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The Center for Adult and Continuing Education at Misericordia University recently named Crystal Lee of South Abington Twp., as the university’s 2020 Outstanding Adult Learner of the Year. She was one of five students recognized by the Luzerne County Council on Adult Higher Education for overcoming obstacles and demonstrating perseverance, innovation and extraordinary dedication to reach their educational goals.

Adult Learner of the Year - Crystal Lee

Lee, a single mother of an 11-year-old daughter, works full time as a private duty home health and hospice aide, and volunteers in her community. As a part-time student at Misericordia University, she has achieved academic excellence while balancing work, education and family responsibilities. She is scheduled to receive her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree in August.

Lee attributes her decision to enroll at Misericordia University to a very persistent patient, Minnie Occhipinti, and says pursuing a degree changed her life. “At a time in my life when everything seemed like it was falling apart, she believed in me and encouraged me to complete my degree,” Lee said. “Nursing school is stressful, yet it was the crucible I needed to burn away self-doubt and change into an independent, confident and sometimes outspoken woman. I don’t take this ability to provide for my family or complete my degree for granted.

“I went to college right out of high school, but traditional higher education programs at the time were not designed for those who needed to work full time to support themselves. Misericordia is different because they have many programs designed specifically for working adults. Right from day one, I felt that Misericordia faculty were invested in my success,” she added.

One such faculty member, Catherine Luksic, M.S.N., R.N., assistant professor of nursing, described Lee as a student “who demonstrates a love of learning and a level of commitment necessary to succeed in a demanding nursing program and beyond,” in her letter of recommendation. “I consider Crystal a positive role model and an inspiration to others,” Luksic added.

Lee plans to further her education by earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree and specializing in women’s health. “If we want to see positive change in this world, we need to start with helping mothers because they are the ones raising the next generation,” she stated. She noted that females of childbearing age have the highest rate of intimate partner violence, leaving many women to raise children alone.

“We can reduce this number by making it easier for single mothers like me to receive a quality education,” Lee said.

In Lackawanna County, 37 percent of children live in single parent households and in Luzerne County that number climbs to 42 percent, according to County Health Rankings from 2017. In Pennsylvania, 31 percent of single parent households live below the poverty line overall, according to spotlightonpoverty.org.

“It’s been a challenging four years – taking classes part time in the evenings and online. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of my friends and family, who helped me with everything from childcare to housekeeping,” Lee said. “Many women out there don’t have the same support system I have. If we want women to succeed, we need more programs like the Women with Children program here at Misericordia.”

The Ruth Matthews Bourger Women with Children Program is one of only eight programs in the U.S. that provides housing for economically disadvantaged single mothers and their children on campus so student-mothers can complete a four-year college degree.

An active parent, Lee volunteers with a variety of her daughter’s extra-curricular activities and also spends time in service to her community. She coaches an Abington Heights Odyssey of the Mind team and volunteers at the Waverly Community House, where she assists with several annual events, including the Artisan Market and Spring Home & Garden Show.

For more information about the Center for Adult and Continuing Education at Misericordia University, please call (570) 674-6400 or visit www.misericordia.edu/cace.