Michelle Wood knows she isn’t your traditional undergraduate student, but it doesn’t keep her from striving to meet her goals.
At 58, Wood is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in health care administration at Trevecca, after completing her associate degree in 2018. Both are goals Wood admits she sometimes wondered she’d ever achieve.
“Trevecca has given me things that I don’t believe I could have accomplished anywhere else,” she said. “Getting these degrees, moving different positions [in my career]—I’ve been able to do things I just didn’t think were possible. I tell people like me, who thought it would never be possible to graduate from college, that it is possible. I’ve done it. Trevecca has not only given me the credentials I need [to advance], they’ve made me fearless about this world.”
Wood has spent her career working in fields that support people dealing with substance abuse, mental illness and homelessness. She’d tried school in the past, but it had never quite worked out.
But after learning about Trevecca when faculty and students led worship at the women’s center of the Nashville Rescue Mission where she worked, Wood decided to give school one more try. In 2015, she enrolled in an associate degree program at Trevecca.
The timing couldn’t have been better.
A native of Rockville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., Wood had initially moved to Nashville to join her fiancé. When the relationship fell apart, Wood felt abandoned and unmoored, with all the plans she’d dreamed of shattered. She was alone in the city where she had no family and few friends—except the family she found at Trevecca.
“Trevecca has been the light in the darkest parts of my life,” she said.
At Trevecca, Wood says she found advisors and instructors who believed in her, people who were willing to walk alongside her and encourage her when she thought finishing her degree might be impossible. Wood says that Trevecca also gave her the skills and credentials she needed to advance in her career, including a new job at a local psychiatric hospital.
“They’ve made it possible,” Wood said. “They’ve given me what I needed. I don’t think that I would have stayed [in Nashville] and followed through if it weren’t for Trevecca. It’s been everything for me.”
Dr. Brandee Norris, the director of Trevecca’s health care administration programs, celebrated Wood’s new job right along with her student.
“I've had the pleasure of watching Michelle grow academically, spiritually and professionally,” Norris said. “Last week, Michelle contacted me requesting a letter of recommendation. On Wednesday, I received notification that she got the job! I am proud of Michelle and eagerly await to see how she applies her servant leadership style in her new role.”
While Wood has completed her Trevecca programs online, it’s not uncommon to find her on campus. Before the global pandemic, Wood was a regular at Trevecca men’s and women’s basketball games, Homecoming and other campus events. Some days, she’d come to campus just to grab a bite to eat or simply sit on a rock near the Reed Memorial Bell Tower and gaze out over the Quad, reveling in the hustle and bustle of a thriving college campus.
“I think I come because of all I missed,” Wood says, referring to traditional collegiate experience, something her life circumstances made impossible. “That’s my rock over by the bell tower, and I sit there and try to absorb everything I’ve missed.”
It doesn’t escape Wood’s notice that this May, she’ll be one of the graduates marching under the bell tower. It’s a moment years in the making, she says.
“When I graduated with my associate degree [in 2018], it was raining cats and dogs, so [the ceremonies] were all over campus and not on the Quad,” she said. “The first time I graduated, I just wanted to do it again and again and again.
“I’m hoping we’re able to graduate on the Quad, and we get to walk under the bell tower—that will be indescribable,” Wood continued. “A person like me—I never thought about how important it was to have a college degree and I was afraid to try, but look where I’m at. So when I walk under that bell tower that will be the icing on the cake.”
Wood wants to continue working in roles that minister to, encourage and help people, something she has done since the early 1990s. To achieve that goal, Wood is planning to further her education at Trevecca, by pursuing first a master’s degree and then a doctorate.
“Trevecca has given me the desire to keep working with people who have been in the struggle like myself. I just want to be an example that people can make it out, to be a beacon,” Wood said. “I have a mission now. I will always be a part of the school that saw me through the darkest days of my life. Paint me purple because I am Trevecca through and through.”