Graduating from Handley High School 35 years ago, Mary Dyke never imagined she’d be in possession of a master’s degree in business administration.
Dyke was able to earn her MBA in just five years through a 2+2+1 articulation agreement Laurel Ridge has with Shenandoah University. Participants spend two years at Laurel Ridge getting their associate degree, followed by three years at SU to earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“It’s just hard to believe it’s done,” Dyke says. “It feels good. Right now, I’ve got three diplomas. I never thought I would have that.”
Not only that, Dyke was awarded the Dean’s Award for best representing SU’s Harry F. Byrd Jr. School of Business.
She was still in high school when she started working at a shoe company in the Kmart store in Winchester. She would go on to work in the store for more than three decades, mostly in a managerial role.
Going to college wasn’t even on Dyke’s radar. While their brother was encouraged to attend college, the girls in her family were not, and she was OK with that.
“I had a full-time job,” Dyke says. “I was making good money. College just wasn’t relevant.
“But, then things happen.”
Kmart bought out the shoe company Dyke worked for, and while the box store kept her as an employee, her salary was reduced by $15,000 the next year. She also wasn’t being sent on any training courses.
“That’s when I knew there was no future,” Dyke says.
So, she enrolled part-time at Laurel Ridge thinking she would gain some skills that would be relevant in a changing workforce. Dyke also knew that at some point she would be downsized out of a job at Kmart, which eventually closed its Winchester location.
After 32 years at the store, she was let go. Dyke says she spent a Friday crying, and a Saturday being angry.
“On Sunday I realized it was a good thing,” she says. “Now I could attend Laurel Ridge full time.”
By 8 a.m. Monday, Dyke was at Laurel Ridge enrolling for full-time classes.
Going back to school did present some challenges.
“I had to learn how to do math again,” Dyke shares. “I lacked the computer skills that you use in today’s business world and even just to survive. I needed to re-educate myself in order to be prepared for today’s workforce.”
Realizing she could master algebra classes, she decided to pursue a business degree. Then, when the articulation agreement between Laurel Ridge and SU came about, Dyke decided to pursue her MBA, excited by the prospect of being able to complete the master’s portion in just one year, or three semesters.
She has nothing but praise for her professors throughout her journey.
“They would always take the time to work with me,” Dyke says. “People were always willing to help and support me.”
Laurel Ridge Assistant Professor of Business Rachel Dodson encouraged her to do the 2+2+1 program. Because her parents didn’t obtain bachelor’s degrees, Dyke was able to take advantage of Laurel Ridge’s TRIO program, which offers specialized services to those who are low income, have a disability or are a first-generation college student.
“I went from just another person coming here to having a support system with TRIO,” she says. “They encouraged me.”
While completing her master’s in one year was hard work and meant sacrificing some time with family and friends, it was worth it to Dyke.
“It goes by so quickly that before you know it, you’re done,” she says.
Dyke, 54, hopes she might inspire others to pursue their own dreams and return to school.
“My generation’s not going to retire at 65,” Dyke says. “Now that I have the education, I could probably still contribute to an organization for a good 20 years and still be passionate about doing so.
“I want to take time to enjoy life after so many years of working evenings and weekends. I feel like having my education now is going to set me on that path.”
The experience has already expanded Dyke’s horizons. As part of her MBA course, she traveled to Barcelona, Spain with Harry F. Byrd Jr. School of Business Dean Miles Davis and classmates for 11 days, a trip that has made her hungry for more travel.
Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.