Motherhood changed Michelle Mansker's life. It also changed her career.
Mansker had an epiphany after she had her second child five years ago. Instead of continuing to work in the computer programming field, she wanted to work with new moms like herself.
"I got into everything related to birth," Mansker said. "I became a certified birth doula. Then, I ended up expanding further into breastfeeding."
Mansker was hired as a breastfeeding peer counselor at the Arkansas Department of Health in 2015. Her desire to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) inspired her return to college. Mansker graduated with an online Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) from Arkansas State University in December 2017.
"You have to have specific college courses or have a nursing or dietetics degree to become an IBCLC," she said. "Since I had previously attended college and had more than 100 credit hours, I was only missing a few of the required classes for that certification. So, I decided I wanted to complete the classes I needed and my degree at the same time. A-State had everything I needed."
The Right Stuff
In addition to working through the BGS program curriculum, Mansker completed three courses to become eligible to take the IBCLC certification exam.
The online format helped Mansker balance school with her busy life. Mansker and her husband, Jeff, have two children, Ayden (12) and Evelyn (5).
"It worked out well," Mansker said. "I work full-time. I have a family. Then, I have a side business. It was definitely important that I could attend college at my own convenience. I chose A-State because it offered the online format."
Mansker's side business, Eirene Beginnings, includes her hobby, photography, and private practice doula services. She was not able to devote much time to the business while she was in school, as she spent around 20 hours per week on schoolwork while taking up to three courses per session. She was able to apply a lot of the information and knowledge from the Bachelor of General Studies curriculum to her new career.
"Especially with lactation, it helps piece everything together because it's a whole body kind of process," she said. "There are all kinds of things that can affect it, as far as anatomy and physiology. It really helped me a lot."
The two courses Mansker enjoyed most were: NRS 2203: Basic Human Nutrition and NRS 3333: Women's Health: Past, Present and Future.
"Nutrition was definitely one of my favorites," Mansker said. "I got to learn more about proper nutritional practices. We communicate nutritional concerns in health in this clinical setting, so it also helped with that.
"Women's Health helped enhance my knowledge. I focus mostly on the pregnancy and the postpartum period of a woman's health, so it extended my knowledge into the community and individual settings. We ventured out a little bit further than what I knew."
Computers piqued Mansker's interest as she grew up, which led to her original career. Mansker completed almost three years of a bachelor's degree program in computer information systems before she dropped out of school in 2010.
"We started off with the old Compaq computer in the 90s," she said. "I was so interested in learning how they worked and making programs. I really like designing websites. I guess I fall more on the graphic design side -- I think that was my favorite part. I still do a little bit of web development with my career."
She had no previous healthcare experience prior to 2015. However, Mansker couldn't be happier with her decision to change careers.
"I wasn't really interested in computer programming anymore," she said. "After a few months at the Arkansas Health Department, I realized that I really love lactation, so I have chosen to make that my career."
Mansker leaned on Jeff and her friends and family to help her throughout the process of completing the bachelor's degree program.
"I think they were all really happy," she said. "I had a lot of support. Jeff definitely helped out a lot. Hopefully, I set a good example for my children with higher education. I know Ayden definitely paid attention to what I was doing since he's older now."
Mansker is the first person in her family to earn a college degree, although Jeff earned a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from A-State. In fact, he graduated right as she enrolled.
She believes the online format is the way to go, provided a student is seriously organized from the outset.
"Start with creating a degree plan with assistance from your adviser," she said. "My personal adviser really helped lay out that degree plan. Always keep in contact with your adviser because they're fabulous and they will help you along. It's especially crucial if you have transfer credits."
Mansker also recommends mapping out a schedule and course log throughout the program.
"You want to develop a proper time schedule and stick to it," she said. "Keep track of which classes you are currently taking and what you have taken in the past. That way you're able to graduate with the least amount of stress."
Although she is extremely proud of the accomplishment of earning a bachelor's degree, Mansker isn't finished with higher education.
"It helped me get the classes that I needed to take that exam in April," Mansker said. "I hope I can also earn a master's degree in public health, so I kind of have that health background now that can help me do that. I'll probably start in the summer of 2018."
It sounds like a true calling is born.
Learn more about the online A-State Bachelor of General Studies program.