Landing a New Life
UC Clermont's first bachelor's degree program, BTAS, was the stepping stone that helped Darla Slagh's second act take flight.
Following in her father's aviation footsteps for her first career, Darla Slagh '13 worked as an air traffic controller for two decades. This made her a trailblazer when few women were in the profession. She explains that it takes resiliency to manage and succeed in a high stress, male-dominated environment.
"The aviation world will chew you up and spit you out if you're not careful," Slagh says. "It's demanding, stressful and can be very sad in the event of lost lives." The environment is also difficult on relationships, she explains, because of shift work scheduling. There were many birthdays, Father's Days, Mother's Days and Christmases that Slagh spent in the tower; aviation doesn't close.
Slagh worked at multiple airports throughout her career, including Pittsburgh International; New Castle, Delaware; and Ft. Worth, Texas. Eventually, she took a job with Airborne in Wilmington, Ohio, to be closer to her ailing father. After two years, Slagh was offered a position at the Lunken Airport in Cincinnati.
But in early 2012, during her time at Lunken, Slagh found herself at a life-changing crossroads. After a major medical episode, she almost lost her life. "When I woke up and realized what happened, I thought, this is my second chance."
"I was so sick, lying on the couch, and decided that I needed a change," Slagh says. "It made me re-examine everything. I kept thinking, 'I have the rest of my life to be something other than what I am right now. What do I really want to do?'"
Slagh held an associate degree in air traffic control and knew that her first step to something new was a bachelor's degree. A mother with teenagers at home, she wasn't keen on sharing a classroom with traditional-aged college students; she called around, looking for a program for working adults. "I called UC's Uptown Campus, and the lady who answered said, 'You want to call UC Clermont,' and gave me Kathie's number," says Slagh, referring to UC Clermont Recruiter Kathie Cooper.
Cooper told Slagh about the college's Bachelor of Technical and Applied Studies in Applied Administration, launched in 2011. The BTAS degree is geared toward those holding a technical associate degree — an AAB, AAS or ATS — and helps develop skills in leadership, communication and supervision, while preparing graduates for upward career mobility. Nearly 300 graduates have completed the program since its inception. The flexible two-year program requires 20 classes (60 semester credits). Day, evening and online classes are available, and students can enroll full or part time to accommodate full-time work and other responsibilities.
"The BTAS was the first bachelor's degree offered at UC Clermont," says Bruce Davis, professor of legal studies who formerly coordinated the BTAS program. "For those who already have a technical associate degree, it offers the shortest distance to a bachelor's. It's very flexible. We see people from all walks of life and stages of their careers; there is no typical student. In many industries, a bachelor's degree can open more doors for professionals and managers."
Slagh enrolled immediately. By January 2013, she continued to work full time as an air traffic controller while attending the program. Slagh graduated in December 2013, but didn't stop there. She went on to earn her master's degree in mental health counseling at UC's College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services. In October 2015, she landed her last airplane as an air traffic controller and began working as a licensed counselor for nursing home residents.
"I love being able to sit with someone and feel that I'm making a difference in their life," Slagh says of her new career. "The resiliency and endurance that I learned in aviation, especially as a woman in a man's world, gave me coping skills that are invaluable as a mental health counselor."
In addition to her clinical work, Slagh is pursuing a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky. She also recently returned to UC Clermont as an adjunct professor in psychology — a way to give back to the place that helped launch her second career.
"The BTAS program was my first goal," Slagh says. "It felt like a family; many students had kids and jobs, and we were all striving together to accomplish our shared goal of earning a bachelor's degree, no matter what. It gave me the foundation I needed to move forward."
This story was originally published in summer 2017.