LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 4, 2022) — In February 2018, Angela Sanchez took her eldest son Cyrus on a tour of the University of Kentucky.
“They give the best tours,” she says with a big, knowing smile. This tour sparked curiosity and self-reflection, prompting Sanchez to reflect on himself for the first time in a long time.
Following her recent divorce, Sanchez had to re-enter the workforce after more than 15 years, but was concerned about explaining the gaps in her resume.
“It just came to my mind: what if I upgrade my skills? What if I choose what I really want? I’ve had time throughout my adult years to reflect on what’s important to me in this world and what I’d be good at. So I chose landscape architecture.”
That fall, Sanchez enrolled at the University of Kentucky.
What legacy do we want to leave our children? And which habits do we want to set an example for future generations? Sanchez focused on these questions four years ago.
Sanchez lives in Wilmore, Kentucky and is raising four teenagers. And although she may be the one in the classroom, her children learn just as much from her.
Raised as a self-proclaimed “military brat,” she criss-crossed the country and spent years abroad. She graduated from DePaul University in 2001 with a degree in Latin American Studies and Spanish. She then accepted a position in financial aid at Texas A&M University while her husband was completing his studies.
From there, his military career took the family to various bases around the world. During those years, Sanchez put her career aside to stay at home, homeschool her children, and run the household.
She jokes that she was the stereotypical stay-at-home mom who baked muffins and drove her kids to gym classes. Her four boys were used to having their mother at home every day, sharing the events of their days and spending time together.
Over time, the family moved to Kentucky to settle. Her children were getting older and it was becoming increasingly difficult to uproot them to move to a new place.
Then Sanchez filed for divorce in 2017.
“It’s been a really tough time,” Sanchez said. “There was addiction involved. The situation worsened and I had to do something. It was super scary because I didn’t have a resume for all these years. I’ve been super busy with kids and family stuff. I will never be prouder of myself than I did when I made this decision for doing what I thought was right, even though I didn’t know I would stick with it. Being so educational with my kids, I decided to go to college to give a glimpse of that bright college future for my kids one day.”
This series of events brought her onto campus for the tour that changed everything.
Sanchez had developed a passion for the importance of creating green space for communities; a place where parents can safely take their children to play and explore. She understands that not everyone can afford to go to a park or have a fancy vacation, but having community parks within walking distance can make all the difference.
“I love outdoors. I think we should all be outside more. Being outside has only helped me get through these tough times. When you’re having your worst day, there’s still a little bird in the tree outside; something else is blooming. You can count on nature to carry on even when your day has ended. I’ve been thinking about building environments while being very conscious and careful about their ecology, building rather than destroying them.”
In August, Angela was the one who hung a UK parking permit on her rear-view mirror, ready to pursue a degree in landscape architecture.
She browsed the master’s programs and found that landscape architecture was sadly missing from the list. Sanchez was determined to complete the bachelor’s degree in under four years, but the sequencing of courses meant she would be cemented in the four-year cycle. But she was committed and her children were willing to support her.
During her school years, the whole family gave a little to make things happen. Her eldest son took on the responsibility of taking his younger siblings to school and practice, and their children put their cooking skills to the test.
“I had to become a macro mother instead of a micro mother. I had to look at the bigger picture and what would help our family. I see it as transplanting our family tree to a better place. I just had to do this no matter what details had to change. Thank goodness I had taught my kids enough about cooking! If you want something, you have to make it yourself. You have to get up in the morning and get on the bus. Everyone has become much more independent. I do not regret it.”
They say it takes a whole village to raise a child. It also takes a village to feed the family.
Pursuing a second four-year degree 20 years after her first degree wasn’t easy, but for Sanchez it was very rewarding. She says she would not have made it through her studies without relying on the support of her parishioners in Wilmore and the UK. Learning how to ask for help was one of the biggest hurdles Sanchez faced early in the landscape architecture program.
“Growing up as a military brat and wife, to the point of failure, you can become so self-reliant and try to do everything on your own without asking for help. I learned how to ask for help. Without big and small help from friends I would not have made it at all. It was a real act of discipline to just tell people so they could help.”
The support she received from faculty and fellow students at the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment helped make things easier at home. On many occasions, between their children’s doctor’s appointments, they would accompany them to campus and attend a class at the ES Good Barn or the Ag North building.
“I tried to be with everything I had to do, but there were times when I had to go to court. I had to miss class and turn in weird notes to let her know. Everyone has always worked with me. Everyone was so accommodating and offered extra help.”
The faculty at the college were understanding and understood that students have responsibilities outside of the classroom.
“One of the things I learned early on as a teacher in the UK is that our students have a lot of life outside of the classroom,” said Jordan Phemister, a college lecturer who taught Sanchez. “These experiences can be enriching, distracting, or sometimes intensely challenging. Angela embodies this lesson to the highest degree. She has raised and nurtured amazing children, pursued a time- and energy-consuming major, worked outside of school, and overcome personal challenges that would bring many people to their knees. She has thrived on all fronts with determination, creativity and optimism. We look forward to the positive impact she will make in this world both personally and professionally as her career in landscape architecture continues to develop.”
Most of Sanchez’s classmates were in their late teens and early 20s, just a few years older than their own children. Over time, they helped her develop new teaching technologies like Canvas and GroupMe.
“It took me four years and I have no regrets,” Sanchez said. “It took me those four years to figure out who I am at this point in my life and what the next chapter would be like. There was an interesting parallel between me and my mostly 18-year-old classmates. We’re all trying to find ourselves and make our parents proud; I tried to make my kids proud.”
Their son Cyrus is currently a freshman at Gatton College of Business and Economics studying finance. His sister will join him on campus in the fall as a student at the College of Engineering. Sanchez hopes they will take advantage of the undergraduate research opportunities as she has.
“I feel really good when my kids come here because these resources are accessible to them. And the UK communicates so well.”
Some of the resources Sanchez utilized on campus, such as the UK Counseling Center and Big Blue Pantry, which are based in the UK Office for Student Success, enabled her to graduate.
“I went to Big Blue Pantry as a staple. This was really helpful for my family. Money is so tight and $25-30 means you have gas money now. Those little things really helped make it possible. It was almost impossible. I feel like I’ve experienced miracles. All I needed was for it to be possible and UK made it possible.”
Sanchez will graduate this weekend with a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from the UK. And she’s already crossed another big task off her list: She’s accepted a job here in Lexington.
“I couldn’t do this great cause without the people in Wilmore, other moms and my classmates who helped me learn new technologies. I needed my children too. To me, our roles were really traditional: ‘I’m the parent, I help you.’ But it wasn’t like that anymore. And I’m glad I showed that to my kids because life is so much better when you can leverage your community. Independence is important, but so is community.”