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Karen Chambers of Bushkill recently graduated from the University of Phoenix with a master’s degree in health administration/education. The day after the ceremony, she began working toward a doctorate. By KAREN M. HARRIS
For the Pocono Record
October 08, 2012
October 08, 2012
Karen Chambers was back at the podium, four years after giving her first commencement address as student speaker for the University of Phoenix's graduation ceremony.
Back in 2008, Chambers was receiving her associate's degree in health administration from the college, which is famous for its online degree program and "I am a Phoenix" TV commercials.
Last month, she walked out of the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., with a master's degree in health administration/education.
To Italy and back
Her journey to that podium was long and circuitous.
Born in the U.S., she moved with her divorced mother and older brother to Napoli, Italy, when she was only 3.
She grew up there until her mom, a Juilliard-trained bassoonist, returned to the Bronx.
Although American, the 15-year-old Chambers was thrust into ninth grade as an outsider, a teen who didn't speak English or understand the culture. She managed to keep up with her studies, but also became pregnant at 16.
She gave her son up for adoption and then married at 18 and had two more children.
Her marriage lasted more than 20 years, while she raised David, now 33, an investment banker in New York, and Andrea, 27, a doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut and an assistant professor of Italian studies.
To support her family, she took many jobs right out of high school, such as secretary at a law firm, secretary at a computer firm and underwriter.
She baby-sat six other kids and raised her two young children.
But it was a car crash she witnessed in the early '90s that gave her focus and a career.
New purpose, husband
"I felt helpless," she said, of standing on the sidewalk, unable to help the bleeding victim.
She immediately began emergency medical technician training and worked as a paramedic for many years.
In her spare time, she helped a surgeon in White Plains, N.Y., handling simple procedures including bandage changes and suture removal.
The doctor talked about his war experiences while in the military and how important his surgical technology assistant was.
With the children now in school, these stories spurred her to begin studies at NYU so that she, too, could become a surgical tech.
Along with her new purpose, Chambers found her new husband, Ben, who worked the EMT shift after hers.
Both had left their spouses, and the relationship between colleagues soon became more.
Move to Bushkill
They have been married 17 years. The couple left New York for Bushkill.
"We built a house to get Sage (Ben's son) out of the Bronx," she said. "My mom was retiring (she had put down the bassoon and had taken up teaching), and I wanted her to be someplace beautiful."
They picked Bushkill after visiting the area for a relative's Fourth of July party.
Upon receiving her