Richland College Counselor Karen Cuttill understands the difficulties many students are facing.
She had a turbulent childhood that culminated in running away from home and a suicide attempt as a teenager. She quit school at age 16 and married at 17. By the time Karen was 22, she was divorced with two sons.
About this time, Karen visited Brookhaven College with a friend and a helpful employee in financial aid convinced Karen that she was college material. After all, she had passed the GED test with flying colors a few years earlier with less than a 10th grade education.
Karen started classes at Brookhaven and took a few at El Centro College, too. She did so well that she was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa. But Karen wasn’t able to finish a degree at Brookhaven right then. Single parenting and her children’s serious health problems were creating mounting financial difficulties. Her college dreams took a backseat to life.
In the meantime, Karen met and married her second husband. After a few years, she was able to take some classes at Richland College to finish her associate degree from Brookhaven. Karen graduated in 1989.
Almost 10 years went by before Karen would return to college. Her son was finishing high school, and she was told that if multiple members of one family were attending college, they could get more financial aid. So in 1997, Karen enrolled in classes at Richland. One of her professors was Kay Coder.
“It was clear that Karen was an excellent student,” Kay says. “At that time, Karen did not believe that she could pursue a higher degree but I knew that she had a gift and that it would be a shame if she did not pursue her own dreams.”
Kay encouraged Karen to apply at Southern Methodist University. She was accepted and with the help of multiple scholarships, Karen took a full load of classes, raised teenagers, worked three jobs and graduated cum laude.
She went on to earn a Master of Arts in clinical and counseling psychology from SMU in 2003 and became a licensed professional counselor. Today, she is a full-time counselor at Richland and actively volunteers in the community using her skills.
“I know that our students are in good hands because Karen is not only a caring and compassionate counselor, she truly knows what many of our students are experiencing,” Kay says. “Karen had many real excuses and quit many times – but eventually she made it to her goal. Many people helped her and today she pays it forward as she helps others reach their goals.”