Dawn McCumber & Kiera Cowan

Graduation Year: 

It’s been a long journey, but when Mesa Community College graduate Dawn McCumber, 50, walks across the stage to accept her degree this month, her daughter, MCC graduate Kiera Cowan, 24, will be accepting her own degree.

It took McCumber six years to complete her Associate in General Studies degree. She finished it in 2021 but couldn’t walk due to COVID restrictions. So, she and her daughter are both walking in the 2022 ceremony.

McCumber said she was determined to be a role model for her children, and she was. Her degree pursuit inspired her daughter Kiera to further her education.

“I knew I wanted to encourage my kids to go to school, so I had to show them,” she said. “I had a terrific experience. I can’t thank MCC enough.”

The mother and daughter are proud to be first-generation graduates. They relied on each other throughout their college experience.

“It’s so cool, graduating as mother and daughter,” said McCumber, who is graduating with honors. “We’ve both had our own individual struggles.”

A single mom at 17, McCumber struggled to support her family. She didn’t graduate from high school and waited until she was 42 before she was able to begin college.

McCumber overcame dyslexic learning difficulties as she tackled one class after another.

“Math tutoring really helped me,” she said. “Often the number 13 turns into 31. The instructors, every single one, were very understanding and genuine. In my experience, most teachers don’t care, but at MCC, they really want you to succeed. They didn’t make me feel not smart enough. That speaks volumes.”

McCumber said one particular instructor, Fred Forney, stood out.

“I took a beginner’s music class from him,” she said. “I almost quit, but I gave him a chance and he turned out to be the most helpful, genuine person I’ve ever met. He taught me how to study and we worked through my learning difficulties. Any time I saw him it made me think that it was what was meant to be.”

McCumber is pursuing a degree and career in American Sign Language. She currently works for a homebuilder and would like to move up in the company and help deaf people build their homes.

Cowan said she also had a great experience at MCC, taking advantage of tutoring and many other resources as she worked full time, took classes and cared for her three-year-old son.

“I feel like 95 percent of my instructors were very understanding and adaptable,” she said. “I so appreciated that.”

Cowan will be transferring to Grand Canyon University to earn a bachelor’s degree in business. She’d like to open her own catering business.

Both agree that in addition to terrific teachers, they had fantastic classmates as well.

“I was often the oldest student in the class,” said McCumber, who lives in Queen Creek. “I became the mother figure; I did study groups at my home. I loved my classmates, and they shared the things they knew with me as well.”

McCumber said she is so pleased her daughter has completed her degree and will continue her education.

“She didn’t graduate from high school, she’s a single mother and now she is graduating from college,” McCumber said. “I’m just so proud of her.”

Cowan said she feels the same way.

“I’m so very proud of my mother as well,” she said.