NAME: Twanna Carter
HOMETOWN: Helena, Ala.
DEGREE EARNED FROM CAPELLA UNIVERSITY: PhD in Human Services
In the late 1990s, Twanna Carter got a job working as an environmental health inspector in Jefferson County, Ala. She had previously served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and had taught science in Florida, but this job seemed to suit her particularly well. It wasn’t so much the work, however, as the people that fascinated her: “The folks I encountered had mild mental illnesses or disabilities, and yet one of the things they always said to me was, ‘I want to work. I want to work, just like you do,’” Carter recalls. “It didn’t quite make sense to me, why they couldn’t.”
Carter decided she wanted to assist this population more directly. So she earned a master’s in rehabilitation counseling from the University of Alabama-Birmingham and then went on to get a PhD in Human Services from Capella. Last spring, a year after she received her doctoral degree, Carter was selected as a Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program finalist. The two-year fellowship gives Carter the opportunity to work as a program analyst with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in Washington, D.C.
Here, Carter talks about the lessons she learned on the road to the PhD.
A Military Background
Carter grew up in a military family that moved frequently, from Alabama to Germany, then Kentucky to Tennessee. “We literally followed my dad around the world,” Carter says. “I look back on it and I still think it was the best education there was.” Eventually, she got a ROTC scholarship to Alabama A&M University, where she earned a bachelor’s in zoology. After finishing her undergraduate degree in 1987, she went on active duty with the military for six years, assigned to the Corps of Engineers. “It was a complete shock,” Carter says. “But they needed to add more women to the Corps and I had a minor in chemistry which somehow must have qualified me….”
Released from active service in 1994, Carter got a teaching certificate and took a job teaching science in Florida. But Alabama was her home, and in 1998 she moved to Birmingham. Her health department job introduced her to the populations she ultimately wanted to work with, but it was an internship begun in 2005 with the state Department of Rehabilitation Services that cemented her decision to interact with homeless folks, military veterans, and people with minor mental and physical disabilities. “It was so gratifying to help people move through the process of finding employment,” Carter says. “There’s nothing like helping someone who hasn’t seen their name on a paycheck in 15 years.” She also assisted individuals with setting up bank accounts and learning to use computers.
A Practice of Her Own
Earning a master’s had helped Carter get into the field of rehabilitation services. In 2006, she landed a job with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “That was really special,” she says, because both she and her father are veterans. But Carter quickly realized that moving up the ladder would require a PhD. A single parent with three children and a full-time job, she decided that Capella was the best option for her. “Online learning is not for the faint of heart,” Carter says. “You have to be disciplined and you have to be organized.” She often found herself reading while her kids were playing soccer or attending band practices.
Carter also began researching the idea of launching her own counseling practice—which required licensing and setting up a small business. A few years ago, she opened a private practice, Janelle Bush Carter Counseling and Consulting, named after her mother.
Becoming a Finalist
The opportunity to apply her education and experience on a bigger level ultimately led Carter to submit and application for the Presidential Management Fellowship. Five finalists with Capella degrees were named last spring, and Carter says she was stunned and honored to be among them—after several rounds of interviews. This fall, she began working with HUD. “It’s the job I wanted at the agency I wanted,” she says. “And my education at Capella clearly played a part in my being selected.”
Capella University offers PhD and professional doctorate degree programs ranging from business to education and health to technology. Learn more about Capella’s online PhD programs.