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Samantha Barrera Stands holding a book in Pima's NW Library

Pima Grad Headed to UA Law School

From a victim of domestic abuse to one day prosecuting perpetrators; Samantha Barrera is embarking on a career in law at UA's James E Roger Law School

By Kanika Samra, External Relations 

Taking a year off to travel the world is the dream of many young adults. Having completed a Business Administration apprenticeship and begun a career at a financial advisory firm in England, Samantha Barrera seized an opportunity to travel and landed in Tucson. Little did she know that the first stop on her international tour would become her home.

In 2014, Samantha had planned to stay in Tucson for a few months and then travel on to New Zealand. But cupid struck, and the couple eloped and married in Las Vegas. That relationship soon turned abusive and in little less than a year Samantha found herself fighting a legal battle, alone, in a place halfway across the world from her family or anyone she knew. During this turmoil, Samantha says she was lucky to find companionship and support from her current husband and eventually, motherhood.

Kathryn Pena uses a workbench at Pima
Samantha Barrera.
Photo By Tanner Grammar/External Relations

In 2020, a mother of two, Samantha decided to refocus her energies on the goals – academic and professional – she had put aside. From being a professionally driven, independent 19-year-old, life had plunged her into the throes motherhood. Entirely skipping the time she would’ve otherwise spent in college or university. While mulling over her options, she read transcripts of the criminal trial against her former husband. She says it proved, “imperative for my healing process,” and sparked the desire to help other victims of abuse. Having seen the legal system up-close, she set her sights on becoming a public prosecutor. But how could she get the law degree she’d need? And importantly, could she afford it? 

This is where Pima Community College came into the picture as a cost-effective, time-efficient and entirely online option to get the credits she’d need to transfer to a four-year institution. Samantha enrolled at Pima in Fall 2020 and finished 63 credits in one year! Reentering academics after not having used a laptop or any online tools for close to a decade was overwhelming at first. Everyone pitched in – from her advisor to professors, Samantha found a supportive community at Pima.

An associates degree is just the beginning but (that) doesn’t make it any less important, any less valuable than whatever comes after it. It is the foundation ~ Samantha Barrera

While online learning is distance learning, professors made it a point to bridge that gap so she walked away with a deep understanding of each subject. Dr. Dianna Repp encouraged Samantha to present her research at the Arizona Undergraduate Research Symposium and other faculty – Maggie Sofianos, Dr. Pamela Sulger, Shawn Diamond, Dr. Julia Gousseva and Simone Gers – among them pushed her to constantly strive to be better. Talking about how validating it was to see her work recognized, Samantha proclaims, “Pima gave me the confidence to pursue my education.”

As a mature student and mother, Samantha was extremely cost conscious. “The cost of an education itself can dissuade many people”, she says, but “scholarship opportunities at Pima were outstanding” and have helped her remain debt free. She encourages anyone thinking of pursuing an education to seek help – financial or academic. “Do not let time efficiencies and cost be barriers. They should have been barriers for me, but they weren’t. Once I put myself out there; the resources were there.”

Even as a fiercely independent learner, Samantha credits her advisor Lynn Redpath for providing consistent support and guidance. It was Redpath who directed her to NAU’s personalized learning program which helped Samantha complete her undergraduate credits in one semester: in time to meet law school application deadlines.

As Samantha prepares for her first semester at the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona, Tucson, she says her journey should inspire others to follow their dreams. An “associates degree is just the beginning but (that) doesn’t make it any less important, any less valuable than whatever comes after it. It is the foundation”, for what will be next.  

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