Working as a paralegal can be stressful enough, but for 38-year-old Chris Rapozo it’s just one part of an impressive balancing act. This Spring, Chris achieved his goal of becoming a Florida Gator grad after completing his bachelor’s degree via UF Online. “I never saw myself as the university student type,” Chris said when speaking of his accomplishment. “As a non-native-English speaking college graduate, it gives me so much pride and confidence that I was able to complete this rigorous program with UF Online while working and raising a family.”
BAMBERG, TO THE BAY, TO THE SWAMP
Chris was born and raised in Bamberg, Germany. It was about 16 years ago, at the age of 22, that he decided to move to the United States. “I had some contacts in Tampa, so I moved directly there. I actually have dual citizenship. My father was in the U.S. army, and my mother is German. I had a friend who lived in Tampa and took an amazing opportunity that worked out really well,” said Chris.
Initially apprehensive about continuing his education in a foreign country, Chris was actually inspired to start his college journey by his wife of seven years, Kara. “I thought I was too old, and about a year after we met she said, ‘Chris you should really consider going to college’ and I just thought no. But she kept encouraging me,” said Chris. “It’s actually because of her that I’m in this position, so I have to thank her for that.”
In 2017, Chris received his associate degree in mass communications from Hillsborough Community College in Tampa. Initially a business major, Chris took a turn toward communications after doing some reevaluating before graduating from HCC. “I knew the business route would require a lot of advanced math courses, so freshman year I switched my major to mass communications. I like to write. I like storytelling, but I also enjoy being in a professional business environment,” he said when speaking about his first degree.
In the beginning, Chris wasn’t sure if he’d make it to graduation. He understood that earning his bachelor’s degree would likely take longer than the standard four years, but he found the drive to succeed with an incredible support system.
“It starts by chipping away little by little. I know it seems overwhelming, and it’ll be difficult, but it’s the difficulty that makes it truly worthwhile in the end.”
PARALEGAL MEETS PUBLIC RELATIONS
After completing his associates degree and working as a full-time paralegal, Chris knew he wanted to earn a bachelor’s degree and enhance his technical skills. He then began his UF Online journey around the same time his first child, Joseph, was born. Chris’s daughter Kate was born during his senior year.
When it came down to choosing an online program, Chris says several factors including commuting, new fatherhood, and working around a set schedule of classes helped him make his decision. “I thought the traditional thing to do after graduating from Hillsborough is to go to USF [University of South Florida] because it’s in Tampa. But I didn’t want the hassles of sitting in traffic and finding a parking spot, nor did I feel a draw to go there,” said Chris. That’s where UF Online came into play. “I thought to myself, this is such a great school and a top-ranked public university. To be able to graduate from UF would give me so much assurance and pride.”
Earning the Same Degree as Campus Peers
Online pathways are a popular option for today’s college students, and for good reason. UF Online specifically offers students flexibility of location and time while they earn the same accredited UF degree at a fraction of the cost thanks to UF Online’s lower tuition and fees. Students may feel that selecting an online program means having to sacrifice the quality of your degree, but not with UF Online. The UF degree programs offered via UF Online are the same as campus offerings. As Chris explains, “I figured, they know we’re non-traditional students, so surely they’ll take it a bit easier on us. That wasn’t the case. They really are teaching you the exact same curriculum, with the same professors and rigor that’s expected on campus.”
Beyond the coursework, the people at UF made a difference in Chris’s success. Chris believes it was the quality and motivation of his UF leadership that helped him earn his bachelor’s degree. “I have a lot of people to thank, including my academic advisor Bridget Dunbar, who has been instrumental to my success at UF. There’s also Dr. Tina McCorkindale. She’s a professor and President of the Institute of Public Relations, and always leaves very constructive comments to help you improve your work,” Chris explained.
When it comes to the advantages that an online degree offers, flexibility was everything to a first-time father like Chris. “With the flexibility of UF Online I can wake up at five in the morning to listen to a lecture or complete an assignment,” But most of all, Chris relished the opportunity UF Online afforded him to become a Gator, “I also love UF, and there was no way for me to become a Gator while living in Tampa unless it was online. When I found out about UF Online and the possibility of becoming a Florida Gator from my hometown of Tampa, I was elated and jumped at the opportunity.”
“To potential students, especially those who may have children, a full-time career, or are just at a later stage in life but are still considering getting a degree, I would say it’s never too late. You’ve got to go for it, even if it seems scary in the beginning.”
LOOKING AHEAD AS A GATOR GRAD DAD
Now a Gator grad, Chris plans to utilize his education by advancing his career and moving into a communications role. “I’d like to establish myself as a communications expert within the next 10 years and just really focus on public relations and communications, and be the best that I can be within that field and make the Gator Nation proud.”
An avid marathon runner, Chris can now find time to continue his hobby. During his time as an online Gator, he ran a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon; however, since his wife just had their second child he decided to stop his marathon training and expedite his studies by taking on a full-time course load to graduate as soon as possible. “I had to reprioritize,” explained Chris. “I knew I could always pick my hobbies back up after getting my degree. The time you delegate for your studies and earning your education is going to have to take away from something, and you never want that something to be your family. That’s always the most important thing.”
Aside from running, Chris regularly posts on his personal blog to keep his writing skills finely tuned. He believes in continually honing your craft, and views blogging as the perfect practice ground for the persuasive writing skills he’s learned as a PR student.
“Having this degree is something that’ll open doors for me to get into professional certification programs and strengthen my skills. Maybe even attend grad school in a year or two, depending on where my family and career takes me.”
The University of Florida congratulates Chris on his graduation, and we celebrate his dedication and perseverance. Individuals like Chris demonstrate what is possible via UF Online as it extends opportunities for students to join the Gator Nation from around the world. We wish Chris all the best in his future endeavors.
EARN A UF DEGREE IN PUBLIC RELATIONS
With a UF degree in Public Relations, students learn the writing, research, strategy, and communication skills needed to succeed in this growing field. Taught by faculty in the top-ranked College of Journalism and Communications, UF Online’s PR program makes our graduates viable candidates for a wide variety of careers ranging from business to government agencies. To learn more about UF Online’s public relations program, visit the degree page or attend an upcoming virtual information session to learn more.