Texas Tech University

Media and Communication Graduate Earns Degree After Decade-Long Journey

May 10, 2024

College of Media and Communication Graduate Earns Degree After Decade-Long Journey

Gini Wilbanks proves you can have it all, just not all at once.

Gini woke up, her heart mimicking the pulsing beat of her alarm. 

It was another morning of a racing heart and a sick feeling in her stomach. She wondered if her family had made the right decision moving to Round Rock, Texas. She made her way to Elijah's crib, picking up her 6-month-old who was crying. She wanted to join him, but she was too exhausted to cry. 

Gini and her husband Josh had moved from Lubbock so Josh could take a job near Austin. He had recently graduated from Texas Tech University, but Gini still had roughly 40 credit hours to finish. The move away from campus meant a change in major for Gini. The former Creative Media Industries student switched to Public Relations & Strategic Communication Management. 

She was getting close to finishing her degree, but on this morning, the finish line felt far.  Gini started making breakfast for herself and her two older children, Adeline and Charlotte. 

“I was postpartum, and I got hit hard with depression and high anxiety,” Gini recalled. “My grades started to suffer.”

Gini had moved away from her family, friends and her entire support system. The couple had believed the move would set them up for a successful future but at this moment, Gini couldn't think past the next few hours. 

A Future Red Raider

“Texas Tech has always been a huge part of my life,” Gini said. 

Born and raised in Lubbock, Gini's parents both worked at the university. The family was active in their support of Red Raider athletics and the university's arts scene. They attended each Carol of Lights™ and befriended faculty and staff around campus.

Gini as a child at a Texas Tech University football game.
Young Gini at a Texas Tech football game.

Growing up in the college town inspired Gini to attend Texas Tech one day. 

Coming up through Tubbs Elementary, O.L. Slaton Middle School and Lubbock High School, Gini was active in theater, dance and choir. She involved herself in as many artistic events as she could, finding these endeavors energized her.  

As high school graduation approached, though, she took stock of what would offer a consistent career. 

“When I graduated in 2013, there were not as many jobs in communications,” Gini said. “There was a stigma around creative careers. I wanted to be seen as serious so I looked for something that would make good money.” 

Multiple family members worked in the medical field, so Gini decided to study nursing. 

Around this same time, she and her high school sweetheart were getting more serious. Gini met her now-husband Josh in biology during the ninth grade. The two became friends and started dating the following year. By the time they graduated, they both knew they'd found the one.

Josh and Gini in front of the Lubbock High School sign. Josh in ROTC uniform and Gini in pom uniform.
Josh and Gini were high school sweethearts.

Josh enlisted in the Army and was sent to basic training the summer after graduation. The young couple couldn't talk much on the phone, so they wrote letters throughout the long, sweltering summer months. Gini would make her way to the mailbox in the dry West Texas heat, opening the latch to find something stamped from Fort Benning.

The couple kept every letter from that summer. 

Meanwhile, Gini started pre-nursing courses at South Plains College (SPC). While the dream was still to attend Texas Tech, she knew she could get basic requirements out of the way at a lower cost at SPC. 

“For a few semesters, I was very focused on my schoolwork,” Gini recalled. “Josh was getting his stuff done and I was taking care of my classes.”

In the following years, everything rapidly changed. In April 2016, the couple got married and Gini started work as a nurse's aide at Covenant Children's in the postpartum unit. 

In 2017, the couple welcomed their first child, Adeline. By 2018, Josh enrolled full time at Texas Tech.

Josh and Gini, pregnant with Adeline
Awaiting the arrival of baby Adeline.

In the span of a few short years, Gini's life looked drastically different. 

“When we had Adeline, I ended up having an emergency cesarian,” Gini said. “Because of the longer recovery, I ended up taking that whole semester off from school.” 

Gini's classwork began to take a backseat during this time. Supporting Josh in his studies, working as a postpartum nurse's aide and taking care of a newborn was a full load. 

“I decided to take a prolonged break from school,” she said. “I had a job I enjoyed and wanted to soak up being a new mom.” 

While a break was the right choice for Gini at that time, it made going back to school that much tougher. 

