Rachael Lobdell proves it is never too late to work toward your dreams
As she was starting her family, Rachael Lobdell realized she wanted to do something more with her life – something meaningful.
“My fiancé, Jason Worden, and I realized we wanted to do something with our lives. He was a grocery store manager and I was a bartender. We were trying to have a family. I knew that I didn’t want that life, especially if I had a child. I wanted to show my child that education is important and can take you anywhere you want,” said Lobdell, who lives in Dearborn with Worden and their 4-year-old daughter, Hazel.
Working to survive meant setting school aside
Born in Southfield, Lobdell is the youngest of three. She attended South Lyon High School but dropped out when she turned 16 to support herself and her family.
“We were broke. I had to work full-time. Life was about working to survive instead of pursuing an education. It was a combination of having to grow up fast to take care of myself and to also not be bullied at school,” she recalled.
At SLHS, Lobdell – who described herself as a “punk rock girl” in those days – was bullied relentlessly, which created a hostile environment. School administrators were not able to help, which gave her another reason to drop out.
So, she began working full-time as a waitress at Big Boy starting at 16. She worked in retail and retail management at The Body Shop in Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor for three years. Eventually, she moved to Ferndale and worked in retail, as well as a waitress, a housekeeper, and a bartender.
“That kind of hard work really builds character and makes you appreciate the people working these jobs,” said Lobdell.
Earning her GED
When she was 27, she earned her GED.
“I was very embarrassed for being a high school dropout,” confessed Lobdell. “I needed and wanted to get my GED. I realized I was smarter than this, better than this – retail management and waitressing weren’t enough for me. It was very important to find something I was happy doing.”
Her first attempt at higher education was at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, where she completed some part-time coursework while working full-time. It wasn’t the right fit.
Eventually, her parents became financially stable and settled in Dearborn. Realizing Lobdell and Worden were unhappy in their jobs, her parents invited them to move in with them so they could pursue higher education full-time.
“It feels good. I’ve met adults who’ve moved back to live with their parents to go to school full-time. It’s nice to know I’m not alone,” she said, laughing.
Finding her academic footing at HFC
Lobdell enrolled at HFC and the Surgical Technologist program.
“I’ve been interested in the medical field since I was in middle school. I thought about becoming a medical examiner – I guess I have a dark side,” she said, laughing. “As I was exploring potential fields of study, I read about becoming a surgical tech, and it sounded like something I would enjoy doing. I’m more wired to do this than nursing.”
Lobdell chose HFC because its Surgical Technology program has a “phenomenal reputation.” Her mentor is former program director Keambra Pierson, who is now the associate dean of the HFC School of Business, Entrepreneurship, and Professional Development.
“Rachael is a picture-perfect example showing how hard work pays off. She has made sacrifices to be here and has entirely accepted the challenge of being a student. Since becoming a student at HFC, she has been dedicated to absorbing all that HFC has to offer, which includes immersing herself in her studies and getting to know her instructors and peers," said Pierson. "She shows so much enthusiasm and passion for education, and it is a pleasure to see that in the classroom. I know that she has what it takes to be an exceptional Surgical Technologist, but I do not see her stopping there. Her journey is just beginning. I am happy to have played a small role in her success.”
Currently, Lobdell is working her second clinical rotation at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak. She will graduate this spring from HFC, earning her associate degree in applied science and certification as a surgical technologist. Lobdell has applied to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she hopes to pursue her bachelor’s degree in biology. Eventually, she would like to become a physician assistant (PA).
“HFC is like a family – a big, loving family”
Lobdell repeatedly directs the credit for her academic success and the second chance at a career in the medical field to HFC.
“The College has been really supportive. There was so much more guidance here at HFC. I could ask questions and got straight answers. If somebody couldn’t answer my questions, they found somebody who could. I don’t know if I could’ve stuck it out if I didn’t attend HFC. HFC is a like a family – a big, loving family. I’ve really enjoyed it and appreciated it for the last three years I’ve gone to school here,” she said.
Lobdell attended HFC President Russell Kavalhuna’s “First Fridays” on Jan. 8. Kavalhuna hosts an online forum that is open to the HFC community where anyone can ask questions. Lobdell asked Kavalhuna if there will be a graduation ceremony for this spring since it was cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. She feels this is an important rite of passage.
“I’ve never graduated from anything. I dropped out of high school. Of course, I got my GED but it gets mailed to you; you don’t walk across the stage to get it. The graduation ceremony is very important to me – it’s something for myself, my parents, my fiancé, and my daughter – just to see me in the cap and gown walking across that stage to get my diploma. To me, it would prove I’ve finally done it after going through many obstacles, tragedies, and traumas. This is the golden ticket for me, actually graduating with my AD.”
Because HFC will have a virtual commencement this year for safety reasons, Kavalhuna told her that he understood her concerns and would arrange to have a photo taken with him – both dressed in their caps and gowns – as he hands Lobdell her diploma.
“I think it’s amazing that the president would do that for me. That just warms my heart,” said Lobdell. “He’s very dedicated to the student body at HFC. Other schools, I couldn’t even tell you the president’s name. He likes to get out there and meet everyone. It meant a lot to hear that from him. I didn’t think I could do it, but I’m doing it. This only validates it.”