Returning to school gave Cathleen Turner the career path she wanted, alongside a better future for both her, and her daughter.
That’s not to say that it’s been an easy journey.
“It was a new beginning for me, I was really burned out with all the jobs I was doing. I wanted to go back to school to solidify a new opportunity,” Turner said.
Before becoming a mom, Turner was prepared to go to law school. So when her daughter came, plans had to shift.
“I had to kind of mourn the life I thought I was going to have when I became a mom,” she said. “I gave up my dream of going to law school.”
Then a professor from her old college, Seattle Pacific University, reached out to her.
“My professor reached out to me and asked how I was doing, and if I was going to a law school,” Turner said.
He suggested being a paralegal, which got Turner searching for an opening down this path.
Turner soon after joined Highline’s paralegal program.
Here she met Bruce Lamb, a legal studies faculty member, who became a big help through her time at Highline.
“He has opened my eyes to a different area of law, and kind of took what I thought I knew, erased all that, and gave me a whole new idea of what I know now,” she said.
“It’s immeasurable, the impact he’s had on my time at Highline, and countless other students,” Turner said. “My family and classmates, I’ve had a really great group of people around me.”
Through connections at Highline, Turner received an internship position for the King County prosecutor’s office.
“I actually had applied so many times at this office, and I gave up for a little while,” she said. “Highline has a job presence in the paralegal program, they have a lot of organizations and firms reaching out to Bruce.”
Turner then applied again for the position, and got it.
“It was the end of my first quarter at Highline, I was able to do that all the way up to June 2019, then I had the opportunity to apply for a more serious role,” she said.
In this position, she now works as a legal administrative specialist.
“She has made the most of her education, gaining full time paralegal work long before graduating,” Lamb said.
The Highline College Paralegal Association (HCPA) was another impactful area for Turner.
“HCPA was a really big part of my journey. It gave me the opportunity to be a leader, it allowed people to shine,” she said.
Turner acted as HCPA’s president from 2018-19.
“As president of the Highline College Paralegal Association, her group put on outstanding professional development events under her leadership,” Lamb said. “She has remarkable poise.”
She accomplished all of this, while also raising her 4-year-old daughter.
When she began at Highline, Turner’s daughter was 2 years old.
Watching her mom put in the work through school, work and raising her, has helped show her daughter how to reach your goals, Turner said.
“She already understands the dedication to reading, discipline, and doing all your assignments,” she said.
Through lots of struggles the past few years, the two have stayed strong.
“I’ve been going through an ongoing custody battle with her father,” Turner said. “I’d moved, lost work, got work, lost work again, and then the pandemic hit.”
“She has overcome loss and setbacks with a strong belief in herself, persistence, and determination to succeed,” Lamb said.
And her daughter’s been by her side every step of the way.
“Whether that’s coloring on all my textbooks, or being there for my zoom meetings in class, she’s always been a part of it,” she said.
Turner is graduating this quarter, and she has plans to keep moving forward with her career plans.
“My next plan is to be a paralegal, I’m taking the exam this week,” she said. “I want to give my best, make Highline proud, find my thing, have the career I love.”
She’d also like to return to Highline someday, and share everything she’s learned to others.
“I’d love to take my experience and put it in the form of a seminar, or a class,” Turner said. “I always want to be open, I just have so much still to give. I don’t want my credit requirements coming to a 0, to mean that Highline will never see me again.”
And although she’s learned a lot from textbooks, there are times at Highline that she’ll hold much closer to her heart, Turner said.
“It’s not always the classes, the books the tests I’m going to remember. It’s the life experiences and stories I would get from the professors, the people I’ve come across,” she said. “Those are the things I think I’ll remember … that keeps me grounded when things are going great, gives me hope when things aren’t going great.”
“I didn’t expect to gain a community, network, friends, colleagues,” Turner said. “I’m just so grateful I chose Highline.”