Debra Koehler, a fresh graduate of UCC’s paralegal program and former newscast writer, has kickstarted a new and thriving career as a forensic genealogist.
“I worked in newscast production for 37 years as a writer and supervisor,” Debra said. “However, I saw my time in television and newscasting was ending. As a result, I started searching for more reliable career opportunities suitable for someone my age.”
After moving from Colorado to Roseburg, Debra and her husband decided to establish a vineyard and began taking classes at UCC’s Southern Oregon Wine Institute to learn how to make wine.
Debra attributes her time at SOWI for giving her a taste of UCC’s quality education. “Attending UCC and SOWI really set my expectations. The classes were amazing and I couldn’t believe the value of UCC’s education. The instructors were top-notch at their job.”
After suddenly finding she was allergic to wine yeast, however, Debra abandoned the wine trade and continued searching for a new path. “Nothing seemed to fit,” Debra remarked. “I tried several other career paths, but nothing stuck. It was becoming incredibly frustrating. Living on a busy farm 45 minutes from town is tremendously inconvenient. Allocating my time on the farm, combined with my academic and job responsibilities, was impossible to attain. I needed a career path conducive to my lifestyle.”
Then, one day while driving back from a career fair, it dawned on her — UCC’s 100% online paralegal program. After making an inquiry to the department chair, Crystal Sullivan, Debra began studying law in early 2019.
“I wanted to become a lawyer when I was younger, but the circumstances didn’t permit,” Debra said. “I knew the program would be excellent because my experience at SOWI had already confirmed that.”
The program also provided flexibility for her to continue her education while working on the farm. “The program is completely online,” Debra remarked. “That was a major selling point. Instead of driving an hour and a half each day, I could begin building my new career from the comfort of my home.”
Debra worked with Crystal who connected her with several internships at local law firms like Dole Coalwell. Each internship acclimated Debra to the world of a paralegal while also giving her invaluable job experience.
While interning, Debra discovered a growing need for paralegals specializing as forensic geologists. “This sparked my curiosity,” Debra said. “I’ve always had an overt fascination with genealogy stemming from my own family history. After learning I could combine law with genealogy, my career became focused on becoming a forensic genealogist.” As a result, Debra started attending several genealogy academies and connecting with online communities to complement her paralegal degree.
“It’s definitely a growing career field, Debra remarked. “A forensic genealogist is responsible for researching and establishing clear family ties whenever issues arise like inheritance, property rights, and other legalities related to family lineage.”
Debra also mentioned how her extensive writing experience for news reporting and television provided a competitive advantage. “In the context of law, quality writing is essential. My background in journalism and television writing complemented my paralegal skills and helped kickstart a high-demand niche occupation,” said Debra.
Debra officially completed her degree in December of 2022. “The entire experience was fantastic,” Debra remarked. Not only did the program provide a firm grounding in law, but it also taught me how to implement those practical skills. Not every online program can attain that. The faculty and the students, in conjunction with internship experience, will help you expand your horizons practically, academically, and professionally. And that’s something you can’t get everywhere.”
Debra illustrates that it’s never too late to pursue a new career. Just like Debra, with hard work and determination, you too, have the ability to succeed and fulfill a potential previously unseen.
Learn more about UCC’s 100% online Paralegal program: umpqua.edu/paralegal