From First in Family…
As I look back at every milestone I’ve reached during my educational journey, I have to take a deep breath and remind myself that with each win, there also comes a loss.
I graduated from high school in 1993 from Pottsville High, in the booming town of Pottsville, Arkansas with a population of 700, and 33 of those people were in my graduating class.
Neither of my parents had a high school diploma, nor did any of my seven older siblings. I was the first. I was their pride and joy. They took pleasure in telling everyone I had received a scholarship to go to college, and I would be the first one in the family to go. It was embarrassing to me to have people know my parents and siblings were uneducated.
As I started Arkansas Tech University in the fall, I took with me the embarrassment of being first, the pressure of failing, and little knowledge of knowing what to expect as I began my college career. Two years later I found myself engaged and dropping out of school. Looking back, I think marriage was my escape. My grades were suffering, and I had lost my scholarship the semester before. I told myself I didn’t need a college education and went to work part time at my mother’s loan closing business. We got married and started a family. Things were ok, but not great. He hadn’t finished high school, and neither of us had a college degree; the result was practically nonexistent incomes that couldn’t possibly sustain us in the future. He didn’t see the problem with how we were living paycheck to paycheck or the need to change. I on the other hand could only see that change needed to happen, but this time it was to undo the choices I had made 17 years earlier.
The decision to divorce my ex-husband wasn’t an easy one. We had young children to consider, but in my mind the positives would outweigh the negatives. The boys and I moved in with my mother and I decided to enroll at Arkansas State University and go back to school to earn my bachelor’s degree. Once again, I was that scared “first in the family” student, but along with that label I carried “non-traditional and single parent” which basically designated me old and divorced. I was determined to break the uneducated stereotype my children would face in the future. I enrolled year-round while working full time and finished my degree in only 3 years.
But as I said in the beginning, every win has a loss and for me it came in the form of less time spent with my children, and any form of a social life. The loss of a social life I can live with, but the time lost with my boys will forever be a scar upon my heart. It was such time of transition for them with the divorce, me working full time, and going back to school, they should have had more of my time and focus. I am truly lucky my mom was there to help me.
Earning my bachelor’s degree was my ticket to a new career. I yearned for a position where people respected your education and skillsets. It was time to mend the parts of my life that were broken, and I had successfully paved the way for my children to pursue their dreams.
Recalling my graduate application, I wrote “I can recall the day my diploma finally arrived in the mail. Opening the envelope, I nervously held the small white certificate that encompassed all the late nights and weekends I studied, the essays, assignments, and tests I passed, and the hundred of miles I had driven, but above all it represented the numerous hours spent away from my children that I could never get back. This little white paper was priceless; it was proof I had been powerful enough to change my future.”
I still feel that way.
…to First Generation Graduate Student.
On July 26, 2019, I was sitting in front of my computer, much like I am today, trying to find the right words for my statement of purpose for my graduate application. Unlike my decision to obtain my bachelor’s degree out of necessity, the desire to pursue my master’s degree was completely self-indulgent. I sought to further my education and gain additional knowledge, but I wasn’t even sure it would further my career. However, going back to school would fulfill the need within me to keep learning and to keep achieving my dreams. I couldn’t stop this journey until I finished my graduate studies.
Still working full-time, I started my first two classes: Grant Writing with Dr. L'Eplattenier, and Advanced Persuasive Writing with Dr. Cox in the fall of 2019. The doubts quickly subsided, and I knew the coursework taught in the Professional and Technical Writing program would enhance my current skillset and prove beneficial to any employer. Knowing how to effectively communicate to various audiences through writing processes and technology resources would serve me well in my profession.
When the Spring 2020 semester started, I was enrolled in Intro to Research Methods and Online Writing Instruction (OWI), then the Covid – 19 Pandemic took the world by surprise and suddenly everyone was having to quarantine and shelter in place. My fiancé Joe set up his office in our bedroom, my oldest son Jonathan returned home from college and had to have his bedroom back (it was my office), my youngest was having to finish out his high school year as a sophomore from his bedroom, and I found myself alternating from the kitchen and dining room as my workspaces. Unfortunately, my coursework became low on the totem pole, and I decided to drop OWI to give me more time to focus on Dr. Matson’s research class.
I am thankful I made the decision as the extra focus enabled me to gain the skills to assist Dr. Matson in an Independent Study during the 2020 Summer session. During this class I used the skills I learned during Research Methods to successfully gather primary and secondary research material (first person interviews and Survey Monkey responses) then coded the information for her Write to Law (WTL) Project. I also used the information in Dr. Martin’s Document Design class to create an informational pamphlet Dr. Matson could utilize in her WTL academia discussions. During this class I also designed a book cover which I later used in my Memoir class with Dr. Jensen.
In Dr. Martin’s Digital Design and Digital Non-Fiction courses I learned how to create designs that appeal to targeted audiences, and effectively convey the message through color, graphics, font size, and layout.
Dr. Kuralt’s Writing for Business and Government course took me out of my comfort zone. As a paralegal, I utilize formatting and editing techniques daily in my contract work but using Plain Language was hard for me to wrap my head around. In the legal field attorneys like to embellish and create documents that avoid “getting to the point.” Plain language uses an active voice, with straight-forward, easy-to-understand wording. A technique I was unfamiliar with. Luckily, Dr. Kuralt was great in helping me eliminate the “fluff” and concentrate on exactly what needed to be communicated in the assignment.
Additional classes like Writing Software Documentation and Preparing to Freelance provided valuable instruction for addressing rhetorical situations in a workplace setting. The coursework taught me how to create tech manuals, company policies, and develop a personal website to promote my own writing as a business. These practical skills I now utilize in many of my day-to-day activities at work.
My time as a graduate student has enabled me to grow as a person, expand the duties within my current position, as well as become the Membership Liaison for my local chapter of the International Right of Way Association. I am no longer the timid woman who watches from the sidelines as others take the lead on projects. I’m now a woman who is confident enough in my own abilities to take initiative, and also teach what I’ve learned.
I’ve accomplished my goal. I’ve reached the finish line. I will graduate on December 17th, 2022, with my master’s degree in Professional and Technical Writing and a Graduate Certificate in Business Writing, but the reward is not without some regrets.
First, I have distanced myself from friends, family, and co-workers to focus on my studies, which somehow has turned me into an introvert. Going forward I plan on being more social. Second, I have ignored my own health. Student life is an inactive one, my next challenge is to get this body moving. And third, my academic achievements have caused a divide between me and my oldest son. I’m not sure if it’s anger because I have been focused on school for the last eight years or resentment because I am an over-achiever. All I know is I plan on resolving our conflict as soon as I can.
There’s a quote from author Terry Pratchett that states “Wisdom comes from experience. Experience is often a result of lack of wisdom.” Even with regrets, the amount of wisdom I have gained while being a graduate student cannot be measured. The knowledge I now possess doesn’t just stop with me, the knowledge will be shared in the workplace, to my family and friends, and to my children.
Thank you to all my professors and the graduate department at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for granting me the opportunity to be a part of such an amazing experience.