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Excelsior Award: Barbie Watkins

The Excelsior Award is presented to an outstanding senior student who has overcome great obstacles to achieve his/her academic pursuits. These obstacles could be physical, emotional, financial, age, etc. A minimum grade point average of 3.0 is required. This award will be presented upon completion of degree requirements. The award does not have to be given if the committee determines there are no suitable nominees during a particular year. Student Services sponsors this award.
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Barbie Watkins
Barbie Watkins has certainly faced many hardships throughout her lifetime, but nothing has stopped her from achieving her dreams.

Before enrolling at Northern Kentucky University as a nontraditional student, Barbie grew up in a small town in Alabama.

“Her ability to overcome adversity was truly inspiring,” says Dr. PJ Ball. “She was determined to earn her degree and create a better life for herself.”

While in Alabama, Barbie’s husband had passed from an intense battle with brain cancer.

“I was in school before he was diagnosed, and getting my degree was going to be our way to a better life,” Barbie explains. “After the first few months of his illness, it became clear that I could not be the caregiver I wanted to be and continue work and school, so school had to go."

In 2014, Barbie decided to resume her studies and enrolled at NKU and has since been working hard to earn her degree.
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“It's very rewarding to be part of such amazing environmental endeavors. I was always torn between a few different areas of chemistry, but I believe environmental chemistry has my heart.”

Barbie currently works as a lab technician and water quality analyst at the Cincinnati Metropolitan Sewer District to ensure that water being discharged into the Ohio River has been treated to meet EPA standards.

“I love the work. It's very rewarding to be part of such amazing environmental endeavors,” she says. “I was always torn between a few different areas of chemistry, but I believe environmental chemistry has my heart.”

Earning her degree in chemistry means that Barbie will be eligible for the chemist positions in her current field of environmental chemistry. Pursuing her degree in chemistry while working a full-time job has been extremely difficult.

“I am usually using my lunch break to take classes, so I am typically in and out as soon as class is over,” she says. “The lack of down time really catches up with you after a while. As a nontraditional student, constantly having to choose between classwork and time with family has been the hardest thing.”

Since coming to NKU, Barbie has continued to thrive even despite continued challenges to her academic career.

“As she mapped out her final graduation plan in the fall of 2020, she still had four Foundation of Knowledge courses to take with no good way to squeeze them into her schedule in addition to her required chemistry courses. It seemed like it was going to be impossible to graduate,” says Dr. Patrick Hare. “However, Barbie always thinks of a way to make it happen. Over the holiday break, she studied intensely and passed three CLEP exams to satisfy her general education requirements. And because she knew someone else may be in this situation in the future, she typed up an information sheet on how students could get free resources and financial assistance to take these exams. She is always thinking of others and how she could help others achieve their dreams as well.”

After a 12-year pursuit of her degree, Barbie is more excited than ever to begin her post-graduate life. Her advice to other students is to always keep moving.

“Reinitiating momentum is much harder than maintaining it. Even if you can’t maintain a constant pace, just keep moving,” she says.

“Try to stay ahead, because that is the only way to stay caught up….if you just try to stay caught up, you’re probably already behind.”

Barbie dedicates her academic success to the amazing professors she has met at NKU along the way.

“I definitely cannot name just one favorite professor. Dr. Ball, Dr. Russell and Dr. Hare have been truly instrumental in my success at NKU,” she says. “Their kindness, advocacy and support have guided me through an arduous journey to complete a degree that will garner continued success in my current and future endeavors.”

About This Article

Danielle Heiert
Danielle Heiert
Editorial Intern, NKU Magazine
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Published April 2021
Photography by Scott Beseler
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