Author and entrepreneur Peggy Moran knows the exact moment that triggered her decision to resume her education. It was in 2008, when her college-aged daughter was hospitalized with a life-threatening condition.
“That changed the way I view the present tense,” Moran says. “Everything suddenly became more meaningful, and time became of the essence in a different way.”
A little more than two years later, Moran holds a highly competitive Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. She began her studies at North Central College in January 2011 and is pursuing a degree in interactive media studies with a minor in anthropology.
The award is the nation’s largest private scholarship for students who transfer from two-year colleges. She is one of 40 recipients selected from more than 1,500 applicants.
At age 50, the mother of three and former high school dropout is energized with a sense of purpose. She’s discovering she has a knack for school after all and is quick to participate in classes and question her professors.
“I don’t like to argue, but here you’re encouraged to state a position and defend it,” Moran says. “It’s a skill I’m developing.”
An animal lover all her life, she started reading dog-training books as a child to help train her family’s unruly Collie puppy. Her dog-training skills progressed and as a teen she started a business, Peggy Moran’s Dog Improvement. She left Lyons Township High School in LaGrange, Ill., when she was 17.
Over the years her business expanded to include consulting work with animal shelters and lectures to school groups. She trained therapy dogs and experienced the rewards of visiting hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities where the animals positively interacted with people. She wrote for Dog World Magazine for many years and developed a reputation as an expert in her field. She raised two daughters, now in their early 20s, and a son, now 12.
Then one day her career success was cast in a new perspective. One of her daughters was rushed to the hospital with a pulmonary embolism, and doctors told Moran they didn’t know if she would make it. The daughter pulled through and was diagnosed with a condition that is successfully being treated with blood-thinner medication.
The harrowing experience changed Moran’s life.
“I decided I’d channel my nervous energy into something productive,” she says. “I wanted to take a college course in anatomy and physiology to better understand my daughter’s condition.”
To enroll in such a course, she first had to earn her GED. She took the test and scored in the top 3 percent in the nation. She enrolled at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill., where she studied for four straight terms from January 2009 through May 2010. She earned scholarships to help pay her way from service organizations like Rotary Club of Naperville, as well as an academic transfer scholarship and Phi Theta Kappa scholarship from North Central College.
“Peggy is an incredibly motivated and enthusiastic student,” says Steve Macek, associate professor of speech communication. “She is intellectually curious and she's willing to speak up in class and ask questions. Best of all, she brings a wealth of real-world experience as an author and business owner to the classes she takes, so she is able to add a practical perspective to the topics we are talking about in classes.”
The College of DuPage nominated Moran for the Rotary scholarship, which led to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation award of up to $30,000 per year to earn an undergraduate degree, plus eligibility for an additional award for graduate school. Initially, she enrolled at Oregon State University and started taking online courses in fall 2010, but found the experience unfulfilling.
“With online classes, I didn’t feel the same connection with teachers or other students,” she says.
She found what she was looking for at North Central College, not far from her home in Lemont, Ill. She was attracted by North Central’s reputation for excellent academics—with small class sizes where professors give students personal attention—and the College’s 150-year tradition of providing an excellent liberal arts education.
“It’s a tight-knit school where you have lots of access without a lot of distractions,” she says. “There’s a good library, for example, but it’s not overwhelming like at a large university.”
Moran chose to concentrate her studies in North Central’s convergent media focus within the College’s award-winning interactive media studies degree, because of her strong background in writing and media. She wrote and was featured in nine various DVDs on dog training and built and optimized her company’s Web site.
“My life experiences and self-education prepared me to desire a formal education,” she says. “All I had to do was seek it.”