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Tasha Ketphanh, the Dean's Award winner for the College of Health and Human Services, is a case study in what can go right in even the most challenging circumstances.

Her success story seems unlikely. Growing up in the small Northern California town of Eureka, Tasha was married at 14 and was a mother by the time she graduated from high school—as valedictorian.

She went on to not only become the first in her family to graduate from college, but also the first in her family to attend high school.

"I always wanted to go to college," says Tasha, who moved to the Sacramento area 12 years ago. "But I wasn't sure if I was actually going to go to college."

She began her studies to become a teacher at American River College, but her son's speech pathologist pulled her aside one day and told Tasha about her field of work.

"She told me all about the rewards of a speech pathology career," Tasha says of the woman she now calls her mentor. She decided to switch her field of study to speech pathology, applied to Sacramento State, and was accepted into the program two years ago. By then, Tasha's family had grown to three children.

"Sacramento State seemed family-friendly to me," says Tasha. "I'd had college professors before Sac State who told me I shouldn't commit to a program of study because I had too many kids and wouldn't be able to succeed.

"The faculty at Sac State were completely different."

Professors worked with her to help balance her busy family life, school studies and a full-time job. "If I didn't have those professors," she says, "I wouldn't have made it."

Her family was also a driving factor in her dedication to complete her degree program. "What could inspire me more than my four children?" asks Tasha. "I want them to have a chance to have a future, to make something of themselves." She acknowledged she wouldn't be much of a role model if she was "sitting at home, doing nothing."

Her family's inspirational role wasn't the only factor to her success; they all pitched in to help her with the day-to-day challenges of being a student, wife, mother, worker and volunteer. "My older kids help take care of the younger ones," says Tasha, "and my husband has been a great support. He was the first to tell me, 'We can do it.' We did this as a team."