When women are bold and empower other women, they can accomplish more than they ever imagined—and inspire others to do the same. Carolyn Woods is the perfect example of this. Thirty-two years after graduating from college, she decided to return to school at Antioch to get her Master of Business Administration. And in getting her MBA, she inspired her daughter, Lizzie Luciani, to do the same. Together, this mother-daughter duo embody the potential of education as a tool for changing our own lives and enabling the dreams of those around us.
Two Generations in One Program
Woods started on her MBA on the weekends in 2015, using Antioch’s tuition-remission program for full-time employees to reduce tuition costs. For Woods the question was less about whether she wanted a graduate degree—she knew she did—but more about deciding which program to enter. She had long worked on the Antioch New England campus, and she was excited to learn more about working in effective teams and how to contribute as a leader. Woods eventually settled on the MBA, as it seemed well-tailored to help her develop these skills. When she expressed nervousness about balancing work and studies to her boss, Liz White, White encouraged her, saying, “You can do this.”
Woods dove headfirst into her studies in the MBA, and completed two years of courses. Then in 2017, she learned that her daughter also wanted to get her MBA—also at Antioch. Woods realized that she wanted to support her daughter in attaining this degree, so she put her own studies on hold to allow her daughter this opportunity.
Woods’s daughter, Lizzie Luciani, was working at a philanthropic non-profit in New York City at the time. Luciani did look into studying at schools in New York, but she was inspired by her mother’s experience in the Antioch MBA, where she could specialize in sustainability, as she had studied environmental science and policy as an undergraduate. She also liked the fact that the MBA was focused on people who did not have a background in the finance industry, as that can be a barrier to success and also can lead to a homogenous cohort. Because Luciani’s mom was an employee of Antioch, she was able to get a discount on the degree. That was the icing on the cake, says Woods: “She really thought, ‘This is the program I want.’ So it was a win-win situation.”
An Opportunity for a Mother-Daughter Campus Connection
While her daughter studied in the program, Woods helped her not just with her tuition but also by regularly providing a place to stay. Luciani had to drive up to New Hampshire from New York City for her weekend classes. She would come up on either Thursday or Friday and often stayed at her mother’s house a half-hour drive away from campus.
They often talked about their parallel studies and what Luciani was learning. For Woods, it wasn’t a problem to step aside to prioritize her daughter’s studies. She says that she told her daughter, “I’m still going to be here. I can continue to finish.” It was a great opportunity for her to support her child.
Woods took advantage of the fact that her daughter was studying at Antioch in another way—she was able to do some “mom” things like bringing in snacks and treats for her cohort. “It was fun” that her daughter was studying at the school she worked at, says Woods, and she especially enjoyed “to see her do that [and] to be able to take advantage of the program.”
Luciani graduated with her MBA in 2019. Since earning her MBA, Lizzie was also promoted to a Grants Manager position and is confident that her non-traditional MBA gave her just the confidence and credentials she needed to make that upward move.
Online Program Ideal During Pandemic
When Woods then returned to the program, it had transformed. Where formerly the MBA was taught on Antioch’s New England campus with courses held during the weekend, it had now shifted to an all-online format. (The MBA is now officially part of the Antioch Online campus.) This suited Woods well—especially when a global coronavirus pandemic shut down campuses across the country in early 2020.
Woods had just been promoted to a job as Director of Administration for her department before re-starting in the MBA, and she experienced much support and encouragement from her colleagues and the faculty that she works with. And she felt certain that she had chosen the right school to continue her studies at. “I would have chosen Antioch even if I didn’t work here,” she says. “As an older learner… they recognized my life achievements.”
In the MBA, Woods specialized in Leadership and Teams. This tied in with her work as an administrator at Antioch, but being a student also paid a dividend in another area: she said she gained a new understanding and appreciation of the challenges being navigated by working graduate students today. “I felt I understood the time constraints of being a full-time student while also working full time,” she explains. “In many cases, the students I work with are also managing families and/or are struggling with finances—it’s a lot to handle.” She tried to take some of the same advice that she gives to students, especially to practice self-care. “I tried to practice that as well,” she says.
And as she saw what her classmates were going through in the early days of the pandemic, it only heightened her compassion and desire to help other Antioch students. “I don’t have people to take care of. I don’t have little ones that I was trying to then do homeschooling,” she says. “I didn’t have to prepare meals for a family and all—just my dog and myself.” And still it was hard to balance the uncertainty of a pandemic with the challenges of being a student. She tried to carry this knowledge into her day job, she says. “[Now I] know how hard it is for them and so I have some more insight from their vantage point”
In August of last year, just a month before turning fifty-nine, Woods graduated with her MBA. Her daughters surprised her in the most delightful ways, she says: they told all of her friends of their mother’s accomplishment and asked them to send her cards, “I received a literal tsunami of cards in the mail!” she says. “I felt proud to say that I was a graduate of Antioch and to be able to share our mission and vision to anyone who asked!”
Sierra-Nicole is an MFA student of fiction writing at Antioch University Los Angeles. Her passions lay in historical fiction, her mixed Hawaiian and Irish culture, and plants and animals. This writer is based in Palm Desert, CA. where she lives with her two dogs, Ricky and Lucy, and two turtles, Fred and Ethel.