OCTOBER 7, 2020 — Entering a bachelor’s degree program after being out of school for nearly 20 years, while working full-time, with two children, and during a global pandemic might be too much for most people. But to anyone who knows Desiree Vitale ’20, they know she is not like most people.
Vitale began as a freshman at UTSA 19 years ago but dropped out because she was eager to start a career. She was ambitious, she explained, and began working three jobs. At 19 years old she started her career as a detention officer at the magistrate’s office in San Antonio.
Her work ethic and ambition quickly made itself clear to her supervisors. She began working with youth for a special community service program at the municipal court while working as a detention officer, and her manager recommended her for a position as a case manager.
“I didn’t have a degree, which was a requirement,” Vitale explained. “But because they liked the way I worked with the youth, they moved forward and allowed my years of experience to substitute for education.”
Vitale spent several years as a juvenile court case manager, but it was clear to her that to keep moving forward, she needed that degree. So she returned to UTSA part-time with some trepidation, since she was a working mother.
She began in the public administration program in 2017, while raising a new son and with the support of her manager and colleagues. It was abundantly clear that her professors at UTSA wanted her to succeed—especially when less than a year after she began—she gave birth to her second son.
“I had my son on August 18, the week classes began,” Vitale said. “I emailed professor Patricia Jaramillo and asked if, perhaps, I could bring my son with me to class.”
The answer was a resounding yes—after Jaramillo insisted that she take the first week off. “She would hold him while we worked on projects,” Vitale said. “She was so incredibly supportive, and that kind of support was what I needed to succeed.”
“Vitale’s perspective offered legitimacy for coursework and topics in my undergraduate classes that could only be contributed by a student who was a working professional in the public sector,” Jaramillo said. “Her commitment to completing her studies and the energy she brought to her studies was motivating.”
That motivation propelled Vitale to finish her degree early, and she graduated this past summer. In the meantime, she had earned a promotion at work to chief deputy court clerk.
“Desiree earned a promotion in the early months of the pandemic and the final months of her time at UTSA,” lecturer Gina Amatangelo said. “She juggled professional, family and academic commitments with tremendous grace. We’re fortunate to have leaders like Desiree in our program.”
This isn’t the end for Vitale. She has applied for the master’s in public administration program at UTSA, and aspires to a career at City Hall—perhaps even a place on city council. “Everyone working on the city council is extremely educated,” she said. “And I want to emulate that.”
How does she continue to do it? At a time when many of us are struggling and burned out, dealing with new challenges and changing lifestyles, Vitale demonstrates the resiliency of a Roadrunner.
“Everything is hard all of the time,” she said. “Just push yourself and keep going.”