The challenges of balancing life responsibilities and school are sometimes cited as a barrier to higher education attainment.
Shannon McGuire sees that issue through a different lens.
“I look at my husband and my kids, and they stood by me through this whole journey,” said McGuire. “This was for me, but it was also for them. I needed them to know that we don’t give up and we push through. If you want something bad enough, you can get it.”
McGuire completed her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Arkansas Tech University during the fall 2021 semester. Hers was among approximately 1,000 degrees and other credentials conferred by ATU this autumn.
It is a collection of graduates that carried on through the effects of a global pandemic for almost two full years in order to reach commencement day.
“COVID-19 was such a big part of everybody’s experience as a college graduate right now,” said McGuire. “The nursing department made sure without a doubt we were going to get the experience we needed to go out in the workforce and be good nurses. We got to do things and be part of opportunities that so many other nursing students do not receive.”
McGuire lives in Russellville and will remain in the community as an emergency room nurse at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center.
One of her hospital co-workers will be fellow fall 2021 ATU Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree graduate Brooke Payne of Atkins, who will utilize her skills in the maternity center.
“The reason I majored in nursing is because my grandpa had cancer,” said Payne. “I watched the nurses serve as his biggest supporters, and they were so great to our family. They were amazing during the hospice phase of it, and I realized nursing is what I wanted to do. Nursing is very difficult, but I told myself to keep pushing so I could be that person for another family and help someone when they are going through such a difficult time in life.”
Like McGuire and Payne, proximity to home was among the initial factors that drew Trent Sisson of Russellville to Arkansas Tech. Now, he holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree from ATU and is a first-generation college graduate.
“Everyone here has been so accessible with answers to my questions,” said Sisson, who will work for Centennial Bank after graduation and has designs on one day owning his own business. “I had to learn how to study. I never had to study much in high school, but here I developed my work ethic. I had to discipline myself to sit down, read and learn the material. My parents helped me all the way. There were a couple of times I wanted to quit, but they kept pushing me through.”
Jacob Snell of Alma also earned a gold stole symbolic of becoming a first-generation college graduate from Arkansas Tech. He specialized in entrepreneurship on his way to a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree. His first job out of college will be in Little Rock as an area manager for Amazon.
“I don’t know that it’s really set in yet,” said Snell when asked what it means to become a first-generation graduate. “I have quite a few family members who are even more excited than I am. Some of the things they’ve said and actions they’ve done make me realize how big of a deal it is and how proud I am making them.”
Fall 2021 ATU graduate Piper Orio-Dettling of Hector has been one of the most prominent student leaders on campus during her time at Arkansas Tech.
She served as chair for the ATU Student Mayoral Committee and as a member of ATU Presidential Leadership Cabinet, the ATU chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America and Habitat for Humanity Pope County. She also worked in the ATU Office of Veteran Services and was a contributing writer for the Arka Tech student newspaper.
Orio-Dettling’s campus and community involvement helped her earn a place on the 2021 ATU Homecoming court and the ATU Tradition Keeper distinction.
“Arkansas Tech welcomed me with open arms from the moment I took my campus tour,” said Orio-Dettling. “I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else. I learned that even when you do everything right, there is stuff that will come up along the way. It’s okay to accept rejection and realize that I don’t have to be perfect.”
Orio-Dettling earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in communication with an emphasis in speech and in journalism with an emphasis in public relations. She cited Dr. Hanna Norton, professor of journalism; Megan Toland, assistant professor of journalism; and Shelly Hall, coordinator of veteran services, as some of the most beneficial influences on her undergraduate career.
The experience was so positive that Orio-Dettling is coming back to ATU as a graduate student in the Master of Science in student affairs administration degree program.
“I would not have had the opportunities and success I’ve had here were it not for the university as a whole,” said Orio-Dettling. “I feel like every professor knows my name and my story. They care about me and they truly want me to succeed. I’ve had every opportunity imaginable.”