goal for myself to make the Dean's List every semester. I wasn't known to be especially smart in school (I didn't apply myself, is what all my report cards said, haha), and Math 142 just about did me in.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I needed a job, and my girlfriend was a 15-year Starbucks partner. She encouraged me to apply for a job at Starbucks, and I saw that I would be able to earn a degree, so I took the chance. I’m glad I did! The online program has been very good for me, as I can study at weird times and anywhere I happen to be.
Q: What do you hope to do with your degree?
A: I really would like to work crisis intervention in my city or work with the homeless community as a case manager.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those students following behind you?
A: It feels like you will never, ever finish. Ever. When you look at your first Degree Audit Reporting System (graduation progress) report, it will seem overwhelming. Take your classes and don’t worry about how long it takes – you will be exactly the same age when you finish as you would be if you hadn’t started. It’s trite, but it’s true, and everyone tells you that for a reason. I finished in exactly three years, never dreaming that I would one day have a degree.
Q: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned at ASU – about yourself, about what you’re studying, anything – that came to you as a complete surprise?
A: When I was in school – way back in the day, I’m 52 now – I wasn’t a good student. Other family members were, and I just didn’t think I was smart. I learned that I am smart. I learned that I can do hard things on top of hard things, on top of other hard things, and make it through just fine. (I also learned that I absolutely loved forensic anthropology!)
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: Food distribution. We have so much food waste that it’s embarrassing. No one should be hungry. No one. I would expend my efforts to stop throwing away perfectly good food. I would plan and execute teams to pick up food and bring it to those who need it. I’d penalize companies who toss food, and I would work with farmers to add gleaning and distribution, compensating them for their efforts. I would work on making sure that all children, everywhere, have the food they need to grow up healthy.
Q: What is something you think would surprise people to learn about you?
A: Everyone is always surprised that I have six kids. I have rescue dogs. I’ve visited Cuba. My husband is 16 years older than I am, but I act much older. I have my black belt in Muay Thai (Thai boxing).
Q: What’s your life motto in one sentence?
A: Always use the bathroom before you leave, even if you don’t think you need to go. (In other words, be prepared in advance.)