Deborah Brown was stuck in a rut.
She was 51 years old and had been working at Southern California Gas Company’s call center for more than a decade as a rank-and-file customer service representative.
She was good at what she did and could probably do a supervisor’s job as well as anybody, she told herself, but when she looked at the higher-ups, they all had college degrees.
That’s when Brown decided she needed to go back to school.
“I knew I wouldn’t go any further than this without a degree,” she said.
That was in 2011. Now, not only has she earned her bachelor’s degree in management from University of Redlands, but she’s about to receive a master’s degree in the same subject.
Brown knows her master’s degree will be a big boon for her career; Shortly after being accepted into the undergraduate program at Redlands, her boss gave her a promotion.
"But she told me, you need to get that degree,” she said.
Finishing her education is a long-awaited victory. Brown began studying criminal justice at CSU San Bernardino straight out of high school about 38 years ago, but as she focused on her job as a police dispatcher, her education fell by the wayside.
“I put my education on hold, and I had only one or two more classes to get my bachelor’s,” she said.
A few years later, disaster struck. A freak accident on the dispatch floor in 1993 left Brown with three cracked vertebrae, four plates, eight screws and two rods in her back. She was bed-ridden for a year, and when she was well enough to get up, she had serious mobility issues. She used a wheelchair for many months and slowly progressed to a walker, and later a cane.
Her mobility issues forced her to retire. After she had healed enough to work, she struggled for several years to find and keep employment—she feels her new disability was a big factor—but finally in 1998 she was offered the position of customer service representative at a gas company call center.
They said her mobility issues wouldn’t be a problem, and they promised to make whatever accommodations she would need. “They kept their promise to me,” she said.
Back on her feet
This was the first page in a bright new chapter in her story. She settled into a stable job, she married the love of her life, Rita Longmar, and she broke free of her career plateau by getting her degree.
“I’ve seen my duties and responsibilities increase, I’ve seen my pay increase, I’ve seen my compensation increase,” she said.
Brown plans to retire in 10 to 12 years, but before that, she hopes to be promoted to call center manager. “I’m old enough that I don’t have enough time to work into many positions, but I think I can achieve that,” she said.