A Change in Direction

Josh and Gini had their second daughter, Charlotte, at the beginning of 2020. She was only a few weeks old when the pandemic started. Josh, Gini and their young children were home for months. While Gini did go back to work after her maternity leave was over, the restrictions gave her room to reflect. 

“We were stuck at home for a while, and my need to express myself creatively came back out,” she said. 

It was something she hadn't taken the time to do in years. 

Gini came up with crafts to do with their eldest, and she started dabbling in photography. A light came on, and Gini started questioning the academic road she'd taken up until that point. 

Gini with her camera.
Gini dabbled in photography.

“The stress of working through the pandemic certainly added to it, but I think the pandemic showed me something I already knew deep down,” she said. 

Gini had chosen to forego a creative career seven years prior, worried about appearances and stability. Now, a wife and mother, her priorities had changed. 

“I'd grown up a lot in that short time, and I had different aspirations,” she said. 

Not only had Gini changed, but the communications industry had changed as well. When she graduated from high school, some organizations were just beginning to use social media, and many weren't utilizing it at all. But with the progression of technology and the sudden boom of online activity during the pandemic, Gini decided to revisit a career in communications. 

She met with Associate Director of Advising Don Ellis in the College of Media & Communication (CoMC), who became a mentor to Gini every step of the way. 

“Gini came to us as a transfer student, and she had a level of maturity and diverse life experiences that seemed to enhance the quality of her academic career,” Ellis said. “Despite challenges posed by the pandemic, she consistently displayed a strong sense of determination and resilience, maintained her focus, and always actively participated in her own education.”

Gini had always wanted to help people; she thought nursing was the best way to do that. But as life changed, she realized she could make a difference while using her talents. 

“I discovered Texas Tech had a program called creative media industries (CMI),” she said. 

The program's focus on innovative storytelling was appealing to Gini, who was looking to grow her existing passion for visual communications. So, in the fall of 2020, Gini started her first semester as a Red Raider. 

The moment was a long time coming. 

While her first semester was completely online, Gini was able to be on campus in the spring of 2021. 

“I have a photo of my first day on campus,” she said. “I have a mask on, so it'll always be easy to remember when that was.” 

Gini wearing a COVID mask, standing in front of the College of Media and Communication.
Gini's first day on the Texas Tech University campus.

Life had thrown her some curve balls, but Gini was zeroing in on what she wanted and remembering the dreams she had had as a young girl. She knew she would attend Texas Tech, the reality of that was just a whole lot different than she envisioned. 

For the following year, both Josh and Gini were enrolled in the same college. Josh was a student in the Public Relations & Strategic Communication Management program, while Gini thrived in CMI. It was around this same time that the couple found out they were expecting another child, a son. 

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh boy, here we go again,'” Gini laughed. 

Thrilled to be welcoming a son, Gini struggled, wanting to focus on her growing family and her schoolwork at the same time. When she had her daughters, she was in a love-hate relationship with academia. That had changed this time around. She wondered how she would balance being a mom to three kids while finishing a program she genuinely loved. 

It was a good problem to have, but it remained a problem. To make matters harder, Josh received a job offer in Round Rock after graduating from Texas Tech in the spring of 2022, only a few months after they had Elijah.

Josh's graduation day
Josh's graduation day

Josh was commissioned as an Army officer upon graduation and signed with the National Guard. His new reporting station was in central Texas and a marketing job became available nearby. However, that meant Gini and the kids would have to leave behind their support system in Lubbock. Both Gini's parents still lived in Lubbock, and she had friends in her hometown. 

Unfortunately for the couple, they didn't have a lot of time to weigh their options. They wanted Josh to start work in six weeks. So, with three young children and virtually no community in Round Rock, Josh and Gini ventured into the unknown. 

The Hardest Stretch 

In the early morning hours, a few months later, Gini was at rock bottom. When classes started in fall of 2023, she had to go back to being an online student. Unfortunately, CMI was not a fully online program. But with the encouragement of her adviser, Gini realized the Public Relations & Strategic Communication Management program overlapped heavily with the courses she'd taken, and it was offered both in-person and online. 

