Earning the Hat

May 10, 2023

Jessica Parra Earns Her Doctorate from UIW

Dr. Jessica Parra at graduation in regalia

She always wanted “the hat,” – the tam doctoral candidates wear as they graduate and earn their degrees. On Saturday, May 6, Jessica Parra finally achieved her dream. The director of Student Services for the UIW School of Professional Studies (SPS) crossed the stage and became Dr. Jessica Parra, finally earning her Doctor of Business Administration degree from UIW’s SPS program.

The dream was a long time coming and has been anything but easy for Parra. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (TAMUCC) when her children were very young, sometimes taking them to class with her so she wouldn’t miss too many lectures. She recalls that there were no online courses back then, but she was determined to earn her degree.

She went on to earn a master’s in public administration from TAMUCC but then put her own education on hold to raise her family.

More than 15 years later, after Parra’s children graduated and left for college, she turned her attention back to her own dream of one day wearing “the hat” while crossing a commencement stage. She realized she needed three things from the doctoral program she chose: convenience, affordability and accessibility.

Dr. Jessica Parra and her family

“What I found at the University of Incarnate Word was accessibility,” shared Parra. “The fact that we have hybrid courses that are online … it was accessible, convenient and affordable. It was a well-structured program, and I felt comfortable taking the chance.”

The chance she took has worked out well, said Parra. The UIW SPS doctoral program is designed for nontraditional students who work full-time. The cohorts are small, with 10 students graduating alongside Parra. This allows the students to build bonds with each other and the faculty members, providing support and encouragement along the journey. 

“There is an investment in each of the students that you really do feel,” explained Parra. “I really think that’s so important when we’re talking about retention, especially at the graduate and doctoral level, where we have full lives already.”

As a UIW employee and now an alumna, Parra hopes to represent SPS in a manner that makes other people ask her where she got her degree. She says she wants to display the University’s Mission, but also share with others that UIW proved to be the best place for her to finally achieve her goal, offering all the support to do so at this point in her life.

Although it isn’t easy to go back to school, Parra said “it’s never too late.” Through the emotions of realizing that she was finally done, Parra shared some advice for others considering going back to school to earn the long-desired diploma.

“Eventually, it will be your time. It may not be when everyone else’s time is, and it may not be when you want it to be your time. But you will get your time, and when you do, take advantage of it. Look for a program that fits you, and you will be able to accomplish your dream.”

After she finished her last class, Parra called her children. They had only one question for her.

“Did you get the hat?”

She did.

Dr. Jessica Parra and her children