Skip to content

Single mother who was once homeless takes control of her education and her life

ashley baxter

Ashley Thomas said she earned her degree so she could be an example of success for her daughters.

May 22, 2018
  • Print

Ashley Thomas's road to graduation has been marked by financial challenges, periods of homelessness and a battle with dyslexia, but it is not one she has had to travel alone.

The single mother of five grew up in Stockton. Her mother was addicted to drugs and her father served time in federal prison. Thomas attended numerous schools in San Joaquin County, so she never received help with her learning disability. Consequently, her grades weren't good. She got pregnant at 18 and eventually ended up in the county's ONE program for alternative education. Her early marriage was rocky and after a few years, she found herself at a women's center with her little girls. After talking to a counselor, she decided the key to taking control of her life was education.

"I knew I wanted to make it because I had my daughters looking up to me," Thomas said. "I didn't want them to struggle growing up like I did."

Thomas pursued an aggressive schedule at Delta College and earned her associate's degree in two years. She was accepted to four universities, including Pacific, but at first, she wasn't sure she should enroll here.

"Pacific was intimidating," she said. "Growing up in Stockton, I'd never been on Pacific's campus. It was more like stepping out of my comfort zone into something totally different."

In the end, practical decisions drove her decision to enroll at Pacific: she didn't want to move her children to a new city and new schools. Housing, however, continued to be a challenge. At one point, Thomas was living out of her car and she was worried she would have to drop out of school. Sociology Professor Ethel Nicdao noticed Thomas was having trouble and took her to the Student Life office. The staff there helped her find an apartment on campus and apply for the Edward Leighton Endowed Scholarship. The scholarship freed up her money for housing and allowed her to finish her degree. Thomas said Nicdao was the Pacific professor who inspired her most because she sets high standards.

"When I was able to pass her class with an 'A,' I was proud of myself," Thomas said. "She pushed us to the limit, and I felt like I accomplished something big."

Thomas's goal is to become a teacher because she wants to give back to the community. She has been accepted to graduate school here at Pacific.

While pursuing her degree, Thomas also worked at Pacific's Jacoby Centers' After School and Tutoring program and served as a community outreach coordinator for the Department of Sociology's student club. For her work in the community, Thomas was recognized with the Jacoby Citizen Leader Award and was named the Ethnic Studies Senior of Distinction. She said it has always been difficult for her to ask for help, but she is determined not to be a mere statistic as a single mother.

"What kept me going was that I was always told I wouldn't succeed," she said. "I felt my education was the only way out for me to give my girls a better future." 

Join University of the Pacific on: Facebook Twitter Instagram LinkedIn Youtube