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UA Little Rock grad Tichina Taylor overcomes stroke to earn college degree

Tichina Taylor

After her freshman year of college at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Tichina Taylor experienced a debilitating stroke. Thanks to her strong will to continue pursuing her degree, with lots of support from the UA Little Rock Disability Resource Center and Student Support Services, Taylor will graduate Dec. 14 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a certificate in nonprofit management. 

How were you able to overcome the effects of having a stroke and complete your college degree?

I was 19 years old when I experienced the stroke. It happened during the summer break after my freshman year at UA Little Rock. My family and I were shocked because we had assumed that only elderly people have strokes. 

A stroke is so frustrating. I was partially paralyzed and suffered memory loss. I couldn’t get my thoughts out, and when I did speak, I sounded like a preschool child. The stroke forced me to learn everything all over again. My memory couldn’t grasp any information given to me. 

I survived, though, and was determined to finish my education. So, I went to the Disability Resource Center at UA Little Rock and spoke to the director, Reed Claiborne, and he helped me. I was not going to give up on a college degree, and UA Little Rock was committed to supporting my goal. 

The Disability Resource Center would ensure I had access to alternative formats of my textbooks and most other course materials that I could listen to for each of my classes. They notified my instructors of the appropriate accommodations for each of my courses. The Disability Resource Center focuses on making the learning experience accessible. The DRC helped me meet my needs as a stroke survivor.

Student Support Services played a big role in my success, too. If I could not understand what I was reading or a concept from class, it used to make me so frustrated I would cry and not know what to do. Once I started working with tutors, I knew that I could highlight a passage of text or bring notes from class and talk with them about it. They helped me understand what I was reading and the concepts explained in class. It made all the difference in my ability to complete assignments.

I discipline myself to always keep a smile on my face and never let myself give up. I also give praise to God. He helps me. God brought wonderful people into my life to support me, and opened my mind so that I can learn.

I am so thankful for my professors’ support, the Mathematics Lab, Student Support Services, and the Disability Resource Center. I could not have completed my degree without each of them. Everyone who serves as a tutor on this campus personally benefits the lives of the people they coach, probably more than the tutors even realize.

What are your goals and why did you choose to study sociology and nonprofit management?

I’ve been interested in the study of social problems since high school. My youth experience in the Boys & Girls Club’s Go Girls program shaped my thinking a lot in terms of what it means to live a healthy life with a positive mindset. My life goal is to open a nonprofit center to support verbally and physically abused women. I want to help other women learn to live a happy life, free from abuse. I’d also like to work in real estate.

What does having a college education mean to you?

UA Little Rock has made a significant difference in my family’s life. My sister and I are first-generation college students, and our degrees are empowering us to contribute good things in the world at a higher level than if we hadn’t been exposed to higher education. 

My sister, Dr. Nioka Taylor Smith, earned two degrees at UA Little Rock, all while raising young children. Her influence and support in my life has been amazing. We wrote a book together about my stroke and recovery. It’s called, “Walking Miracle: Memoir of a 19-Year-Old Stroke Survivor,” and was published under her own business label, J.Kenkade. I am so proud of her.

I want to encourage students who may be dealing with life struggles. Don’t give up! Life is going to hit you with many obstacles, but strive to achieve your goals and stay positive. You can and you will succeed. I made it.