Meet Leslie Oden, a first-generation college student from Little Rock who enrolled at UA Little Rock to complete her degree after being away from college for several years. Oden will graduate this May with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies.
Tell us the story of your degree.
I began my college journey almost 30 years ago. After taking a year and half off from school and getting married, I began attending Texas Tech University in the spring of 1991. My brothers and I were the first generation of our family to attend college.
During my time there, my first major was phased out, and I could not work full time while trying to complete the heavy workload required to complete that degree in time. The second major just wasn’t right for me, and the third major lost its accreditation during my junior year. Deflated but very gainfully employed, I opted to leave school and work full time to support my husband through medical school.
Over the years, our family grew. I would start small work-from-home businesses, rather than apply for jobs and have to admit that I did not have a degree. When new friends, or even my children, would ask about my college experience, I would gracefully say, “I attended Texas Tech,” and would let them draw their own conclusions.
When we moved to Little Rock, I had the opportunity to begin working as the principal’s secretary at my daughter’s middle school. I loved the job and working with the kids, but increasingly felt overlooked for better opportunities because I did not have a degree. I was allowed to voice my opinion, but was never really allowed a seat at the table because I did not finish school.
Not being one who appreciates being overlooked, I began attending UA Little Rock Online. It was the same semester one of my daughters began her freshman year of college at Ole Miss. Only needing 33 hours to complete my degree, I have been able to continue to raise a family and work full time.
How has earning a degree already started to change your life?
Seeking a degree at UA Little Rock has given me new confidence and bolstered my career. Last fall, I was invited to apply and gained a new position working at the Arkansas Supreme Court. This April, I was awarded the 2020 Outstanding Interdisciplinary Studies Award.
Also this spring, I was honored to be asked to introduce Dr. Joycelyn Elders, the former director of the Arkansas Department of Health and U.S. surgeon general under President Bill Clinton, at a regional conference of medical professionals, where she received a lifetime achievement award. I have also been the master of ceremonies for a local 5k run for the past three years and for the 2020 Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation virtual gala in Arkansas. If these opportunities have arisen because of the confidence gained while working on my degree, I cannot wait to see what the future holds!
What are your plans after graduation?
Pursuing this degree has empowered me to reach for and obtain a job that was beyond even my boldest dreams. Following graduation, I plan on staying on at my new position at the Arkansas Supreme Court. Additionally, I look forward to utilizing the communications portion of my degree to gain more opportunities to be the master of ceremonies for events.
What advice would you give to other students?
The greatest advice I can offer other students is to “be.” Be flexible. Be bold. Be forgiving. Just be.
Be flexible. Your education process might not look like other people’s process, and that is alright.
Be bold. It is never too late to work on your degree.
Be forgiving (especially of yourself). You don’t have to take a set amount of hours each semester, and you don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself on this journey. Some days and some topics you will have the ability to complete ‘A’ quality work, while on other days or topics, you might only be able to complete ‘C’ quality work. It’s okay. Give yourself some grace.
In the upper right photo, Oden (left) is pictured with Dr. Joycelyn Elders (right).