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Heather Rigby Hopes Online Master’s Degree Leads to Classroom

Heather Rigby with her children

When Heather Rigby had a couple of options for an elective during her undergraduate work, she figured she would give criminology a shot.

“The course just fit into my schedule,” she said. “It was one of those random things. I fell in love with it. I love the mix of psychology and sociology and statistics and mapping. Criminology blends all of those fields together, and I think it’s fascinating.”

Rigby earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology from the University of New Mexico (UNM) and completed a crime analysis internship with the Albuquerque Police Department in 2004.

Then, life happened.

She became a stay-at-home mother with the arrival of her three children — Savannah (12), Ceilidh (8) and Jack (3). With the help of Lamar University online, Rigby is preparing to re-enter the workforce. She is enrolled in the online Master of Science in Criminal Justice degree program with a projected spring 2018 graduation date.

“I started to feel like I wanted to get back into the workplace,” Rigby said. “I knew at some point I was going to have to go to graduate school to get more education. There’s a community college close by my house I’ve always thought might be fun to teach at, and I knew I needed a graduate degree to do that. That seemed like a good place to start. In certain fields, a bachelor’s degree is all you need. In criminal justice, a master’s degree really opens up a lot of doors.”

Here, There and Everywhere

Rigby’s motherhood duties keep her busy, and she volunteers at a domestic violence and human trafficking shelter. The many demands on her time steered her toward the online format.

“Some days I am really busy and don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to school,” she explained. “Other days, I have a chance to sit down and pour a lot more time into it. The flexibility has been so nice. To be able to put the kids to bed and study at my house has been a lifesaver. With the ages my kids are, I definitely wouldn’t be able to do grad school if it wasn’t online. “

Rigby said she takes advantage of pretty much any free time she has for schoolwork.

“I’ve got a couple of hours in the afternoon when my baby is napping, then I can work in the evenings, which is so nice,” she said. “Yesterday, my middle kid had gymnastics. I took my book and my computer to gymnastics and worked for an hour writing papers while she did flips on the trampoline in front of me. That’s a huge plus.”

The support Rigby has received from her family, including her husband Sean, has helped her thrive in the master’s program.

“They’re really excited for me,” she said. “I’ve been surprised at how supportive my kids have been. I thought they might freak out that it was going to take up so much of my time, but it has really been the opposite. My girls have really been rooting for me.

“They always want to know what I’m learning about, so it’s been a neat family thing. I feel like I’ve been in a supportive role for 10 years. It’s nice to do something for myself and have my family support me as I do something that’s important to me.”

Free as a Bird

When it came time to choose a school, Rigby said there were a few reasons why she opted to enroll at Lamar University.

“I did a lot of research before I got started,” she said. “I knew Lamar had a really good reputation and had been around a long time. Since I’m paying out of pocket for this, I needed tuition that was affordable. I really didn’t want to take out student loans to go back to school.

“I asked a couple of people about their experience with online programs. A few of them told me some things to look out for — make sure the school has been around a long time, make sure the school is accredited. Lamar was the school that checked all of the boxes and still had really reasonable tuition, so it worked.”

Since she began the online master’s program in October 2016, Rigby has already learned about some of the many advances in the field of criminal justice since her days at UNM.

“I really enjoyed the cybercrime course, which was the first one that I took,” she said. “It was very eye-opening. It had been a long time since I had been in school. The technology has changed so much.”

In addition to benefiting from the coursework itself, Rigby has learned a great deal from her classmates and their experiences.

“Almost everybody else in my classes is working full time and involved in their careers,” she said. “Because so many of the classes revolve around these discussion boards, people are listing real-life examples of what they’re doing in their work and how it applies to cybercrime.

“Seeing all of the changes since I worked for the police department — all of the changes in technology and how people were currently applying it to their jobs — was neat. I felt like I was getting brought up to date on what had changed and what was going on in just one semester. It was a really interesting course.”

Come Together

By earning a master’s degree, Rigby hopes not only to inspire her children to help her achieve her goal of becoming a college educator but also to illustrate to them the importance of higher education.

“They have really seen that,” she said. “They know that I’m busy and I’m tired. When they go to bed at night, they see me still working and studying. They know it’s important and a priority for mom. I love that.

“I love that my girls know if they want to be a mom, they can do that. If they want to go to school, they can do that. If they want to work, they can do that. I like them knowing you don’t always have to do it in a traditional way. If it works to do it all in your twenties when you’re really young, fantastic. If it doesn’t and you need to go back later, that’s an option.”

Rigby said the key to success in the master’s program is hard work.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned from these online classes is you really get back what you put into it,” she said. “It is how much effort you’re willing to put into it. The professors are there and are very successful, enthusiastic and willing to help.”

Oh, yeah. And what about her daughter’s name, Ceilidh [pronounced Kay-lee]?

“My mom is from England and all of my ancestors are from the U.K.,” Rigby said. “That’s the original Gaelic spelling. They still spell like that way over there and still have ceilidhs all the time. A ceilidh is a gathering at weddings or funerals or for young, single adults to get together. My daughter’s going to hate me when she gets older. I totally expect her to change her name.”

To Eleanor, perhaps?

Learn more about the Lamar University online Master of Science in Criminal Justice program.

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