It’s expected that more than 3,700 students will pass through cap and gown pickup at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center this week in anticipation of Summer Commencement.
Some dance in excitement. Some are jittery from too much coffee and not enough sleep. Some are snapping photos for social media love. Some simply are there to cross off another to-do on the list.
When Taylor Bousfield ’13MEd strolled up to claim her doctoral regalia as she breastfed her 5-month-old and cared for her nearly 3-year-old while maintaining a Zen-like calmness, the regalia distribution staff took in the scene before them and wondered: is Wonder Woman real?
“Most of the time I’m a mess,” Bousfield said with a laugh.
Bousfield was born and raised in Orlando and attended The First Academy through middle and high school. After earning her bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi, she taught for three years in Louisiana before moving back to Central Florida to teach at Lake Howell High School.
She had an itch to further her education, and when a grant opportunity arose to do so at UCF, she took the chance to earn her master’s degree in exceptional student education with a certificate in autism spectrum disorder.
While she was in graduate school, Bousfield learned of a doctoral grant from Lisa Dieker, a UCF professor and Lockheed Martin eminent scholar chair.
“I figured, why not try?” Bousfield said. “We have an incredible education program that has faculty members who are so innovative. Not to mention the opportunity to work with TeachLivE. That is something I wouldn’t have been able to do anywhere else.”
A month after starting the doctoral program, she learned she was pregnant with her almost 3-year-old, Luke.
“He literally went to every single class, one way or another – whether it was in person, in utero or on Skype,” she said. “There’s no way I could have been able to accomplish everything without the support of our special-ed faculty and my chair, Lisa Dieker.”
Bousfield’s interest in special education and teaching was instilled at a young age. Her aunt, Charlotte Day, is the county coordinator for Special Olympics in Orange County. Bousfield said from the time she could walk she was volunteering at events.
She will graduate on Aug. 5 with her doctorate in education, and her children and husband will be in attendance. She hopes that her family’s immersion in her university experience will instill a drive and a passion for education in her sons.
She plans to stay at UCF as a Teach Live liaison as she works with associate professor Rebecca Hines, PhD.
“Taylor will be an amazing addition to our program. Her doctoral work included research methods in TeachLivE that we will use to help prepare future teachers,” Hines said.
Bousfield said her biggest challenge over the years has been balancing her roles as a mother, a wife and a student, but she wouldn’t have traded the experience for the moment when she learned she had accomplished her goal.
“Hearing ‘Dr. Bousfield’ after passing my dissertation defense – with my husband and both of our boys there in the room — was amazing. It’s probably the best moment I’ve had in a while,” she said. “My advice to anyone is find a support system and don’t wait. Don’t put it off. Now is the time. Somehow it will always work out. Don’t put off life for school, and don’t put off school for life.”