Despite being an eighth grade dropout with a GED, Kim Collins Farrell was doing pretty well at life in the late 1990s. She supported herself and her son with a series of pretty good jobs – managing a catering company and leading a political advocacy organization in Little Rock.
“I was always successful. People thought I had a degree because I could read and speak well,” she said. “Some of them assumed I was a lawyer. But I felt inadequate interacting with people that I thought had far more skill than me. I felt their word would carry more weight than mine.”
So at 30 years old, with nothing but a GED, an eighth-grade education, and a world of hard knocks experience, Farrell entered UALR’s political science program. She immediately impressed her professors with her curiosity, drive, and innate intelligence.
They inspired her to apply for the rigorous Truman Scholarship Program. Even the application – steeped in questions geared to traditional students with stout academic resumes – was difficult.
“They asked, ‘list your high school activities.’ I put, ‘pregnant, couldn’t do anything,’” she said.
She had no money to travel to Dallas for the Truman interview. One of her UALR professors bought her a plane ticket. She had no money for meals, so she got by on hor d’oeurves at receptions during the interview weekend.
But it was worth it. She won the prestigious award, becoming UALR’s first Truman Scholar and securing $30,000 for graduate school at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School.
“If I hadn’t gotten the Truman, I would not have been able to go to graduate school or would have had to take one class at a time and certainly not in the number one program in public administration in the nation,” she said.
With a master’s, Farrell worked seven years directing the Environmental Finance Center based at Syracuse, developing leadership programs for rural local governments to deal with environmental issues. Today, she is the president of Farrell Consulting, providing organizational management and training.
“A lot of the training that I do is the process communications model that I learned in Arkansas. I used that model, and I got certified to provide training in it. I am the only person in New York state certified to provide this training,” Farrell said.