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Non-traditional Student Journeys Across Andes and Braves Finishing Education During Covid-19 Pandemic

Kathleen SeayNative Houstonian and fifth-generation Texan, Kathleen Seay '23, will graduate from the University of St. Thomas-Houston on Saturday, May 13, at 4 p.m., Toyota Center, with a B.A. in History. Her ancestors came over on the Mayflower and were patriots in the Revolutionary War.

Born with an adventurous spirit and gifted with a generous lay-off notice from her employer during the COVID-19 pandemic, she decided to walk through her fears and test her mettle.

Therefore, first, she embarked on a journey across the Peruvian Andes.

After her return and a summer of job hunting, she mustered up the courage to complete her education. Armed with a UST scholarship, financial aid, and confidence when she earned good grades, she thrived. Coming from a line of history makers, she decided to pursue her degree in history. On her academic journey, she met two UST professors who became mentors – History Assistant Professor Dr. Francesca Guerri and Associate Professor of History and Division Dean of Social & Behavioral Sciences and Global Studies Dr. Thomas Behr. They served as her lifeline to learning in a new, challenging and exciting way.

“Not only did I earn a world-class education, but I also gained two pivotal mentors in the History Department,” she said. “I had never experienced the personal attention and care I received from these professors.”

A Journey Across the Peruvian Andes Sets Her on A Path

Seay, a non-traditional student, struggled to find a better work-life balance. Like many, when the world stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic, she reassessed her career. She was a 

mid-level manager for a major oil and gas pipeline company in the supply chain arena and felt unfulfilled. She signed up when she had an opportunity to walk the Inca Trail with a yoga group of 12 individuals in the Andes Mountains.

“I wanted to understand myself better and find some focus in my life,” she said. For Seay, the biggest obstacle she had to overcome was “all of the garbage thinking I had developed from years of insecurity and self-doubt,” Seay said. “The Inca Trail, while physically demanding, wasn’t the real challenge; it was the mental fortitude needed to complete the journey. It is the most challenging 26.2 miles you will ever walk, and it shows you that you are capable of many things you never thought you could do.

“I was tired, dirty, scared, and was behind the group,” she continued. “I wanted to quit. I sat down on the trail, sobbing and looking over the edge of the mountain. I had a very dark moment where I thought I could not continue. A few moments passed, and I was filled with a glorious sensation of light that I call grace. I do not know what that was, but it was beautiful and comforting. I got up and completed the trail with a lighter heart and sense of knowing that something greater than me was at work in my life.”

Graduation Brings New Possibilities in Life

After graduation, Seay wants to hike as many places as possible. She plans to walk the Camino de Santiago in 2025. Her career plans are to “create a work and life that I do not need to escape from,” Seay said. “I plan to get a job that pays as much money as possible because I spent a great deal of my retirement savings to make my education possible.”  

Seay is planning a side hustle to earn her TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) certification so that she can help those who desire to learn English become proficient or fluent. She is halfway through her SAP certification, a German Software platform used by many large energy companies. She wants to leverage her experience and knowledge for a much higher salary and position.

“I am forever changed in the best possible ways by my experiences at St. Thomas,” Seay said. “Sometimes I still pinch myself because I cannot believe this unique experience happened to me. I am so grateful to all the students I have met and made lifelong friendships and will cherish these moments for the rest of my life.”