If she was going to complete her degree any time soon, she'd need to switch programs. 

So, she did, and the coursework was comparable to what she'd been studying. However, it wasn't the change in major that was so difficult, it was the fact she was an online college student with three children, at home alone, and suddenly without her support system. 

She also struggled with postpartum depression after the birth of her son. 

“Honestly, I felt like finishing school just wasn't going to happen for me,” Gini said. “Like, maybe it wasn't in the cards.

“I was taking care of a five-month-old, a toddler, and a 5-year-old. I had no family or friends nearby and I was waking up every morning with a high heart rate, sick to my stomach. I stressed over finances, wondering if we'd made a mistake.”

During that semester, Gini's grades began to suffer. She knew that wasn't the way she wanted to finish her college career, so she sought help from her doctor and her adviser. Everyone worked with her, finding solutions to help her succeed. 

Her doctor placed her on an anti-anxiety medication that helped her feel like herself again. Gini begin to create a new routine and even befriended other mothers in the area. 

“I also made sure to reach out to my adviser and kept the line of communication open with each of my professors, letting them know my situation from the beginning,” she said. 

By the end of the semester, she made the President's Honors List. 

There were times, particularly that semester, that Gini was tempted to give up. 

“Every time I was about ready to give up, I would think, ‘C'mon Gini, you have to do this for yourself. You've always wanted to be a Texas Tech graduate; you can do this.'”  

In place of having family in town, Gini would get on the phone and get added support when she needed it most. 

Gini's mother was her biggest cheerleader. 

“She has watched me work toward this goal for a decade,” Gini said. “She's always been so encouraging. Whenever I've had a setback, she reminds me to get back up and get at it. She's always believed I can do this.” 

And on the days when Gini didn't believe in herself, her family, her friends, and Josh have been there to help her cross the finish line. 

“Both Gini and I were unique students,” Josh said. “Texas Tech does an amazing job catering to individuals who are in nontraditional situations.

“Gini has displayed such tenacity while finishing her degree, especially this past year. She doesn't let anything define or limit her. At no point has she looked at her circumstances and let them be a reason not to do something.” 

The Horizon

After graduation, Gini hopes to work in public relations as a social media manager; particularly for brands geared toward mothers and children. 

Adeline, Charlotte and Elijah
Adeline, Charlotte and baby Elijah

As proud as Gini is of finishing her degree, she is even prouder of being a mom. She wants to share that passion in an industry that has plenty of need for good public relations practitioners. 

“In my experience, juggling the demands of being a fulltime public relations major and a mother of three, I've come to realize the critical importance of authenticity and connection,” she said. “Especially when it comes to brands marketing to mothers.” 

The demographic Gini hopes to appeal to is focused on quality and safety, just as she is. Gini has found that parents do not just want to buy products, they want guidance and support. That's why it's important for a public relations campaign to educate and engage that demographic, she says. 

Gini does not hide the fact she is a non-traditional student. Rather, she plays to her strengths. 

Gini sitting on a Texas Tech bench
Gini Wilbanks

“As a mom entering the PR world, I bring a unique perspective to the table,” she said. “I know firsthand the challenges and joys of parenting, and I believe our experience as mothers enriches the work we do. 

“By sharing our stories and collaborating with influencers who share our values, we can create genuine connection with audiences.” 

Gini has been in a campaign course this semester, which serves as a capstone for her degree program. To her delight, most of her team members also turned out to be parents. While she may have started out on campus as the older student in class, her online experience has partnered her up with colleagues who are on similar paths. 

Gini hopes even more parents will consider going back to school and finishing their degrees. 

“As fulltime parents and students, it's OK to take your time. School will still be there. The job market will still be there. But time with your kids, that's valuable,” she said. 

Even though Gini knows it's not a race, it doesn't make commencement any less sweet. If anything, walking the stage this spring will be that much more special, as it marks her incredible perseverance over the last 11 years. 

Gini wearing a graduation stoll and looking dreamily at the sky.

“There have been a lot of ups and downs,” Gini said. “But I can finally see the horizon, and it's a great view.” 

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