Photos by Ralph Freso
Tranquility surrounds Ukrainian-born Lily Skots as she listens intently to a professor as part of a recent Grand Canyon University College of Doctoral Studies residency.
But Skots’ life isn't always tranquil.
Her thoughts are always with family in Ukraine. Her husband Sergey's parents and five of his nine brothers remain in the war-stricken country.
“It is painful to see what people are going through, and comparing to what we have here, it's a blessing,” said Skots, adding that her 84-year-old father-in-law is sick.
“We’re praying for God’s wisdom.”
Back home in Missouri, tranquility isn't always there, either.
Not only is she in the midst of her doctoral program – she's seeking a Ph.D. in General Psychology with an Emphasis in Cognition and Instruction – but she is the mother of six, ages 3-13, who found her path in life after one of her children, Victoria, was diagnosed with a learning disability.
She also keeps busy teaching a fifth-grade class.
Skots is proud of becoming the first in her family to go to college. It was a goal that her mother, who lives with her family in Missouri, did not get to achieve in her native Russia.
“She wanted to be a teacher, but at that time, her (high school) teacher wrote a comment on her report card that she is a Christian,” said Skots, adding that the teacher suggested her mother would not be a good fit at universities because of her Christian beliefs.
“So when I was raised, she was always telling me that one day, you will be there to make some changes. So that is why, when I was looking for Ph.D. programs, I was looking for a Christian university because it (would stay) with me for the rest of my life.”
Skots arrived in the United States 20 years ago, earned her bachelor’s degree at UC Davis and her master’s degree at William Jessup University in Rocklin, California. “And then I knew that I wanted to do more.”
Skots was looking for a Christian university, and “GCU was No. 1 on the list.”
“I got accepted fast because of my GPA and my transcripts. It was amazing to see where God takes me, because it was not a plan a long time ago.”
Skots said her transition to GCU has been smooth, thanks to her professors and their openness to feedback.
She cited one example in which Dr. John Padgett exchanged ideas without making her feel discouraged or nervous.
“I feel this communication is amazing, even with the counselors and all my professors,” said Skots, who was serenaded with “Happy Birthday” by the residency in early August. “I feel like it is just like a family. We have standards. I follow standards, and if I have questions, they are always open and usually they reply to my messages quickly.”
Padgett, one of Skots’ professors, observed her methodical style of studying, from her thorough notetaking to her insight.
That became evident during the first part of her residency, in which candidates meet with a faculty member for about 15 to 20 minutes for up to six times during a 4 ½-day span.
They must deliver a PowerPoint presentation at the end of the week, and Padgett observed that Skots had a strong delivery style.
“She’s all over it,” Padgett said.
Ironically, Skots studied pre-med at Davis and was attending a worship conference in Sacramento when she caught the eye of Sergey, who was working the event as a security guard. Skots was surprised when Sergey asked for her telephone number and called her, only for her to tell him that she was focused on her education and that he must attend church to see her.
“In six months, we had a wedding, and it’s been 15 years now,” Skots said with a smile.
At Davis, Skots was studying for her Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) before learning their second child, Victoria, had a learning disability.
She devoted her attention to aiding Victoria by studying Individualized Education Programs (IEP) for special needs students.
It also convinced her to change her field to education and earn her master’s in teaching at Jessup.
“I always say Victoria pushed me to pursue education,” Skots said.
The two-hour time difference between Phoenix and her home in Missouri allows Skots to submit her work after her youngest children go to bed.
“I'm still a mom,” she said. “I am a teacher, and I am a student, and it is all on the same plate. It takes different times, but it does not interfere.”
Fulfilling what her mother was discouraged from doing has given her a greater appreciation for the opportunities she's received.
Skots said her mom told her, “'I see that you are doing something that I was meant to do a long time ago. So this is a path. God prepared you for this.' It was encouraging to hear it."
Senior writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]