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UB's IDEAL Program Helps Norwalk Hospital Employee Balance Books, Family

Denise Huertas, with her daughter, returned to college in the University of Bridgeport's IDEAL program after more than 20 years away from the classroom.
Denise Huertas, with her daughter, returned to college in the University of Bridgeport's IDEAL program after more than 20 years away from the classroom. Photo Credit: Contributed

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – After more than two decades away from a college classroom, Denise Huertas knew it was time to return to school and finally obtain her degree. A not-so-subtle nudge from her son didn’t hurt, either.

Huertas, a Trumbull resident who works at Norwalk Hospital, will earn a psychology degree next year from the University of Bridgeport. She enrolled last year in Bridgeport’s IDEAL Program, and hopes to become a counselor in the psychiatric department at the hospital when she obtains her degree. She currently works in the hospital’s pathology unit.

“I started college and then I let life get in the way,’’ said Huertas, who has five children and guardianship of two grandchildren. “I was thinking about going back and then my 25-year-old son said ‘Shouldn’t you finish your degree?’ It gave me a jolt.”

Huertas earned two Associates degrees and obtained a certificate as a paralegal, but that was more than 20 years ago. She had some hesitation about returning to a campus, but felt at home in the IDEAL Program as soon as she set foot in the classroom.

“I like the fact that it’s not a bunch of little kids,’’ Huertas said. “It’s actually people that are 25 and older and have obligations. They want to be there and they’re striving for something. They’re not twisting their hair and chewing gum. I have teenagers at home who do that. I don’t need that at school when I have that at home.”

The hardest part was crafting a schedule that works, but Huertas scheduled her classes for Wednesdays, when her husband is off work. She also sets aside Sundays for course reading and finds other time during the week for homework and computer assignments.

Huertas has three 16-year-old triplets, and her other children are 32 and 25. The grandchildren of whom she has guardianship are 14 and 8.

“Wednesday is the only day that nobody in the family has other things going on,’’ Huertas said. “My husband gets to play Mommy on that day. Sunday is my reading day after church, and I put up my Do Not Disturb sign and they know to leave Mommy alone. I’m fortunate because the kids are at an age where they’re not all that needy. Everything is good until my work for school affects their lifestyle.”

Besides the schedule flexibility, Huertas also enjoys the professors and other students in the IDEAL classes. She said class size ranges from 7-12 students, and that there’s a wide variety of opinion and experiences among the students.

“There are many people with different backgrounds and ages,’’ she said. “It brings new information to you. They’ll say something and I’ll think to myself, ‘I never looked at it from that perspective.’ Everyone gets a chance to speak and get involved in the class.”

Huertas said Bridgeport’s professors are also well-rounded and accommodating, and know the demands of students who are juggling work, children and school. “They understand you have a life,’’ Huertas said. “They don’t want to babysit kids. But they’ll work with you if you have an issue and can’t get a paper in when it’s due to a family emergency or obligation.”

Huertas has proven to her family and others that it’s never too late to obtain a degree. Especially for older adults, she recommends the program for people who want to return to college.

“I’ve already recommended it to friends,’’ she said. “I’ve told a lot of people they should look into it.”

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