Alum says journey to doctorate like scaling a mountain: 'I got there because I knew my 'why''
Precious Parks is accustomed to facing challenges in her life, but achieving her Education Leadership Doctorate from University of Houston-Clear Lake’s College of Education was a next-level kind of challenge. “It was more like scaling a mountain,” she said. “But what kept me moving forward was knowing my ‘why.’”
Parks, who just completed her doctoral defense and dissertation, will cross the stage and receive the doctoral hood on Saturday, May 13 during UH-Clear Lake’s spring commencement.
“I can say I was a late bloomer, but I can look back now and say it all happened at the time it was supposed to,” she said. “My childhood was stable until my mother was divorced. After that, we led a very nomadic life. From fifth grade to my junior year in high school, I attended eight different schools.”
A high school counselor delivered a shock. “Because I had moved around so much, I was told I did not have enough credits to graduate with my class,” she said. “I returned to my biology class after hearing that, and then just laid my head down on the table and cried. My teacher came to me and said, this did not have to end here. She said I could stay in high school and graduate after my friends, or I could drop out, enroll in a GED program at the community college, and finish the same time as my friends.”
Although that was a radical idea and her mother was very unhappy with the decision, Parks was old enough to drop out of high school and begin the GED program at Lone Star College.
“That’s what I did,” she said. “I needed some help to pass the math part, but I got it and I got my GED in 1994 with my class, but because I was too embarrassed, I did not walk across the stage with my class.”
Removing those letters from behind her name became Parks’ quest. “People were thinking of me as a quitter and wondering why I had not gone the traditional route,” she said. “My mom did not dream this for me. I had to prove to her that I would not stop with the GED and just become a statistic.”
She worked her way through Houston Community College in two years and was told she could transfer her credits to University of Houston.
“I was an older student,” she said. “I was 30 years old in 2004, when I received my Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Studies. It gave me the chance to keep taking a class here and there while working, but never take my eye off my goal to replace that GED with a bachelor’s degree. I did it doing online classes, night classes, and whatever else it took to get me to graduation. That took me 10 years.”
After graduating, she told herself that she was not yet finished. “I wanted to get my master’s degree,” she said. “I enrolled at UHCL in August of 2004. I was working full time and found out I was pregnant. My baby was born at 24 weeks, at just 1 pound, 4 ounces.”
She told (Professor of Early Childhood Education) Rebecca Huss-Keeler she needed to drop out of the master’s program because her baby was in the neo-natal unit at Texas Children’s Hospital. “Dr. Huss-Keeler was instrumental in helping me find a flexible internship and along with members of my family, she continued encouraging me so I did not drop out,” she said. “She came to see me in the hospital. Despite the entire situation and despite the weeks on bedrest before the baby was born, I graduated on time with my master’s.”
Although she “felt like a zombie” crossing the stage and couldn’t believe she was actually at the commencement ceremony, she said her family told her she had to walk. “It was such a monumental thing,” she said. “I don’t have pictures because everything was focused on the baby. I don’t remember much about what happened. I just crossed the stage and went back to the hospital.”
With her master’s degree in hand, Parks said she was able to develop her career at Small Steps Nurturing Center, a nonprofit pre-school. Because she said one of her strengths is to build capacity in people, she decided the best way to continue doing that is to achieve her doctorate.
Her career continued to unfold at KIPP Texas Public Schools.
“Education is a way of giving back,” she said. “It’s a way to pour into people; give access and opportunity. In my trajectory from assistant teacher, teacher, instructional coach, dean, assistant principal and principal, I’ve wanted most to impact assistant principals and principals because they have the most impact on teachers. In order to make that jump, I needed that doctorate.”
She began her first courses in 2020 online and thought it would not be too difficult. “Then the second semester really ramped up,” she said. “It is all about research and figuring out what you’re passionate about. I locked it in, and was going through the courses, passed the comprehensive exams in 2022. Then I separated from my employer. That was a huge setback, because I had no more access to the setting in which I was conducting my research.”
After coming up with another research topic, she created a new dissertation topic, regrouped and got new research problems and questions. “Then it was full steam ahead,” she said. “I was able to recoup the time I lost. I grieved for the loss of the work I had already completed, but I got a lot of support, resent my proposals, and got my chapters written. It all feels like a blur now.”
Parks said that although she received the support she needed from her professors, completing her doctorate showed her the caliber of student she needed to be. “You have to be driven and focused,” she said. “There is no one to coddle you. You have to have initiative and perseverance. And it’s mind boggling that I have now replaced the letters GED with Ed.D.”
For others who would like to continue their academic journey, but feel overwhelmed by the obstacles in their path, she said for her, there was one thing that kept her on track.
“I knew my ‘why,’” she said. “You have to ask yourself, why are you going for this? I wasn’t always motivated, but I always knew my why. I knew this would change the trajectory of my family and that my children needed to see me do this. They have seen me cry, be frustrated, fail tests and have to regroup. They have seen me block off three years to get to this place, but if you know your why, it makes the process better because you know what it’s connected to. One day at a time, one course at a time.”
For more information about UHCL's Doctoral Education Leadership program, go online.