Faith Couts had planned to enroll in college right out of high school.
Sometimes, however, life shows up and plans change.
When Couts, at age 18, gave birth to her daughter, Karlee Wetzel, she dropped out of the community college she was attending in her native Las Vegas and spent the next nine years as a single mom.
Then Couts got married, had a second child, Hunter Wetzel, and stayed at home raising her children for several more years. During that time, the family moved to Orange County.
For the past two years, Couts, now 50, has been working toward a degree in the UC Irvine School of Social Sciences.
And so has her son.
A mother and son attending the same college in the same university at the same time.
But it gets better.
When Couts walks across the stage on Friday June 16, to accept her diploma in social policy and public service, she will be the first in her family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
Faith Couts and her son, Hunter Wetzel, at UC Irvine in Irvine, CA, on Wednesday, June 7, 2023. The mother/son team are both graduating from UCI’s School of Sociology this month. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Following right behind her will be Wetzel, 22, who will be accepting a B.A. in anthropology.
“It’s kind of a little surreal that this is even happening,” Couts said. “I never thought in a million years that I would get to do this. We’ve been so close his whole life. We’ve been like, sort of Fick and Frack and always enjoyed each other, like really mother and son, but actually liked each other and liked hanging around each other when appropriate. So that I get to do it with him … He’s going to be the one sitting next to me.”
Couts has also piled up plenty of academic accolades along the way.
She is a recipient of the Chancellor’s Award, the Schonfeld Scholar Award, the UCI Alumni Association’s Distinguished Anteater Award and the campus Independent Achiever award, and she completed the Social Policy and Public Service Honors program, all while holding down multiple jobs on and off campus.
“My mom is very intelligent and very academic,” Wetzel said. “And so, the fact that she’s both my mother and somebody I can look up to and also my academic peer who I can just bounce ideas off of, and she can do the same for me … It’s been surprisingly, surprisingly deep.”
As Couts’ children became young adults, she was ready to pick up where she left off as an 18-year-old.
She enrolled in Saddleback College, where she sailed through in two years, graduating summa cum laude.
When Couts enrolled in Saddleback, Wetzel was enrolled at UCI, starting as a music major before switching to anthropology.
Uncertain about what her son’s reaction might be with his mother enrolled in the same university as him, Couts asked her Wetzel’s permission before applying to transfer to UCI.
Wetzel acknowledges being a bit unsure at first, but they figured the campus is so spacious they would rarely run into each other.
As it turned out, Wetzel came to welcomed his mother’s presence on campus and went on to see his mom as an academic equal and was more than willing to confer with her on subject matters.
Mother and son even took a class together, a course about conspiracy theories.
Couts always sat in the front row if she arrived in class first, but she would join her son sitting in the back of the class if he arrived before her.
“To be completely honest, she’s a far better student than me,” Wetzel said, as he sat alongside his mother near a park on campus, a few days before graduation. “And taking a class with her means that if I’m ever struggling on my homework, or my papers, or anything like that, I can ask her (for help). She’s a really, really good student and a good mother, so she will just do that.
“Part of me thinks that I should have taken more classes with her.”
Wetzel currently works at Nightdive Studios as a quality assurance consultant and plans to pursue a career in creating video games.
Couts’ daughter is an associate producer at Netflix Gaming.
As for Couts, she’ll be around UCI for a while, having been accepted to the Ph.D. program in the UCI School of Education where she’ll research the factors that enable non-traditional students like herself to excel at four-year institutions.
To say the least, Wetzel is incredibly proud of his mother.
“In a weird way, I’ve been able to learn a lot more about you, too,” Wetzel told his mother. “This opportunity has really, I think, given us the chance to get to know each other as adults again.”
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