09:47 AM

Real World Experience Came Early for Behavioral Science Grad

Felicia Worlds wishes that, well, the whole world, could make it a point to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

If they could, the grandmother who recently graduated from Bellevue University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Behavioral Science, believes that we’d all be the better for it.

That singular sense of empathy comes from hard-earned personal experience. Worlds grew up and came out of the foster care system and she’s the first to thank her foster mother, Effi Jones, for providing the inspiration to achieve her educational dreams.

“She was a motivating force in my life. She was always encouraging me to get my bachelor's degree,” Worlds said. “Uncles and cousins – all of them. My whole foster family was always encouraging.”

Originally from East St. Louis, Illinois, Worlds came to the Omaha area in 1989. She became a Licensed Practical Nurse through coursework at Metropolitan Community College. After years of raising her family and working as a nurse, Worlds took a step -- a big one -- and applied to Bellevue University, where her credits transferred in and could be applied to her four-year degree.

“The paperwork just moved right through. The staff was very personable and made you feel taken care of,” Worlds said. “Whenever I heard from Jaade (the Bellevue University Relationship Manager at MCC), it was ‘we got this done, we got that done.’ I felt very welcomed at Bellevue University.”

That didn’t stop after she enrolled either. Gary Stessman, an adjunct faculty in the Behavioral Science program and Clinical Supervisor at Heartland Family Service, an Omaha-based social services agency, led many of Worlds’ classes.

“He did an excellent job of teaching us different theories about why people behave the way they do, different theories about mental illness,” Worlds said. “It built upon and reinforced many of the things I had learned at Metro. That made we want to explore more.”

Vigorous classroom discussions were commonplace. So much so that one classroom discussion prompted a few passersby to check in to make sure everything was okay.

“We were just having a discussion, you know, because everybody has their own point of view. My point of view is just as important as your point of view – and as the next point of view,” Worlds said. “It was really exciting. Mr. Stessman was a lot of fun and knew what he was talking about.”

Another force spurring on Worlds’ educational pursuits? Her grandchildren. “I like to be an example for them. If I can do it and I’m your grandmother, you’ll be able to do it, too.

Worlds has played a large role in her grandchildren’s lives and she hit educational milestones at the same time her grandchildren recorded achievements of their own. Happily, one of her grandsons celebrated his high school graduation while she was putting the finishing touches on her Bellevue University degree.

“I want to be an example. You don’t have to stop at high school,” she said. “You can earn your bachelor’s degree, your master’s degree. You’ll encounter obstacles, but you can overcome them.”

Since walking in the University spring commencement ceremony and proudly receiving her diploma in front of family and friends, Worlds is continuing her journey. She is looking forward to incorporating the knowledge gained from her Behavioral Science degree in her current pediatric nursing position and hopes to get involved with Boys Town or the foster care system in order to have a greater impact on at-risk kids.

“I grew up as foster kid, so I know what kids go through. Nowadays -- you see more commit suicide,” Worlds said. “You might notice an outburst of behavior or notice them get quiet or withdrawn. They are all a cry for help.”

“If we can get to the kids before they get to the point of self-medicating, we can have an impact,” she said. “We have to try to reach them before they become adults.”

More than anything, she wants them to know what she was fortunate enough to learn early in life. “Life is going to throw you all kinds of bumps in the road. You have to overcome that in order to get where you want to go.”