Like Mother, Like Daughters

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Tori Purnell is a current student at UW Tacoma. So are two of her daughters.

Tori Purnell knew she wanted to go back to school. She started her educational journey at Washington State University but left after two years. “I wasn’t taking it seriously and decided to take a step back,” she said.

Purnell went to work. She married a Navy officer and together they started a family that grew to include four children—three girls and one boy. The family settled in Gig Harbor. Time passed and Purnell’s children grew. Her oldest daughter graduated from Peninsula High School and left for college. “I decided to take a couple of classes at Tacoma Community College [TCC] just to see if my brain still worked—and it did,” said Purnell.

In 2013 Purnell enrolled at UW Tacoma to pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Around the same time her next oldest children, twins Olivia and Lindsee, started at TCC. It didn’t take Tori Purnell long to finish her undergraduate degree and begin work on a master’s in social work.

In the fall of 2016, some familiar company joined Purnell at UW Tacoma. Olivia and Lindsee transferred from TCC. Tori Purnell’s familiarity with campus proved useful. She showed her daughters around and helped them get acclimated to university life. “I took them on a little campus tour and helped them get their ID cards,” she said.

The Purnell family.  From left to right: Olivia, Tori and Lindsee.

21-year-old Olivia Purnell is working on a self-designed degree in medical history. Her younger sister (by three minutes) Lindsee plans to pursue computer science. “We’re kind of the opposites, she’s very much the math, logical side and I’m definitely more emotional and creative,” said Olivia Purnell.

The sisters’ strong relationship played a role in their mutual decision to attend UW Tacoma. “I could have gone off somewhere and that would have been fun for a little bit but I would have wanted to come back and be with my family,“ said Olivia Purnell.

Lindsee Purnell echoes this sentiment. She enjoys having the opportunity to attend school with her sister and mother. Until now, Lindsee and Olivia have been able to take a least one class together per quarter. This decision has more to do with practicality. The pair shares a car, which can be tricky considering both of them work as well as attend school. “Olivia has a three hour class, so I’m usually in the library doing homework while she finishes,” said Lindsee Purnell.

The siblings’ divergent career paths—Olivia plans to be teacher, Lindsee wants to work for a tech company—make Tori Purnell happy. “I love that they’re both in such different fields,” she said. “They didn’t start out that way, as twins they pretty much did everything the same. It’s been really neat to see them blossom in their own way.”

Lindsee and Olivia don’t see much of their mom while on campus. Tori’s classes are mostly at night. Still, the sisters say it has been nice having her around. “I’m thankful that we have someone who goes to the same school and who has some of the same experiences,” said Lindsee. “It’s definitely made things easier, especially when we were just starting out.”

The three share a bond one might expect between mothers and daughters. In this case, the palpable connection between Tori, Olivia and Lindsee is reinforced by education. “Mom has sacrificed so much to raise us and I’m really glad she has the chance to do this now,” said Olivia Purnell. Sister Lindsee puts it another way. “Our mom has proved that it’s never too late to start.”

Tori, Olivia and Lindsee are all scheduled to graduate in the spring of 2018. Commencement is typically a day to celebrate individual achievement. It seems fitting that the Purnells will do this together. The rest of their family, including the youngest child/little brother, will be in attendance. He’s currently attending community college and hasn’t yet made plans for a transfer school. No pressure.

Written by: 
Eric Wilson-Edge / May 22, 2017
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or