New found motivation leads to success later in life


Rebecca Donegan, 66, was inspired by her daughter to return to school at the age of 50. Photo credit: Roseana Martinez

A private conversation of a daughter and her boyfriend emerge from Rebecca Donegan’s home as they discuss marriage.

As she tip-toes through her own house, she can’t help but stop to overhear their conversation through the thin walls.

“You have to know that if you marry me my mom will have to come live with us,” Donegan’s daughter said.

Listening to her daughter say this was the beginning of Donegan’s life-changing decision.

“It just shocked me, this poor child had such a burden to worry about her mother who was single, this was ridiculous. So I thought if I went back to school I’m earning a Master’s Degree,” Donegan said.

In 2003, Donegan’s only daughter was her motivation to go back to school to earn her Associated Degree in geography.

Six years later she earned three degrees in geography: Associated, Bachelors, and Masters.

After receiving her Master’s degree Donegan’s first job was a part-time position at El Camino College, and six years later she became a full-time geography professor on campus.

Geography was always something Donegan enjoyed learning about.

Her passion started at Glendale Community College where she took history and geography culture with the same professor.

“The way she taught history with maps showed us the path of where things moved, where wars were fought, where world domination happened and it was just beyond fascinating,” Donegan said. “I think I was just destined to become a geographer.”

Her decision of becoming a teacher came because of how old she was.

“Because I was 50-years-old, I thought I want a job where I don’t work 40 hours a week, 50 weeks of the year,” Donegan said.

For Donegan teaching college was something she enjoys because of the benefits, like meeting students, helping them succeed, the freedom of going at her own pace, and the hours she works.

As for her students, Donegan enjoys sharing her story about the struggles she went through in college because it’s a way she can relate to them.

Her struggles revolved around finding new ways to study, learn and stay focused again because after graduating high school in 1970, it had been about 33 years since she was in school.

In class, Donegan talks about the struggles with prioritizing and teaching her students to do what is most important in their lives first.

“That was hard because school was my priority and everything else felt second. You have a goal and you have to learn to stick to your goals because that’s how you meet them and realize them,” Donegan said.

“To my students, I try to teach them to overcome anything. You have to make up your mind on what you want. Why you’re here. You have to remember what your goal is,” Donegan added.

Sharing her experience with students is important to her because she wants them to realize that regardless of age everyone struggles with similar situations when they are in school.

“It’s beyond geography, I want them to take an attitude of ‘I want to succeed.’ It’s a mindset and an attitude to try to succeed,” Donegan said.