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Moving up – and lifting up others along the way

After she dropped out of high school to meet the demands of parenthood, Rachel Hensley’s passions for community and cultural engagement led her to rediscover her educational path through Oregon State University Ecampus’ anthropology program.

By Julie Cooper

In the face of adversity, Rachel Hensley pushed forward. Her community acted as a pillar of support, and now she’s determined to give back the compassion she has received.

“I like helping others because I have been through a lot in my life, and I wouldn’t have made it this far if other people hadn’t helped me,” she says.

Rachel works for Children’s Trust, a nonprofit advocacy organization that strives to prevent child abuse and neglect while supporting children throughout legal proceedings and in the foster care system.

During her time as a student, she wrote grants on behalf of the organization to secure funding for advocacy and programming. Since graduating, she has transitioned into a marketing role, bringing the organization a much-needed online presence and increased community outreach.

She graduated with a bachelor’s degree online in anthropology, a feat that once seemed distant. At the age of 15, she became a parent and dropped out of high school before finishing ninth grade.

Oregon State Ecampus alumna Rachel Hensley poses with her family in front of a Disneyland castle.

“Now that I have seen this through, I feel like I’m setting a really good example for my children,” says Rachel. “I’m excited to see what my life brings me now that I’m finished with my degree.”

Though her educational plans were diverted, she directed her time and energy to raising her children and serving her community in Roanoke, Virginia.

“The biggest push for me to go back to school was when I started volunteering for a local nonprofit as an English for Speakers of Other Languages tutor,” she says. “I wanted to find a way to make a life of the things I love – serving the community and different cultures – and after some researching, I knew anthropology was what I wanted to study.”

With Oregon State Ecampus, she found the pathway she needed.

Her interest in cultural and civic engagement led her to participate in an Oregon State faculty-led study abroad trip to Guatemala. There, she interacted with activists working on the front lines of human rights and environmental justice issues.

Traveling abroad can be a life-changing experience for anyone, but for Rachel, it gave clarity to her ambitions. She’s set her sights on pursuing a law degree that will allow her to work toward international human rights.

“It was the highlight of my academic career – not only because of the inspiring and courageous people I met in Guatemala, but also because of the connection I was able to make with the other students and faculty who were there,” she says.

Among the numerous rewarding experiences that resulted from her education, the greatest was feeling her children’s pride when she received her diploma.

“It’s really important to me that I finished my degree,” she says. “Now that I have seen this through, I feel like I’m setting a really good example for my children.”

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