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A doctorate in persistence

Posted by | May 11, 2015

Earning a Ph.D. is never an easy process, but Georgina Mitchell experienced a far rockier road than most.

“My third first year, I finally finished my last first year class,” said Mitchell, a Spokane resident and member of the Coeur d’Alene tribe.

But this weekend, Mitchell, 41, received her doctoral degree from the School of Economic Sciences after starting the program in 2007.

That long route started when, commuting in a carpool from Spokane to Pullman during her first year in graduate school, Mitchell was in a fatal car accident that killed the driver of the car and drove Mitchell’s femur through her pelvis, shattering it.

Georgina Mitchell
Georgina Mitchell

The accident happened in February 2008, and she missed the end of her first year. She had to start her first year over after spending six months in a bed or wheel chair at home. In December of that year, Mitchell required another hip surgery, then another in February. She didn’t make it back to classes until after spring break of 2009. She had to take one of her classes a third time to finish.

Her most recent surgery was a total hip replacement, and she’s now walking under her own power. But she spent three years walking with crutches and another couple of years using a cane.

Beyond the injuries and going to class, then eventually writing a dissertation, Mitchell had considerable family obligations: she and her husband, Chadwick Gregg, have nine children between them. She has three from a previous relationship, he has four, and the couple adopted two children from one of her relatives in the tribe.

“It gets a little hectic and there’s always something going on,” Mitchell said. “But we’ve only got three in the house now.”

In fact, after the graduation ceremony on May 9, her daughter got married the next day.

Mitchell was the first member of her family to graduate from college when she earned a degree from Eastern Washington University. And now her son is poised to be the second member of the family to finish college when he graduates from WSU next year.

Mitchell plans to work for her tribe and become an example for others with her new doctoral degree.

She’s already left an impact on her department at WSU.

“I am so proud of her and impressed by all she has done and overcome,” said her advisor, WSU professor Jill McCluskey. “She’s a truly remarkable woman and we wish her the best of luck.”