From Alaska to Arkansas: Graduating student’s long journey leads her to road to success

Student Heidi Davis works on digitizing photos of the Jeanie Greene collection on Alaska Natives at the Sequoyah National Research Center. Photographed on February 27, 2017.

In her pursuit of higher education, Heidi Davis was forced to leave behind everything that she knew and loved in her hometown of Kake, Alaska.

For several years, Davis worked as an in-court clerk for the Alaska Court System, and while there, became so inspired that she wanted to pursue a degree in criminal justice.

In the summer of 2015, Davis and her husband made a pact to chase their dreams and further their careers by attending the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Because UA Little Rock was located in the city where her mother-in-law resides, attending the university was an easy decision for the couple to make. It was the packing up and leaving behind the life they’d always known that was hard.

“I had to move away from my family, my friends, my culture – everything,” Davis said. “I have two young children, one who was only a couple months old and the other who was two and a half at the time of the move. It was extremely hard to take that step and leave all of my family, knowing how difficult it was for them to see us go.”

Once the pair made it to Little Rock, Davis experienced a complete culture shock. Everything around her was different, the people, the food, the atmosphere, but thankfully, her mother-in-law’s presence provided her with a sense of home.

Over time, Davis adjusted to the city, but soon found herself trying to adjust to her new life as a college student.    

“I often struggled with balancing motherhood, being a full-time undergraduate, and being a supportive wife to my husband who was also pursuing his higher education,” Davis said. “I often questioned whether all the time I spent dedicated toward success in my education was shortchanging my kids, but realized that I was also doing it to better their lives.”

Although Davis often felt overwhelmed by the pressures of life, she was fortunate to find support waiting for her at every turn.

“My husband has always been my biggest supporter,” she said. “If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have had the courage to move to Arkansas to pursue my education in the first place. We’ve had a unique relationship as we were both able to attend UA Little Rock full time as non-traditional students with children. He was there with me the first day I began my education, when I cried telling him I didn’t think I could do it, and has encouraged me every moment along the way.”

Heidi Davis graduating in Spring 2018 with double major in Political Science/Criminal Justice .
Heidi Davis graduating in Spring 2018 with double major in Political Science/Criminal Justice .

In addition, her mother-in-law welcomed the family with open arms. As a new retiree, she also offered to babysit the children while the pair went to school.

While Davis was away from home, she became acquainted with a number of professors and staff members who helped her see her potential and made her UA Little Rock experience one to remember.

“I know I’m biased, but every professor that I was able to take in my undergraduate career has been amazing and helped me in one way or another,” she said. “Along with knowledge, they gave me a little more confidence each time, so I wouldn’t be where I am without each of them.”

According to Davis, Tara Kittrell from the counseling office was a great resource who helped her to cope with the constant anxiety she faced; Dr. Trakenya Dobbins, her first year experience instructor, gave her the confidence to achieve her educational goals; and  Dr. Daryl Rice, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, and Dr. Greg Shufeldt, assistant professor of political science, introduced her to political science and sparked her passion to become politically active.

Dr. Daniel Littlefield, director of the Sequoyah National Research Center gave her a little piece of home while she interned for him; and Dr. Rocio Paez, a UA Little Rock alumna, constantly encouraged her and inspired her to continue her education beyond her bachelors degree.

“I originally came to UA Little Rock with the intention of pursuing only my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, but through my advisor, I discovered that I could graduate with two degrees,” Davis said. “As a first-generation college student, this opportunity was too exciting to pass up, so I decided to go for it. I felt pursuing a degree in political science would be just as advantageous to my career goals as criminal justice, so I chose it as my secondary major.”

Thanks to her team of supporters and Davis’ motivation to make her children proud, she will graduate with two bachelor’s degrees in political science and criminal justice May 12 from UA Little Rock.

“Three short years ago, I was scared to death to leave my family and all I’ve ever known behind, and now I’m a few short weeks out from finishing up my undergraduate degrees,” Davis said. “It really goes by so fast that it’s hard to believe it’s almost over.”

After graduation, Davis will attend the William H. Bowen School of Law in the fall and says she couldn’t be more thrilled about it.


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