Macie Peterman ’14 didn’t think she could be a teen mom and a college graduate.

After issues with bullying in high school, Peterman dropped out and decided to pursue a GED. She then had her son, Jayden, when she was 19. With a kid and without a high school diploma, Peterman saw all the barriers in front of her, but no path to higher education.

Then, she heard from Columbia College.

“The communication included lots of information regarding degrees that could be obtained completely online, which was something I hadn’t seen before,” Peterman said. “I didn’t think that college would ever be something that would be an opportunity for me as I needed to work full-time to take care of my son.”

She began classes toward a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. “I was accepted and was able to work full-time during the day, take care of my son in the evening, and do online classes at night and while he napped on the weekends,” Peterman explained.

Macie Peterman '14
Macie Peterman ’14 serves as director of Inclusion and Engagement at Shelter Insurance.

Peterman’s experience as a single teen mother shaped her perspective. A custody case for her son showed her a glimpse into the legal world, so she decided to study criminal justice when she started at Columbia College. As time went on, Peterman wanted to use her experiences to focus on inclusion for all, welcoming people of different backgrounds.

After graduation, Peterman started working in the insurance industry and, in 2016, began to work at Shelter Insurance. In 2019, Peterman was named the manager of Inclusion and Engagement and was promoted to director in 2021. “I love the opportunity to work with all employees so they can bring their authentic selves to the workplace,” Peterman says. “In this role I get the opportunity to work with our employees as we celebrate our differences and build on our common ground.”

But that isn’t the only place Peterman finds ways to promote an inclusivity. As a single mother, Peterman knows the struggles of being able to go to college. She wants to make an education – whether college or a trade school – a possibility for single mothers.

In 2019, she founded a nonprofit called SMART (Single Mothers’ Affordable Residence Team), which aims to remove housing barriers for single mothers as they pursue higher education.

Peterman has raised enough money to begin helping at least one single mother attain her educational goals by providing financial housing assistance, and she’s ready to take on more. “COVID really hindered our ability to meet with people and raise funds for single mothers,” Peterman said. “But we’re ready to start again, making sure people know about our mission.

“Columbia College was great for me,” Peterman said, “but there are other avenues. For instance, the Columbia Career Center offers EMT or LPN training. Then, once employed, maybe additional education can lead to more opportunities. I don’t want to dictate what someone’s path should look like. I’m all about nontraditional paths.”

The path, the journey, is important to Peterman. She discusses the cumulative result of education and experiences, and how that shapes a person. She believes Columbia College was a critical part of her journey.

“I am thankful that I’ve been able to use my journey – my experiences – and my education from Columbia College to advocate for other single mothers to pursue higher education. I’m thankful that I get to spend every day advocating and being an ally to others within our community and within Shelter.”