Never Too Late: Returning to School and Expanding Her Opportunities

Traci Carvalho Mattos

traci-carvalho-mattosTraci Carvalho Mattos had planned on finishing her bachelor's degree right after she got her AA in the early 1990s, but life took her in a different direction. She moved, got a job, married and had two daughters. Then her husband was deployed to Afghanistan.

In 2013, the time was finally right for her to go back to school — but she wasn't sure how she could attend classes and maintain her busy schedule.

"Going to school locally would mean transportation time and late evenings after work," Traci said. "I didn't see how I could do that because I still had a lot of responsibilities being a mom and a wife."

That's when she came across the online Early Childhood & Family Studies degree program at the UW (now known as the Early Care & Education program). The flexibility it provided allowed her to fit school into her life.

It took a lot of hard work, but Traci did it, graduating with her UW bachelor's degree in 2015. Finishing her degree meant a raise in pay, but she also noted how the program has improved her teaching and changed her outlook.

"I learned so many things I didn't know," she said. "I've learned to identify and deepen my practices, and really challenge myself."

Here, Traci talks more about the positive aspects of the program and how it helped her achieve a major life goal.

What prompted you to go back to school to finish your bachelor's degree?

It's something I've always wanted to do, but I put it off. What finally motivated me to go back was that my oldest daughter just recently finished her bachelor's degree, and my youngest daughter is in preschool. It was perfect timing for me to look into finishing my degree.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and current career?

I started in early childhood education more than 20 years ago; I was a licensed in-home child care provider. Later, I had a job at Head Start as a child care assistant on the college campus on Maui. I now work at a center-based program here in Hawaii, as a teaching assistant in a class for 3- and 4-year-olds.

Why did you choose this degree program?

I started looking online and came across the University of Washington program. I saw that it was worth investing in. The adviser was very encouraging and personable — I felt really supported from the get-go.

Did you have any reservations about taking an online program?

I was concerned about the quality. I really wanted a genuine student-instructor relationship, and I wanted to get hands-on learning experiences. By far, the UW exceeded my expectations.

Also, the technology was very much a concern — I'm in my 40s. It was a great personal challenge for me. Now I'm much more confident with online technology; it's just an additional part of the learning process. I didn't let technology get in the way of this goal that I was waiting 16 years to complete.

What are the advantages of taking classes online?

One plus, by far, is that it's very flexible. I'm a night person, and I could be on the computer when my family was asleep and I had quiet time. The other plus was the CORP [Community of Reflective Practices] group setup. We had lots of opportunities to get to know our classmates.

What did you value most about the program?

The personal relationships that I formed with my classmates and my instructors. We had such a great, eclectic group — in-home nannies, stay-at-home moms, teachers, administrators. We supported each other and gave each other feedback. The instructors were very informative and responded really quickly.

Will finishing your bachelor's degree be helpful in your career?

At my school, you need to have a minimum of a bachelor's degree to be a lead teacher. Many of our lead preschool teachers have master's degrees. My bachelor's degree opens up employment opportunities, and now I'm pursuing my master's. It was my positive online learning experience with UW that gave me the confidence to pursue my master's degree.