For Cija, three inches separated life from death.
Years ago, the 37-year-old mother of four was shot in the arm. Had the bullet entered her body just a little closer, she would have become another statistic. Instead, her grit and perseverance to survive sparked a drive to study criminal justice and to be a voice for the voiceless.
“I truly feel there are a lot of people who get a raw deal when they go to court because they’ve been misrepresented or don’t have representation,” she says. “That’s truly where my heart is.”
Having experienced hardship and struggle, Cija recognizes what a powerful model she is for the inner strength it takes to change your life and to change your future.
“I truly believe we go through what we go through to better other people,” she says. “There may be somebody who’s a starting student, or a prospective student, who might think a degree is unachievable. I want to show them they can do it.”
In 2013, Cija arrived in Austin, Texas. With no real income and four teenage children, she was dropped into a living situation that cost her more money that she could earn. As the obstacles piled up and the demands and pressures increased, Cija faced the very real threat of homelessness. She reached what many of us would consider a breaking point.
But her grit and perseverance came through and turned everything around.
“Diligence is the key to overcoming anything,” she says of her inability to accept defeat. “I wanted to make it work, and so I did. I applied to temp agencies and took whatever job was handed to me. I put myself out there.”
Eventually, Cija found a steady, full-time job with the Texas state government. But she knew her story wasn’t finished there. She realized an education was essential to both her professional and personal success in the years to come.
And she wasn’t just in this for herself. She had her children to think of as well.
“One thing that’s gratifying is that I can show my kids it can be done,” she says. “I set the bar high for myself, so I set the bar high for them. They see that mom can work a full-time job and go back to school.”
In 2015, on a cousin’s recommendation, Cija spoke to a Strayer University representative, who fought hard to give her the opportunities she needed to enroll, including reevaluating transcripts and transferring credits from Cija’s time at Judson University in Illinois.
What Cija finds most rewarding about Strayer University is the on-campus experience – an experience she can enjoy despite her constantly busy life at work and home.
“There’s a great staff on campus,” she says. “They’re the best teachers. They actually care about you, and they make sure you have the tools and templates to be successful. They’re even there for you outside the classroom. I feel like I’m in a family at school.”
Cija plans on completing her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice next quarter. After that, she’s taking her grit and determination to the next destination on her journey: law school.