My Graduate Life: Kristina Powell

I clearly remember being in year 11 and nonchalantly passing up the opportunity to take the SATs because I “wasn’t going to university in the US anyway.” No one in my family had gone away to university, so I didn’t even realize that was an option for me – and a good one at that. Everyone I’d known had taken a similar route – graduate high school, start community college, get a job, then work while finishing their degree, and I didn’t have a reason to do things any differently.

Later that year, I was trying to figure out what I would study in college. I was doing well in my Accounting and IT classes, so those were my options, but my issue was figuring out whether I liked either of them enough to make a career. So, I came up with a foolproof plan – or so I thought.

My plan was that I would study whichever of the two I got the higher grade on. Of course, being the go-getter that I am, both of my grades were the same – 1s, the highest I could get – so I still fell into the same trap. This time, I had to make a decision. Instead of relying on “fate”, I tried logic. I thought, “well, a business degree can be used very widely. So I’ll start as a business major for my associate’s degree and continue into accounting for my bachelor’s degree” and that’s exactly the course I started along.

I started my college education in the dual-enrollment program, so I didn’t graduate from high school until a year later. That’s when I found out I had earned the top accounting exam grade for my year group and was awarded the KPMG Accounting Award. I took this as a confirmation that I was certainly on the right path!

Kristina completed her Masters Degree in the University of South Florida.

Not long after officially graduating from high school, I started working as a teller at a bank and later earned a Banking Certificate. However, the more experience I gained, the less I was interested in accounting and by that time I was just about finished my degree. As the most technologically inclined at our small branch, I began taking care of a lot of the IT-related issues with the guidance of our off-site IT team. I enjoyed doing the tasks, but since it was like second nature, I never put much thought into it. That is, until the evening we were gathered for a meeting and told that our branch would be closing down.

Up until this point, I was just going with the flow. But the minute I heard those words everything made sense. I immediately knew that my next step was to continue my education in IT overseas. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my working life being pushed around to whatever job the bank had for me – I needed to do something I enjoyed. To come to that decision so quickly, I must have known it’s what I wanted to do deep down, but I needed a good reason to follow through.

A few weeks later, I was relocated to another department but I spent my entire time there planning for my departure. Having finished my associates, I had lots of time on my hands to figure out exactly where I was going next. In May 2016 – just over a year later – I finally resigned from my job. I had no scholarships secured, and no money to pay for my degree. But I had an acceptance letter to attend the University of Tampa to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Management Information Systems. I ended up doing three interviews and landing two of those scholarships which gave me a full ride to university, all expenses paid!

Kristina launched her blog @kindlethekword to inspire other students after graduating.

While at UT, I was on the Dean’s list and was inducted into three honors societies due to my major academic accomplishments. I returned to work in my scholarship provider’s IT department every summer and had earned the Information Systems Analyst certification by the time I had graduated.

In 2019, as I returned home to start my first full-time job in IT, I also started a Master’s in Cybersecurity at the University of South Florida. Balancing school and work was quite the task, nevertheless, I got it done. I earned the Global Information Assurance Certification in Cyber Threat Intelligence (GCTI) just after graduating in May 2020. And, have also been acting as the Application Support Manager for my scholarship provider turned employer.

It still amazes me just how far I’ve come, especially when I remember those words I said in year 11. If anyone had told me then where I would be today, I would have never believed it. So I am thankful to my family for encouraging me in my decision to take such a leap and to God from whom all blessings flow.

With all of that said, just after graduating, I launched my blog ( / @kindlethekword) to share my story and encourage students to go for their wildest dreams! Don’t let anyone hold you back or discourage you from pursuing whatever it is your heart truly desires. So join me on my journey as I continue to explore the academic and career world! In the words of Germany Kent, “never underestimate the power you have to take your life in a new direction.”

Kristina Powell

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