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Bound for law school and determined to live her dream


At 62, Marla Gee proves it’s never too late to achieve your goals

Friday May 22, 2015


Marla Gee calls herself a “late bloomer.”

At the age of 62, she just wrapped up her General Studies bachelor’s degree at Indiana University Northwest, completed an internship with the Indiana General Assembly, and is getting ready to enter law school.

Getting to this point in her life is a transformative tale. From rock bottom to law school-bound, Gee credits the faculty at IU Northwest with making her realize the value of higher education and how it can help her achieve things she once never dreamed possible.

Gee, of Gary, admits she didn’t want to go to college, but living in an era where you “did what you were told,” she enrolled at Indiana University Bloomington in 1971 after graduating from Gary Roosevelt High School.

“I failed miserably,” she admits sheepishly, “but I had a ball.”

She returned home and began working, happy and content as an “old-school secretary.” She eventually went to work at the U.S. Post Office, content with typing labels. When technology phased out her job, she learned medical transcription. Sadly, that too, became an irrelevant job with the advent of voice recognition software.

Gee falters before disclosing that it was at this point that she faced homelessness, and that even now, she is still working to regain her financial footing.

“I was desperate and no one was hiring me and I was so woefully behind technology-wise. Nobody cares how well you can spell and no one cares if you can type 120 words per minute. It doesn’t matter. (They all want to know), ‘Can you do Excel? Can you do PowerPoint?’ ”                                                                                                             

Gee took advantage of a program the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) offered to help older workers find jobs, as well as a program where they’d pay to help folks return to school and learn a new skill. In need of a fast job, she chose to learn billing and coding.

“I did OK,” she said, “but coming back to school, I discovered I liked it and I was good at it,” Gee said.

Enter “a-ha moment.”

“I guess when you are up against it and you are weighing your options, and you are looking at what is left for you to do, I thought, ‘why not get a degree and see what happens?’ ” she said.

She enrolled at IU Northwest. One of the first faculty members she met was Dan Tsataros, assistant professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Also a defense attorney, Tsataros got Gee thinking about careers in the legal environment.

“I said, ‘doggone it, I want to go to law school!’ Which was not an easy task,” she admitted, “because when I first came back here, IU did not want me back because of what happened in 1971. So I had to prove a lot to them. I had to really, really, really, work, work, work.”

And work she did. Gee even received a research grant from Minority Opportunity for Research Excellence (MORE), a program of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs. The grant paired her with Tsataros who mentored Gee throughout research the two did about legalization of medical marijuana.                                                                                                                                

Eventually, Gee would go on to earn her bachelor’s degree with distinction, but postponed law school for a year when she was awarded a paid internship with the Indiana General Assembly, a semester-long stint from which she returned in May 2015. Gee worked for two representatives as well as the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus in Indianapolis.

“This internship has been crucial in helping me pinpoint the kind of law I want to practice,” Gee said. “Had I started law school last August, I would not have been privy to this information. There are people at this Statehouse who have been so kind to me and have steered me towards areas of law in the political arena:  speechwriting; legal staff at the regional level for elected officials who are based in Washington; working on a national campaign.  I have met people here who know how to make this happen for me. It has been an amazing experience.”

Gee joked that among her fellow interns, she was “the grandma in the bunch” but the observation was by no means a deterrent.

“When I read about people who are advanced in age who do remarkable things,” she said, “I get so much inspiration from them.”

In doing so, she has become somewhat of an inspiration herself.

“If you want to do it, do it,” she says of the notion of getting a degree, no matter how late in life, “because you are still going to be 65 without a degree. Or, you could be 65 with a degree.”

That will be Gee, who intends to be getting her second degree, a law degree, right about the time many other folks are looking to retire. She anticipates taking the Bar exam at about age 65, and she has full intentions of working well into her 80s.

Valparaiso University’s law school may be her next chapter, but Gee sincerely appreciates the education she received from IU Northwest and the doors it opened for her.

“I’m excited about law school, but already nostalgic about my time at IU Northwest,” Gee said.  “Numerous times during the internship we were asked about our schools, and I was always quick to say IUN. I’m from Gary and proud to say that IU Northwest is my school.”

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