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Oklahoma State University

HDFS PhD program graduate and mother of five

Story from the Oklahoman:

Dr. Mom: Oklahoma State University graduate's career imitates life

by Kathryn McNutt  Published: May 14, 2017 5:00 AM CDT Updated: May 14, 2017 5:00 AM CDT

STILLWATER — Tiffany Spierling is an expert in family. She has a brand-new Ph.D. and five children under 8 to prove it.

Spierling, 35, graduated Friday from Oklahoma State University with her doctoral degree in human development and family science, two weeks after giving birth.

Tiffany Spierling and her family gather after the birth of her fifth child
Tiffany Spierling and her family gather after the birth of her fifth child. With her are husband, Tristan, and children, Landon, 7, Colton, 5, Callum, 3, and Blythe, 1, and Lawton. [Photo provided by Kristin Linsenmeyer Photography]

During the four-year program at OSU, she had three babies, underwent heart surgery and often managed the home front alone while her husband was away on extended military training.

"I'm a very good multitasker," she said. "When I had a newborn, I'd bring him to class."

Spierling said the supportive faculty and loving classmates didn't blink an eye, although they sometimes lost track of which baby it was.

"They see the value of family and early childhood and those bonds, how important that is to child development," she said. "There's always been a challenge, but there's always been support from the faculty and the university."

Classmate Amanda Cothern said it was common to be studying for a midterm with a 6-month-old in the classroom.

"We'd just pass around the baby to help her. It has been so fun," Cothern said.

"Her secret weapon is just knowing what's important. She has a genuine deep knowledge that family is first, and she takes that passion and turns it into her schoolwork," Cothern said.

"It takes courage to do what she's been doing. She's so brave and has inspired all of us."

Assignment Oklahoma

Tiffany and Tristan Spierling met at Michigan State University and were married in 2008. When he got his orders for Vance Air Force Base, where he is chief of flight medicine, she began looking for a doctoral program nearby.

He decided to commute to Enid so they could live in Stillwater and she could spend the maximum time with the children.

Spierling with Wilson and Shreffler
Dr. Tiffany Spierling with her advisor, Dr. Karina Shreffler (right) and Dean of the College of Human Sciences, Dr. Stephan M. Wilson (left).

Spierling started her doctoral program in 2013 while her husband was completing training in Ohio. She was "very pregnant" and had two preschoolers when she set up the household, began the program and taught a class of more than 300 students.

When the baby arrived, she missed just one day of class. The fourth child — and only girl — arrived two weeks before her doctoral competency exams. And baby number five was delivered three days after she submitted her dissertation to complete her degree.

Her topic was the importance of prenatal attachment for postnatal mother-infant bonding.

"I study what I know and what's important to me," Spierling said.

Finding time to study took some creativity and dedication. Her husband's Vance AFB assignment was for four years, and she needed to complete a four-year program in that time.

"I just utilized every spare moment," Spierling said. It might be working on her dissertation while waiting to see her obstetrician or using the drive to the zoo for a family outing to do some research.


Tiffany Spierling with family before commencement
Tiffany Spierling and her family gather before Graduate College commencement.


She found the best time to work was 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.

"I haven't had a full night's sleep in seven years," Spierling said. "Between the five of them, someone is always awake."

On to California

Lawton Spierling arrived April 27, but he won't remember his time in Oklahoma since the family is moving on to the next assignment at Travis Air Force Base in California.

They leave Friday for a three-day, 30-hour drive with Landon, 7; Colton, 5; Callum, 3; Blythe, 1, and newborn Lawton.

"It will be a long journey," Spierling said. "Somebody always has to go potty."

Once the family is settled, she will have only one full-time job — Mom.

Spierling dedicated her dissertation to her own mother, "in honor of everything you have done for me that I didn't and couldn't understand until I became a mother myself."

"Thank you," she wrote, "for raising me to believe that limits only exist in my mind and that I can be or do anything I am willing to give my all to."