Perseverance Key To Graduates 15 Year Journey

At Rock Valley College, students come from many different walks of life, each with their own unique educational journey. For Sam Douthat, RVC Grad ’22, perseverance was key to her success at Rock Valley College and while serving in the Army National Guard. Despite several hardships and delays, Sam was determined to succeed.

Growing up, Sam loved playing with Microsoft Paint on the family computer, figuring out how to create new designs. “I grew up in the Myspace generation, and my love for graphic design really took off when they enabled custom editing for profiles,” shared Sam. “I taught myself basic HTML so I could always have the ‘coolest’ profile.”

After graduating high school, Sam decided to enroll at Rock Valley College to pursue her love of graphic design. “I loved the small college feel. Nothing seemed overly complicated,” said Sam. “And it is a good stepping-stone for people that might be more intimidated by school.”

“When I started at RVC, things seemed to be going well, then during my second semester, I lost my job,” shared Sam. “I was living with a boyfriend at the time, and the relationship became abusive. With no job, I couldn’t afford to keep taking classes.”

Sam decided to join the military so that she could afford to finish her degree. From 2009 to 2015, she served in the Army National Guard in both Illinois and New York. Near the end of her time in the military, Sam was prepared to return to Rock Valley College for a second try. Sadly, that same year Sam was assaulted. “I got PTSD from the assault, and it made things in life more difficult,” Sam added. “Due to my mental health, I had to stop taking classes again.”

In 2019, Sam was determined to finish her degree, and with the help of Tim Spielman, Director of Academic, Career, and Transfer Advising, she was ready to re-enroll at Rock Valley College. “I've worked with thousands of students over the years. Many of them encounter challenges that they cannot overcome. It's heartbreaking to see. However, when you encounter a student like Sam, who pushes through despite serious challenges, she becomes not only a model to other students but an inspiration to those of us in Student Affairs who work with them,” recalled Tim.

And as a veteran, Sam enjoyed the veteran’s resources while attending RVC. “They were always helpful while registering for classes, making sure my benefits were applied and being available for all the extra questions I always had,” said Sam. “They made accessing accommodations easy and helped me understand how to utilize those accommodations to be successful.”

“Like so many of our military-connected students, Sam would make herself available when called upon for duty. I remember one day when Sam showed up, took charge, and generated some serious interest from potential new veteran club members,” recalled Milana Herman, RVC Financial Aid Program Manager and Advisor of the Student Veteran’s Association. “It was a blazing hot summer day, and the veterans club had a table set up hoping to reel in some young grasshoppers. At that time, the club consisted of two people. Sam showed up with energy and a hula hoop. We got three new members that year!”

This year, Sam earned her associate degree in Graphic Design. “I was finally able to cross the finish line and graduate in 2022.” And Sam’s hard work continues as she already has plans for her next goal. Sam shared, “I’m enrolled at Northern Illinois University to get my bachelor’s degree in Visual Communications.”

Sam has wonderful words of advice for other students who may be struggling to see a clear path forward. “It took me almost 15 years and enrolling three separate times to finally get my two-year degree at RVC,” Sam explained. “Keep striving for your goal, no matter how long it takes.”