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Thriving in the Unexpected: The Power to Believe

Thriving in the Unexpected: The Power to Believe

Brook Custer always believed in the power of her dreams. Upon graduating in May 2021, Custer had a teaching job lined up in Marshall, Arkansas. But her situation was much different earlier in the year, and without help from the Fight On Fund and its generous donors, Custer would have struggled to complete her degree.

Inspired by her high school agriculture teacher in Waldron, Custer knew she wanted to follow in his footsteps by the time she graduated.

"My ag teacher was the person [who] exposed me to a lot of culture," said Custer. "I learned a lot of life lessons with him. I always knew that I wanted to teach something, and having the ability to expose kids to a variety of experiences and culture outside of what they would normally receive is what made me decide to want to be an ag teacher specifically."

At a Future Farmers of America (FFA) State Convention, Custer encountered another agriculture educator who would inspire her—Dr. Justin Killingsworth, interim department head and associate professor of agricultural education at ATU. That first meeting with Dr. Killingsworth ultimately led to Custer choosing Arkansas Tech for her education. Custer said she appreciated the honesty with which Dr. Killingsworth provided the information she needed about going to college.

When asked about her first year on campus, Custer said, "It was super overwhelming at first."

Soon, Custer got involved in her residence hall council and later applied for an executive board position, a national communications coordinator. She was perfect for the job because of her knowledge of parliamentary procedure law from her FFA days in high school. On the executive board, Custer met her husband, whom she married in October of 2020, which she described as an "added bonus" to her experience while serving.

Custer excelled in her classes and was one semester away from graduating when an unexpected event almost postponed her degree plans. Custer had to become the legal guardian of her younger sibling, Dakota.

With her new living situation, the savings Custer and her husband had to cover Custer's four months of unemployment to do student teaching just wouldn't be enough.

"[Taking guardianship} led to an issue because we had basically been saving for years for me to be able to go these four months," said Custer. "Because student teaching, you're there every day—a normal eight-to-five job—and you don't get paid."

Brook Custer

By the time Custer paid for necessary items for Dakota, she didn't have the funds left to go without paid work to do her student teaching. Custer made a phone call to Dr. Killingsworth to tell him the news that she would have to drop out for a year to work and save more money.

According to Custer, "Of course, I was in tears [while speaking to Dr. Killingsworth], [because] who wants to drop out the semester before they graduate?"

With only two weeks until Custer's last semester would begin, Dr. Killingsworth urged his student to give him a day to find a solution to help her. The very next day, Dr. Killingsworth contacted Custer with the applications she needed to apply for the Fight On Fund. This foundation scholarship provides grants to students with financial needs. Dr. Killingsworth believed in Custer’s ability to succeed, and now she just had to believe in herself again.

"I applied for it, of course, and within a week, all those funds were in my account," said Custer. "And it was a sigh of relief that I was able to afford to [student teach]. We've budgeted pretty strictly, but if I didn't have those scholarships, essentially, I wouldn't be graduating, and I wouldn't be getting this job. So, it really did help me."

While Custer is grateful for her Fight On Fund grant, she wanted to emphasize that the financial needs of all students are important.

"There are some people who don't have these really intense stories," said Custer. "Sometimes it's just, 'I was poor my whole life. So, either I go to college, or I don't.' It doesn't always have to be so extreme [for a student] to need financial help."

To help other students like Brook achieve and believe in their dreams, you can make your tax-deductible donation to the ATU Foundation’s Fight On Fund online at www.atualumni.com/fighton.

-By Brandi Easterling Collins
for the Tech Action, Fall 2021