WILMINGTON — For Kathy McGurgan, a college education was not her first priority after she graduated from her hometown high school in Pittsburgh, Pa. Instead, she joined the Navy on the delayed entry program and spent 13 years in active duty and reserves.
“My work in the Navy helped me to gain personal discipline, self-respect and self-confidence,” said McGurgan. “I met people from all walks of life and had some really wonderful experiences.”
McGurgan succeeded in the Navy and received the Navy Achievement Medal, which recognized training naval personnel on computer equipment and associated software. McGurgan then returned home and started a family. She married and had three children. However, life soon took a turn, and she knew that it was time to pursue a college degree.
“When faced with the reality of an impending divorce and being a single mom with three small children, I knew I had to try to make a good life for us. At 28 years old, I enrolled at the Community College of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh,” McGurgan recalled. “It was a wonderfully supportive campus and a true blessing for me as I embarked on my journey of earning a degree. I was able to use some of my G.I. Bill benefits and learned about grants and scholarships.”
In 1989, McGurgan remarried and moved to Jacksonville, N.C. With the support of her family, she continued her college education at Coastal Carolina Community College and later continued at Bladen Community College. There, McGurgan completed her associate’s degree in business administration in 1997.
McGurgan was then inspired to continue her education and complete a bachelor’s degree. “I believe it was by and through the grace of God that UMO started a cohort at Bladen Community College in 1997,” noted McGurgan. “In December 1999, I completed the requirements for a B.S. in business administration, management and organization development with the University of Mount Olive. The program’s tagline was ‘Finish What You Started.’ So, although it took 14 years after I started, I did finish!”
When reflecting on her educational journey, McGurgan said, “For me, the significance of that accomplishment was, and still is, not that I attained my degree. For me, the most important part was that, for 14 years, my report cards were placed on the refrigerator alongside those of my three children. I am very pleased to say that each has gone on to graduate from three different universities, University of Pittsburgh, Appalachian State University, and East Carolina University.”
With her degree from UMO, McGurgan accepted the position of distance and evening programs facilitator at Bladen Community College. It was a title she held for eight years. She is now the director of evening programs at BCC. As the director, she feels right at home helping students find their way to educational fulfillment. After all, she knows firsthand what it is like to juggle family life, work obligations, and school responsibilities. In other words, she can talk the talk with students, because she has walked the walk herself. Her tenacious character and compassionate heart are traits that continue to take her far in her life and in her work.
“UMO truly did enable me to ‘finish what I started’ and thus transformed my life,” smiled McGurgan. “UMO and Bladen Community College have transformed education by going outward to reach students who otherwise, like me, could not have considered the possibility.”
McGurgan resides in Elizabethtown and is a member of the Bladen Charge United Methodist Church. She has three adult children, two sons-in-law, a grandson, and a dog she loves dearly.