Rachael Klug had always dreamt of becoming a lawyer, but life took her down some dark roads.
She has struggled with addiction herself, although she has been in recovery and rebuilding her life for the last six years. Two years ago, she lost her daughter to a heroin overdose, as the opioid epidemic swept the Southern Tier.
When it came time to pursue her professional aspirations, she decided to enroll at SUNY Broome, planning to use the credits she earned 10 years prior at Rochester Business Institute. But it turned out that the school, which had since changed its name, was owned by Corinthian Colleges Inc. – a for-profit chain that ended up shuttering all its campuses.
The school was unaccredited and none of the coursework transferred.
“It was one of those crossroads,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m this old. I can stop right now, or I can continue to go on.’”
She chose to go on. This May, she will graduate with a degree in Criminal Justice – Corrections and transfer into Binghamton University’s Philosophy, Politics and Law program. From there, it’s off to law school, with the ultimate goal of becoming a judge in drug court and an attorney.
Even if she ultimately decides against going to law school, she has professional options, she pointed out.
“If I go for two years and get my associate’s, there are plenty of criminal justice jobs I could work in. I can go on to get my bachelor’s, and there are fields I can go into,” she said.
Rachael has excelled in the classroom, and recently won the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, along with Orion Barber and Minhyung Park. She also tutors her fellow Hornets in criminal justice courses and participates in the very active Criminal Justice and Emergency Services Student Association (CJESSA), which performs volunteer traffic control for community events and holds multiple on-campus activities throughout the semester.
Off campus, she works at a restaurant, raises her teenage son – he helps her study for class — and spends much of her free time volunteering at CASA-Trinity, which helps people with addiction issues find the resources they need in Tioga County. She also does a good deal of outreach, sharing her story of addiction, loss and recovery with the Tioga County community at various events.
“I work with addicts and have done so for a while. I find that to be a passion of mine; it’s where my heart is,” she said. “I can understand the road they’re on and the despair they feel, and the need for hope. I think it’s a great place to put my career dreams and goals.”
Professors who have made a major impact on Rachael’s SUNY Broome experience include Kerry Weber, Leigh Martindale, Kathleen McKenna, Joseph Julian, Jesse Boring and Diane O’Heron. She took her first online course in forensic science with Professor Daniel Brennan, who was very approachable and helped allay her fears of digital learning. So did Professor Steven Call, when she nervously took a history class; he, too, was available to students, even answering student emails sent on a Saturday night.
“It’s not easy to come back to school at my age, but never once at this school have I felt out of place – whether with faculty or staff or even students. Everybody has been very welcoming and supportive of the things I wanted to do,” she said. “The staff have gone out of their way to open doors to further my goals. I’ve gotten lots of positive feedback that allows me to grow as a student, as a person, as an all-around fellow human being.”
Coming back to school after losses, setbacks and a long time away can be daunting – but for Rachael Klug, it ultimately proved a worthwhile experience.
“It has been amazing. It has been very rewarding and encouraging,” she said. “I have met people who are interested in my success, people who encourage me along the way.”