Elizabeth Stiles sits down on a blue couch in one of the hallways of the Ceddia Union Building at Shippensburg University. Class ended early for the mother of nine, which gave her some time to answer a few questions regarding her busy life.
The 39-year-old is usually on a tight schedule. Eight of her nine children still live at home; the oldest one has left for college.
For the past few years, Stiles has been taking classes to complete her master’s degree in communication studies at SU. Sometimes she would have to take a semester off due to having a baby or other life circumstances.
“It was right before I got pregnant with my sixth child when I seriously started to pursue higher education,” Stiles said about the moment when she decided to go back to school. “We have a large family. If anything would happen to my husband I need to be able to provide for my kids.”
The stay-at-home mom started off with completing an associate’s degree and later received her bachelor’s degree from Penn State World Campus in letters, arts and sciences with an emphasis in organizational leadership.
But being back in school would not work without the support of her husband.
“He loves the fact that I love to learn,” said Stiles, whose passion has always been writing and was excited to receive a degree in a related field. “I take classes in the evening so he can be with the kids. He makes them dinner and keeps them on schedule.”
Nonetheless, the biggest support for her is the morale. The further she gets in education the harder it is to balance family and school; but her husband is behind her the whole time.
Stiles remembers that going back to school was not an easy task at first. “Every time I go back, it is like my brain is about to explode. Because you get out of the habit, it’s a muscle you haven’t used in a while,” said Stiles who makes the drive up to campus about twice a week.
A typical day in her life begins with getting up at 5 a.m. to take her teenage kids to scriptural education classes. After that it is a constant routine of waking up kids to prepare them for school and making sure they get on their busses.
Left at home with her are only her 2-year-old son and two of her daughters who she currently homeschools.
Stiles has homeschooled most of their kids at different stages, depending on the family needs and the needs of the child. She and her husband are not afraid of pulling their kids out of the classroom and putting them back in. She also prepares the lesson plans herself.
“I have a good understanding of the academic system, of what is required at different ages and stages. I also use the Khan Academy, which is an online service provider for educational material,” said Stiles.
Time for her own schoolwork is very limited. When she does find time it is an intense period of studying before she has to put her notes aside for other duties or chores around the house.
Stiles said she never had any difficulties adapting to new software. The only problem is the level of engagement. She does not have as much time to spend with programs as students who are active in student media or have jobs in related fields.
“To her, education is very important,” said Kemmery, assistant director of publications at the university, and instructor of Stiles’ magazine design class. “Her husband has his PhD as well, they wanted to set an example to their kids that education is important and that you need to make space for it.”
Kemmery added, “It is just mind boggling. I have a 1 1/2- year-old and one on the way. And I can’t imagine doing graduate school just with the two of them.”
Stiles said she has not always planned on having a large family, but one day the family learned about the eternal nature of families at her church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that’s when they decided to take that route.
“Nobody thinks they can love more than one child,” said Stiles and took a short break before she continued. “But the reality is, love multiplies.”