‘I am a Warrior’: Mike Ilitch School of Business graduate perseveres on rocky road to degree

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally appeared on Today@Wayne

By the end of 2012, Briana Phelps felt like she no longer had a purpose in life.

Her collegiate career had, seemingly, ended almost as quickly as it began. In less than three years, Phelps went from high school graduate to “college dropout.” And it wasn’t for lack of trying.

At one point, she was balancing three jobs in two cities and taking more than a full course load at Michigan State University. Typically, she would get home from her job at Buffalo Wild Wings by 3:30 in the morning only to be up for the bus to campus by 7 a.m. In the end, it all caught up to Phelps and she made the difficult decision to put higher ed on hold.

“In high school, we are constantly told about how important college is. I didn’t know when I was going to be able to go back to school. I no longer had the opportunity to get a degree,” Phelps said. “I remember waiting on a gentleman in the bar. He asked if I was in college. I told him I wasn’t, but I was going back. He confidently said, ‘You’ll never go back.’ I still remember it because it made me so upset. He had no idea I couldn’t afford college, that it wasn’t my choice to not be in school, and if I had the opportunity to get an education, I would take it.”

For the next few years, Phelps said she struggled to make ends meet. Health complications only made matters worse. Still, she persevered, and by 2019 earned an associate of arts and an associate’s in business administration — both with Summa Cum Laude honors — from Oakland Community College. Her goal was always to get back to the university level, but where? During her first semester at OCC, Phelps said she started to research her next move. She narrowed it to Wayne State University and Eastern Michigan University, booking tours with both.

“I did Wayne State first and went on campus. It was an amazing experience when I walked around — the tour guide, everything was incredible,” Phelps said. “It felt like home. I knew then that this is the culture I want to be a part of, this is where I want to go. I even bought a sweatshirt before I left campus that day. I was committed.”

Phelps followed through and transferred to Wayne State’s Mike Ilitch School of Business to study marketing. On May 5 — a little more than a week after her 30th birthday — Phelps received a bachelor of science in marketing management during Wayne State’s virtual commencement ceremony.

In addition to securing the degree, prior to the start of her final semester, Phelps’ perseverance and work ethic also earned her a full-time position with Quicken Loans as a purchase banker. The connection was made during one of the Mike Ilitch School of Business’ career fairs, which was held virtually due to the coronavirus. As she started her now job, working an average of 70 hours a week in a fast-pace environment where everything was new and tough to learn, she was also taking six capstone credits — all while navigating life during a pandemic.

“On my journey of earning this degree, I not only gained an education, but I learned so much about myself. I’m strong because of the challenges I have faced … and I am worthy of a life I really love because I have worked so hard to be where I am today,” Phelps said. “I’m proud to say I no longer define my value to society by the level of my education but by the value of character, the willingness to grow as an individual, the want to support your community and the strength inside myself. Wayne State taught me that, and I can honestly now say I am a Warrior.”

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