Education is essential to success, but academics and earning degrees didn’t come easy for me. This may seem ironic coming from the president of a graduate school who has spent more than 25 years in higher education. Nonetheless, it is true.

It took a big commitment to dedicate myself to learning, and each degree I earned was more challenging than the last. From the get-go, my career strategy was to earn a doctorate degree – this one was definitely the most demanding–and, by far, the most important for breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling.

Were it not for my Ph.D., I would have never become president. When I earned my doctorate, many opportunities were presented to me. Without it, I’d have never been considered. Continuing education is a prerequisite to upward mobility in one’s career.

I was born in Chicago. My five siblings, parents and I lived in one of the largest housing projects in the country. I experienced what it meant to be poor, but I made a commitment to myself that I would never be defeated by gender or race.

Being in the military was a positive experience. The military creates an environment in which people of all races, cultures and geographic locations come together for a common cause to complete the mission.

At times I was one of only two females in a battalion of 180 Marines. I proved my self capable by demonstrating intelligence and confidence, ultimately gaining the respect of my peers.

After the Marine Corps, I discovered my passion for higher education, especially in support for the under-served. As long as they are academically qualified, I believe all individuals who desire an advanced degree should be given the opportunity. My own education helped put me in a position to influence positive outcomes for others, and that role continuously motivates and inspires me.

Beyond academic accomplishments, I’ve recognized the value of building relationships. Relationships mean everything and enhance the journey. To be truly successful, you have to be an individual who respects, admires and believes in all people.

I also believe that the more successful you are, the more important it is to be humble. My closing advice: Be a life-long learner and never lose your wit.