Living in Orlando, FL with their spouse and two children, 37-year-old Lei Rizea joined the University of Florida via UF Online in 2016 to double-major in Geology and Psychology. With the dream of attending the University of Florida, Lei first enrolled at Santa Fe College right out of high school and moved to Gainesville with their partner. “My spouse got into UF, so I went up to Santa Fe with the goal of getting into UF,” Lei said.
Lei ultimately left Santa Fe College and moved to Hawaii with their spouse before enlisting in the Hawaii Air Force National Guard. “When I went to Santa Fe, I was a kid and I didn’t do well. I lost my bright futures scholarship. I didn’t fail out, but I came close,” Lei said. “When we moved to Hawaii, I needed a fresh start. I went back to school in Hawaii, increased my GPA, and got into Phi Theta Kappa.” While in Hawaii, Lei developed a passion for geology before returning to Florida, reapplying via UF Online, and getting accepted. Through hard work and perseverance, Lei achieved their academic goal of attending UF.
“Making it to UF felt redeeming. Everyone makes mistakes, but the secret is choosing to learn from them and persevering,” Lei said. “There are so many things you don’t get to redo, but UF Online really gave me that opportunity.”
STUDYING GEOLOGY AT UF ONLINE
Lei’s first-hand encounters with rock and geological formations drove their passion for geology. “I started getting interested in geology when we lived in Hawaii because it’s so volcanically active over there,” Lei explained. “When you’re walking through Volcanoes National Park, especially at night, it looks like Mordor from Lord of the Rings to me. The lava doesn’t create a source of light, it’s just glowing.” This motivated Lei to apply for UF Online’s geology program, where they had the opportunity to explore different geological disciplines. “I think soil analysis is really cool.”
“I’m fascinated by earth processes and how rocks are made,” Lei said. “Geology is fundamental. It’s the original science.”
At UF Online, Lei discovered a supportive community of geology Gators who explore the field in interactive and engaging ways. “Everybody’s been great at UF Online. Dr. Matthew Smith (UF Geology Master Lecturer) has been fantastic with everything. He’s helping me right now with putting together an honors thesis for geology,” they said. “The geology program also has a free in-person program every spring called ‘Can You Dig It?’ The whole department comes together and they share different tables of information, fossils, and digs. It really ranges. I could bring my little kids and they have fun and they learn things and I learn things. It’s a great event.”
Lei offered advice to UF Online students who are also double-majoring or taking care of kids while studying. “Don’t feel like you have to do it all at once. Take your time, take breaks, and put yourself first. If you need a break, maybe take the semester off. You can do that,” they recommended. “The fact that we now live in a society where we could do this from home, raise our kids, and have our business while going to school makes it all worth it. I can’t count the number of times I studied with my kids in my lap.”
LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE
While studying geology at UF via UF Online, Lei discovered a newfound passion for psychology and decided to double-major with the dream of helping LGBTQIA+ children. “For me, psychology is about helping kids,” Lei said. “I’m LGBTQ, nonbinary, and my pronouns are they/them. I have to help these kids because I was one of them. It’s about giving them the support they need.” After Lei completes their geology degree next spring, they will focus on finishing their psychology degree at UF Online before combining their passions throughout their future career.
With graduation in sight for their B.A. in Geology, Lei looks forward to attending the ceremony with their family and wearing the lavender sash dedicated to LGBTQ+ Gators at the Lavender Graduation Ceremony organized by UF’s Office of LGBTQ+ Affairs. “It’s about inclusivity,” they said. “UF has always been an inclusive place for me. I’m really excited to graduate next spring and have my kids see me do that. That’ll be a dream come true. I’m a first-generation college student, so being the first one in my family to go to college is special. And what better place to do it than UF?”
To Lei, the University of Florida will always play a special role in their and their family’s life. “We’re creating a new family legacy,” Lei said. “My spouse even proposed to me at Lake Alice with an alligator nearby. UF will always be a part of us. I can’t imagine myself anywhere else.”
The University of Florida is proud to have Lei as part of the Gator Nation after years of hard work and dedication. UF Online thanks Lei for their service and wishes them success and happiness in all their future endeavors.
EARN A UF DEGREE IN GEOLOGY OR PSYCHOLOGY
With an online geology degree, you will learn about the earth’s physical environment including climate, non-renewable geological resources, renewable geological resources, geological hazards, and remediation from UF’s faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. As a top-ranked undergraduate program in the nation, UF Online offers a variety of majors and minors ranging from Liberal Arts, STEM, Business, and more. To learn more about UF Online’s geology program, visit the degree page or attend an upcoming virtual information session.
Become an influential leader at the forefront of behavioral and developmental discoveries with a psychology degree from the University of Florida’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Ranked the #2 online bachelor’s degree program for psychology in the nation, UF Online prepares students for a wide range of related careers, including graduate study in psychology or advanced professional programs. The psychology department recruits diverse groups of students, faculty, and staff, and offers an interdisciplinary approach to all matters of the mind. To learn more about UF Online’s psychology program, visit the degree page or attend an upcoming virtual information session.