Determined not to become one of those people who regretted never getting a college degree, 31-year-old Alanna Morton will graduate from Sacred Heart in the next few months with a bachelor’s degree in professional studies. It will mark the culmination of 13 years of stopping, starting, stumbling and making wrong turns – until Sacred Heart helped her find the best route.
“Time and money were both issues for me,” said the Norwalk resident who works full time as an executive assistant at the non-profit Fairfield County Community Foundation and part time at an area retirement community. “I work during the day and weekends, so I could only take classes at night. I also got off to a slow start, going from high school to a very large college that didn’t work out very well for me. I was a number there, got lost and then spent some time taking classes at other schools, but none of them worked out. Then, I thought ‘What about Sacred Heart?’ ”
Alanna was already familiar and impressed with the school. In sixth grade, she attended a special Sacred Heart summer program for youth interested in forensic science, and in high school she attended its Pre-College Program for 9th-graders, studying computer science and earning three college credits.
“Both were great experiences. I loved the campus and instructors,” Morton remembered. When a few years ago she approached Sacred Heart to discuss her goals and challenges, Alanna learned that through its University College AHEAD accelerated degree program format, she could take classes affordably and year-round at times that best met her schedule.
While traditional college semesters run 15-18 weeks, AHEAD (Adults in Higher Education working for Accelerated Degrees) semesters run just 7.5 weeks. Classes are consolidated and scheduled evenings, weekends and online to help working adults and others with busy lives complete their degree quickly and more easily.
For Morton, who was as concerned about getting clear direction as she was about completing her degree sooner rather than later, the other big draw to the program was advisor Ellen Kovar, Director of Part-Time Undergraduate Admissions.
“Ellen’s primary job is to advise adult students like me on what classes to take and how to best use what I think is an adult’s most valuable assets: time and money,” Morton said. “When I needed advice, I called or sent an email, and she was there for me. The best part: I’ve never been a number to her. She knows who I am and what I want in life, so when we talk, I know that whatever she suggests is what she truly believes is best for me.”
“As a Professional Studies major, which is a very personalized degree, she also helped me pick classes that she knew I’d like as much as I needed,” continued Morton, who has remained on the dean’s list since she began at Sacred Heart “That’s been important to me. I want to spend my time on things I feel passionate about.”
After graduation, Morton knows she wants to stay in the non-profit arena. She also loves working with older adults and being creative. A few years ago, after reaching the milestone of earning an associate’s degree graduating Magna Cum Laude from Sacred Heart, she took a year off from her studies to start a business called Atta Girl! Stationery that made greeting cards and tags for handcrafters who knit and sew. Although the business only lasted a short time, it taught her a lot about herself. “I definitely have an entrepreneurial spirit, so that might be a direction I want to go in after I get my degree. The only thing I know for sure is that I want to take all I’ve learned and help people. I have a lot of ideas in my head, and Sacred Heart has given me the skills and abilities I need to make a difference in how I use my life to help others," she said.