Qadirah Bridgeman has long had a passion for higher learning. After she graduated college with a B.S. in political studies from Adelphi University, she won a summer fellowship in public policy at Harvard.
At 22, she was well on her way to law school and fulfilling her dream of becoming a lawyer.
And then, as it so often does, life intervened. "I got pregnant and started my family," she says now. "I realized how important it was for me to be there for them." Which meant putting her own dream on hold, to help create new ones for her children.
That was 37 years ago.
Since then, Qadirah has balanced not only raising but homeschooling four children: “We lived in a small town, and I wanted to make sure that my kids got the proper education that they needed.”
Thanks to their mother, they did – and then some.
"As a child, education was a top priority," recalls her daughter Raabia. "My mom homeschooled me and my three siblings, all the way through high school. I completed high school at 14 years old, passed the ACT with good marks, and was in college the same year. I graduated with an associate's degree in pre-law at 18 years old. I could not have done any of that without my mom's direct tutelage, her support and her leadership by example."
NO HOLDING BACK
To help support the family financially, Qadirah also began working part-time in call centers, which offered some flexibility in terms of schedule, to make sure homeschool always stayed in session. In 2005, she brought her talents to T-Mobile, first as a "regular rep," and eventually working her way up to where she is today, serving as a senior expert on the company's completely revamped, human-led answer to customer care, Team of Experts (TEX).
Qadirah thought about revisiting that higher education dream, maybe by getting a master's just like both her parents and her siblings. She knew she still had unfinished business - business school business, as it would turn out.
The main thing holding her back: confidence.
It wasn't just her confidence about returning to school after so many years, though naturally that played a part. It was, as she says, about her "confidence in general" that was shaken by an unexpected family tragedy.
"I have an older son who passed away five years ago," she says, the heaviness in her characteristically bright and vibrant voice palpable. "That was a major setback for me. You know how you feel like your life is just going to go on and everything is going to be fine, then something like that hits you? And you're like, 'Whoa.' You become timid almost about certain things. You kind of want to close in on yourself. I came right back to work, but it was really hard to get life moving again."
A DREAM REVISITED
Each year, there is a benefits fair at the T-Mobile Customer Experience Center in Nashville where Qadirah works. The fair helps acquaint employees to the outstanding benefits the company offers and is famous for: health, vision, dental, life insurance. And one that particularly piqued Qadirah's interest: the Tuition Assistance program.
On hand two years running were representatives from Ashford. Qadirah liked what they had to offer with their online master's degree program, and homed in on an advanced business degree to continue to propel her career at T-Mobile forward.
"Finally, I said to myself, 'You know, there's nothing else going on in my life right now that is really stopping me.'" And, even with a bit of slight trepidation, she decided to take the plunge. "Once I commit to something I'm going to do it."
This past November, aided by T-Mobile's Tuition Assistance program and fueled by her lifelong commitment to education, Qadirah graduated with an MBA from Ashford University, one of nine accredited universities to which the company offers 100% up-front tuition assistance. (With these accredited universities, unlike with tuition reimbursement that other companies offer, a T-Mobile employee never needs to spend a dime out of pocket, and the program is available to full- and part-time employees after just 90 days of employment.)
In attendance to witness her graduation walk were her beaming parents, 81 years young, and her siblings. Just as moving, the cap-and-gown ceremony her Team of Experts family threw her back in Nashville: "I think the step toward education was a real confidence-booster. I walk with my chest higher."
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
Qadirah's confidence has been infectious, not only for her fellow Team of Experts reps, many of whom have followed in her footsteps, but also for her family. Qadirah's husband has decided to step out of retirement to start a handyman business, and her kids have each decided to return to school to complete new degrees. Her daughter Raabia, who also put her educational ambitions on hold to raise a family, plans to complete that one dream of her mother's from so many years ago.
"I definitely agree that this has been a confidence booster for the whole family," Rabbia says. "My sister is studying in the medical field, my younger brother is a surgical tech at Vanderbilt - and I'm on the way to law school! We have a great education foundation ourselves, but we can also see that continuing education is both desirable and possible. My mom did it while working full-time, helping raise my elder brother's four children after he passed away, and still being a pillar of her community."
As for Qadirah, now 59, she has her sights set on finishing her career up at T-Mobile, hopefully as a recruiter in human resources – and using the Tuition Assistance benefit again to attain that goal isn’t off the table.
“I would love to go back for another degree, especially now I know I can do it, I know how to do it,” she says with confidence – in herself, and her dreams.