Imagine devoting years of your life to what you believed would be a lifelong career only to realize it no longer proved fulfilling. This is the reality for many adults who opt to leave one career behind to re-enroll in school and pursue an entirely different path. Although it may seem a daunting task to start over, Hodges University student Flavia De Almeida Egreja considers her opportunity to begin again as serendipity.
Egreja is a student in Hodges’ Bachelor of Science in applied psychology program. Her passion for helping others stems not only from years of working as a judge, bringing justice to those who do wrong in the eyes of the law, but from the loss of her father and the need to keep the family together.
“When we lost my father, I had to be strong for my mother and family. I was the rock,” she explained. It was during this time she realized her ability to help others through traumatic events and discovered an opportunity to change the trajectory of her life.
Prior to enrolling at Hodges University, Egreja spent close to 15 years practicing international and corporate law. Attending law school in her native Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as well as at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., she passed the bar in 2001 and graduated from law school in 2002.
After spending an additional two and a half years studying to become a judge, she spent the next five years presiding over minor civil cases until she received an invitation from an American corporate law firm that was looking for someone with broad legal knowledge. Accepting the invitation, she served as a private lawyer in Brazil for Praxair, Inc., a worldwide industrial gas company based in Danbury, Connecticut.
“It wasn’t for me. It was a lot of fighting and litigation, but when doing litigation as a judge, you have a sense you’re helping someone. Someone is going to win and someone is going to lose, but I had the feeling I was doing the right thing,” she said. “In the corporate world, you have to fight for the company, and the arguments may conflict with your own.”
After five years as a private lawyer, Egreja found herself tired and unable to provide the help she once had as a judge. Still working for Praxair, she needed to retake the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to remain up-to-date with her English proficiency.
“When taking the TOEFL, they ask you to list three schools to have your scores sent to, so I chose schools in Australia, Canada and the United States, and Australia accepted me,” she said. Realizing if she were to be accepted, she could not practice law anywhere other than Brazil, she declared psychology as her major on the TOEFL exam.
“I figured if I was going to start from the beginning, why not choose something completely different from law,” she explained.
Enrolling at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, in 2013, she spent a few years studying psychology before deciding it was time to move closer to family, and although Brazil was not in her sights, she began researching schools online with psychology programs in the United States. This is when she discovered Hodges.
Hodges is great for adult learners like me. I have never felt out of place in any of my classes. The school is very diverse and both the professors and staff are very patient with international students. -Flavia De Almeida Egreja
“I found it [Hodges] while searching online, and because of the admissions process, Hodges allows students to upload their documents instead of shipping them, which I did not want to do out of fear of potentially losing them,” Egreja said.
Moving to Naples in 2015, she enrolled in the applied psychology program that fall and once again found herself in the role of a student, only this time as an adult.
“Hodges is great for adult learners like me. I have never felt out of place in any of my classes. The school is very diverse and both the professors and staff are very patient with international students,” she said.
One aspect of the program Egreja appreciates is the opportunity to become a certified addictions professional (CAP) through the substance abuse certification program. Students who enroll in the applied psychology program have the option to pursue certification in the drug and alcohol fields instead of completing the elective component.
“It was an opportunity the school was providing. If I’m spending the time and money, and if I have to pick credits, why not pick alcohol and drugs as they count for a different kind of licensing,” she said. “I need those credits anyway, so why not do something that’s going to give me more than just my degree. It’s like a buy one get one,” she said.
Egreja also appreciates the personalization and dedication on behalf of professors like Dr. Kelly Bushéy and Professor William Enslen, both of whom interject their personal experiences in the field into class discussion and encourage students to experiment with theories outside the classroom.
From conducting experiments and testing hypotheses at Walmart to taking field trips, performing role plays and conducting interviews with counselors, Egreja admits her classes are fun, giving her more scientific insight than she thought she would receive in the program.
Both professors, in addition to other faculty and staff at Hodges, worked closely with Egreja in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Losing her home as a result of the storm, she was unsure of her ability to continue at Hodges, so she discussed the situation with professors and staff and was able to make some adjustments so she wouldn’t fall behind.
“Everyone at Hodges is like family because it’s small and everyone knows your name,” she said.
With only one semester left before she graduates, Egreja is keeping her options open when it comes to her future. While she hasn’t completely ruled out the notion of combining her background in law with psychology to become a forensic psychologist, she is open to potentially enrolling in Hodges’ clinical mental health counseling program. Only time will tell.