By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
Ana Robles had only one condition for her daughter when she signed the paperwork that would allow the 14-year-old to get married.
She had to complete high school.
Robles didn't condone getting married at such a young age, but she thought she had to give it her blessing to remain close to her daughter, also named Ana.
“The only reason she signed was because she said she was afraid that I’d run away with my boyfriend at the time and go to Mexico,” the younger Ana said. “That really frightened her.
“I made sure to keep that promise.”
Now, more than 30 years since that promise was kept, Dr. Ana York has done so much more to make her mother proud. York’s dissertation for her Ph.D. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Cognition and Instruction was signed by Dr. Michael Berger, Dean of the College of Doctoral Studies at Grand Canyon University this month, making her not only the first in her family to complete an undergraduate degree but also the first to obtain a doctorate.
It has been a long journey for York, and it has been anything but easy.
After getting married at such a young age, she quickly transitioned to motherhood. Having her first daughter at 15 added another level of complexity to keeping her promise.
“I knew I wanted to provide a better future for her, and I didn’t want her self-esteem or self-worth to be compromised; I didn’t want her to have to depend on someone else,” she said. “I thought, ‘I know this is the only way I can do this,’ as I sat in a dark room with a flashlight, studying.”
While raising her daughter, York completed her high school degree utilizing an independent studies format, then went to vocational school for medical assisting to help support her growing family.
When York gave birth to another daughter at age 19, she was on welfare and food stamps. On top of that, her time in the medical field ended after her internship at a teen prenatal clinic, the same one that had helped her as a young mother, ended when the location closed. It complicated the application process for other medical jobs because she had not gotten enough experience to qualify for other positions.
When her mother suggested going to junior college, her sights soon were set on a new career path.
“I thought I wanted to be a doctor at the time, and because I graduated from independent studies, there was a gap in my learning,” she said. “When you self-teach math, it’s not the same as if you have an instructor. I remember the counselor basically saying that that was not a good path for me.
“I was thinking, 'What else could I do since I have children?' And so I went into the education field to become a teacher.”
It was a career move that allowed York to blossom in ways she hadn’t previously thought possible. She completed her associate degree before pursuing her bachelor’s and teaching credentials from California State University Stanislaus in Turlock, California.
It was there that York met Dr. Joan Wink, who not only helped her during her time at CSU but also played a vital role in her future dissertation.
After completing her bachelor’s, York was hired for her first full-time teaching job at an elementary school around the same time she and the father of her first three children divorced.
It was a few years before York settled down again with her second husband, to whom she was married to for about 15 years. The couple had a son together.
She went on to complete her master’s in Business Administration while making the transition from teaching younger children to teaching at the high school level. It was there that the stars aligned for York and guided her to her next academic journey.
“It’s interesting 'cause I always connect the dots and I know that all things happen for a reason, but when I was working at the high school, GCU would come to recruit students,” she said. “They also had something that said, ‘Come check out our Ph.D. program and our master’s program’ and I told my girls, ‘Hey, this would be cool. Let’s just go,’ because two of my daughters were kind of looking for a master’s program.”
A year passed before York began her program, but it took her another three to tell her family.
“I thought it would be a nice surprise,” she said. “They had always seen me be a life learner, so it wasn’t surprising to them that I was reading, writing and researching. To them it was like, ‘Oh, there’s mom taking another class.’”
On top of pursuing her Ph.D., she also maintained her full-time job as a Spanish teacher at Gregori High School in Modesto, California, and took on a part-time teaching job at CSU Stanislaus. The heavy workload was nothing unusual for the mother of four.
“Your past prepares you for your future,” she said. “When my girls were smaller and I was getting my B.A., I had an internship, so I would work from 8 in the morning to 3 and then the (teaching) credential program was from 4 to 10 p.m.
“I remember being out all day, and this is where I’ve learned to kind of balance things out. ... I had to devise a plan to show my kids where I am, so I would take my girls with me to the university.”
Her time at GCU had ups and downs, but the experience left her with a lingering feeling of gratitude.
It allowed her to reconnect with Wink when she had to select a content expert for her committee. It also brought her a new mentor in Dr. Melissa Singer Pressman, whom she met at her first residency.
“Dr. Joan Wink and Dr. Singer Pressman were two angels sent to my rescue to guide me and to ensure my success through the process,” she said. “I’m very grateful because throughout the process and all of those highs and lows and frustrations, I always saw the hand of God.”
The cherry on top of the journey for York will be the opportunity to walk across the stage at Commencement and get hooded in the fall, showing her mother how much the emphasis she placed in completing her education resonated with her.
“She’s just very proud and grateful,” she said. “She knows the hard life and the challenges that we went through, and she’s just very proud.”
Now that she has completed her program, she hopes to use her degree to teach full-time for a university while also helping to make a positive impact on the mental health of adolescents.
A life of adversities, accomplishments and a love for education has culminated in a nice perk for York: She has a nice desk where she has placed her most recent tribute to her constant motivation.
A beautiful bouquet of flowers sits on the desk with a loving note:
“I love you. Congratulations, Dr. Mom.”
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].
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