From Beauty School to a PhD

How a UM Student Started a Second Career and Found Her Calling

By Christian Kiemele

After 26 years in the beauty industry, Kim Parrow enrolled in the psychology program at the University of Montana in 2010. She surprised herself by receiving two scholarships and a fellowship, and finishing her bachelor’s degree with a GPA of 3.98. With the encouraging support of UM mentors along the way, Parrow is now pursuing her doctorate in counselor education.

What has your experience at UM been like?

When I got my acceptance letter, there was a folder with some information specifically for non-traditional students. In that folder was a piece of paper about the curriculum instruction course “How to Study in Higher Education.” Through that course, I met my instructor, Janet Zupan. She showed us how to study in college and how to get through our time here, and she provided a lot of support and encouragement.

Kim ParrowOne of the coolest things that happened was that I got my first 4.0 that semester, and Janet sent me a card in the mail congratulating me. She really pulled me close and was keeping a watchful eye to ensure that I was doing well, acting as the encourager. I’ve received a lot of support like that over the years, and I credit all of it to the Haynes Scholarship, the Kain/McKay Scholarship, the Bertha Morton Scholarship and absolutely for sure the Moser-McKinney Fellowship.

Another impactful person at UM for me was Jacob Hanson with the Writing Center. By and large Jake was there for me every step of the way as my writing tutor. He became my tutor in my first year of undergrad, helped me with every term paper, scholarship application and anything else I needed to write. I nearly wore out his handwritten session notes, reviewing them as I learned to write well.

How did you decide to go for a doctorate?

The original plan was to go into a clinical mental health counseling master’s program, so during the fall of my senior year I applied here, Bozeman, Idaho and a school in Wyoming. I received offers from three of the four schools.  When I was in the Psych Department I wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to get a PhD. I had seen how busy the PhD students were and it was frightening. I didn’t think I had the energy to do that, so I had sort of taken the PhD off the table, even though I was doing really great in school. In the fall of my last year in the master’s program, Professor Kirsten Murray pulled me aside and said, “You know, if you’re serious about getting a PhD, you probably need to apply.” With her encouragement and the draw of the Department of Counselor Education, I decided to go for it.

What is it about counselor education that drew you?

I had taught beauty school, but I also taught workshops and shows, so I’ve always had this role of being a teacher and I love to do it. When I was in the master’s program and Professor Murray pulled me aside, I realized I could have both. It was like it thumped me on the forehead, because all of a sudden I was looking around at my professors and thinking, “Why didn’t I think of this? This is something that I could be doing.”

What impact has the fellowship had on both your education and your day-to-day life?

Without the fellowship, none of this would have been doable. My husband and I have already acquired a significant amount of debt from the first six years, and the fellowship provides space for me to become the best counselor educator I can be.