“She believed she could, so she did.”
That’s Lizette Ochoa Phillips’ motto.
After she got into a bad car accident when she was 18, doctors told her she might not walk again.
After her husband died when she was 30, she was left a widow and single mother, unsure of her life’s next direction.
In each case, she believed she could rise to the challenge, so – with discipline, determination, faith, and family – she did.
At UL Lafayette’s Summer 2023 Commencement, she walked across the stage, her motto written in glitter on top of her graduation cap, to accept her diploma. She had earned her MBA in just 13 months while working full time as a single mother, a feat by anyone’s standards.
And she’s not stopping there.
When Phillips’ husband, Nathan, passed away unexpectedly in 2018, she didn’t quite know what her path forward would be.
Together, they were a great team. They both had children from previous marriages, and they planned to lean on each other’s strengths to grow and provide for their blended family.
“He was a handyman who could fix anything, and I was like a computer who could figure out any program,” she recalls. “Together, we wanted to build a legacy of rental houses that we could give to our children one day and create a different stream of income.”
But when Nathan passed, those goals shifted.
“After he died, we were straight up focused on just surviving,” she recalls. “Eventually, I came to a point where I realized I needed to stop dreaming the dreams that we had as a couple and start dreaming for me.”
She credits God for helping her get to that point.
“I was able to get to the point of believing in myself because of my faith in God,” she says. “It’s not in my power but in God’s strength.”
And although it took four years to reach that mindset, once she did, Phillips knew it was time to level up in her career if she wanted to provide her daughter with the life she wanted her to have.
“I had found my soulmate who I wanted to be with forever, and he passed away,” she says. “I wasn’t looking for somebody to take care of me. I was looking to take care of myself and my daughter.”
As a Lafayette native and resident, she looked to the University to see what graduate business programs were available. Ultimately, she decided to pursue an MBA because of its broad, applicable curriculum.
“I knew the MBA program was going to give me that push and open more doors,” she says.
It Takes a Village
When choosing a graduate program, Phillips also wanted to make sure that she could still be present in her daughter’s life.
“I did the MBA program online,” she says. “When I started the MBA program, my daughter was 10, and I didn’t want to take away her time with the other parent that she still had.”
Completing the program online meant that Phillips could complete her schoolwork at night during the week, after her daughter went to bed, and still get to spend time with her in the evenings and on the weekends.
Luckily, her parents were there to help her with her parenting duties.
“My mom and my dad helped me with pick up and drop off at school for my daughter. My mom would also cook for us, whether it be salad or chicken, so we wouldn’t have to worry about dinner sometimes. My dad would even come and take care of the grass and house stuff.”
On Sundays, Phillips’ parents helped with grocery shopping and preparing for the week ahead so that she could use the day to catch up on the work she needed to.
“I’ve had a village to support me,” Phillips says. “My family is always there, even if they weren’t there to support me financially through school. I want to be able to give my daughter that same support when she and I are older, and for me to do that, I need to excel and grow in my career.”
Finding Her Future
While completing the MBA program, Phillips made sure she took advantage of the opportunity to develop a professional support system for herself, as well.
“You’re going to get as much out of the MBA program as you put into it,” she says. “If you’re putting in the bare minimum, you’re going to get the bare minimum in return. But if you engage and get into the discussion forums and be involved with the people in your classes, you will have a network of people that you’ll be able to connect with even after you finish.”
Moreover, the program allowed Phillips to explore opportunities she didn’t know existed. She loves accounting, and the required accounting coursework in the program helped her find options in the field beyond earning a CPA license.
“I don't particularly care to be a CPA just because I've never cared to have my own clientele. I don’t even do my own taxes anymore,” she says. “I prefer internal auditing because I like to find errors. I like to investigate. I like to follow the money. It’s like putting puzzle pieces together.
“It was in the MBA accounting course that they showed us the Certified Internal Auditor and Certified Fraud Examiner and other government certification courses you can take in accounting. You don’t just have to be a CPA.”
Phillips’ current role in the Acadiana Planning Commission’s accounting department is to keep the agency’s records and finances appropriately organized so that the organization can continue doing its work to improve the quality of life in Acadiana.
“With the grant work that we do, for every dollar we spend, we have to do about 20 pages of documentation behind it,” she jokes. “That’s what accounting people like me do.”
Her goal is to continue to advance in the accounting space and, in the process, create a better life for herself and her daughter.
Since earning an MBA, she’s already been promoted from bookkeeper to accountant.
And whatever she believes she can do next, we know she will.
“I know I have faced many challenges in my life, but God has carried me through,” she says. “I know He will continue to carry me through.”