From Adversity to Advocacy: GS Graduate’s Inspirational Journey to GS and Beyond

A first-generation student, veteran, and single mother, Ebonnie Goodfield ‘24GS overcame obstacles, including disability, to pursue higher education at Columbia University's School of General Studies.

April 29, 2024

Ebonnie Goodfield's ‘24GS journey to GS is nothing short of remarkable. Originally from Long Island, New York, Goodfield faced numerous challenges and unexpected twists on her path to higher education. Yet, her resilience and determination have made her a beacon of inspiration within the GS community.

As a first-generation student raised by a single mother who gave birth to her at the age of 15, Goodfield's early years were marked by adversity. College initially wasn't a consideration, but her mother's unwavering support and insistence on academic excellence planted the seeds of possibility. "Nobody in my family has gone to college before, and my mom had me the day before her 16th birthday. So college just wasn't something I thought about," Goodfield reflected. Despite the odds, her mother's relentless push for academic excellence propelled Goodfield forward. However, she found herself at a crossroads, grappling with uncertainty about her future. The few scholarship opportunities she had weren't enough to pay for college, and she wasn’t sure how to sustain herself and be on her own.

Seeking direction and discipline, Goodfield made a decision that would shape her future: enlisting in the Navy. “I thought that joining the military and serving my country would teach me how to stand on my own two feet and protect those around me,” she shared, reflecting on her choice to serve.

During her six years of military service, which included two deployments, Goodfield encountered numerous personal and professional challenges. She became a mother while serving, navigating the complexities of parenthood alongside her Navy duties. After leaving the Navy as a disabled veteran, Goodfield found herself back in New York, grappling with the transition to civilian life and the limitations imposed by her disabilities.

“I was having issues navigating and finding resources available to veterans, all while battling my own disabilities and going through an identity crisis.”

However, Goodfield's resilience shone through as she found a new purpose working for the New York Air National Guard as a resource coordinator for deploying airmen. Despite her own struggles, she dedicated herself to supporting her fellow service members, drawing from her own experiences to guide them through the challenges of transitioning out of the military.

Goodfield held the distinction of being the first person to occupy that position at the base, a fact that prompted many to question her about her plans for the role. Given the infrequent deployment schedules, doubts arose about the types of services she could provide to the stationed service members.

In her inaugural year, challenges mounted as four of her comrades lost their lives in Iraq. This period proved immensely difficult, particularly as a parent, as she assisted the families of the fallen in navigating the aftermath—helping them with practical matters like mortgage payments in the absence of their loved ones. It was during this time that Goodfield realized the importance of obtaining a degree to further her ability to support her community effectively.

Recognizing the gap between her lived experiences and the qualifications required to make a meaningful impact, she set her sights on higher education, eventually finding her way to Columbia University's School of General Studies.

At GS, Goodfield found a supportive community that embraced her unique background and perspective. Despite the challenges of balancing academics with her responsibilities as a working mother, Goodfield thrived, becoming actively involved in student government and advocacy initiatives. She spearheaded efforts to update anti-bullying policies at the university, drawing from her own experiences to champion change on behalf of her fellow students.

Goodfield's proudest moments at Columbia include her role in updating university policies and her contributions to the creation of the Women Veterans of Columbia University, the first recognized group of its kind in the Ivy League. Reflecting on the emotional journey behind these moments, she shared, “I remember crying when I found out that there weren't any policies in place to protect us students to make us all feel included as we identify with so many different groups. I remember feeling helpless as a woman veteran, leaving such a male-dominated workspace and entering another area so far removed from that but still facing the same challenges.” Her achievements reflect her unwavering commitment to advocacy and empowerment, both on and off campus.

Most recently, Goodfield takes pride in the standing ovation she received at Low Memorial Library during the GS Scholarship Celebration dinner. Her voice cracked with emotion as she described the moment, a testament to the strength of her story.

“It was mind blowing for me. It was humbling because I often speak about my experience as a veteran but not often about my story coming up as a woman, a Black woman, who came from a single parent household living on public assistance with a mother who's 15, and how that translates into who I am as a parent. I'm not ashamed, but I finally felt accepted.”

As Goodfield prepares to transition to the School of Social Work, she reflects on her time at GS with fondness and gratitude. She acknowledges the profound impact the community has had on her journey, from the supportive faculty and staff, to her fellow students who have become like family. But amidst her achievements, Ebony remained humble, acknowledging mentors like Dean Rosen-Metsch and Dave Keefe that had shaped her path. Milvets, the fellowship program she co-created, and the Women Veterans of Columbia University – each a testament to her commitment to community and inclusivity.

Though her time at GS may be coming to an end, Goodfield's legacy as a trailblazer and advocate will endure. Her story serves as a testament to the transformative power of education and the resilience of the human spirit. As she embarks on the next chapter of her journey, Goodfield remains committed to making a difference and inspiring others to pursue their dreams, no matter the obstacles they may face.