Meet Merak Dyer, of Conway, who will graduate this May with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology.
Tell us about your path to graduation.
My path to earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology was not traditional. I graduated from Conway High School West in 2001 and began studying computer science the next fall at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA). However, I dropped out during my fourth semester. There are two moments I can remember clearly from that time in my life: news coverage of the 9/11 attacks and the feeling of failure I experienced when I dropped out of college.
I went to work at a gas station for about two years where I ended up meeting my wife. She is one of those people who you never knew you needed until they enter your life. Later, I went to work at Virco. Working on a factory floor for 10 to 12 hours a day, sometimes six days a week, gave me a new appreciation for the math problems that had previously bored me to death in my college courses.
After my wife finished her own academic pursuits, we decided that I needed to go back to school. Restarting my college career seemed like a daunting task, but my wife supported me. I began with some night classes at UA Pulaski Tech without a firm idea of what major I would pursue. I took general education classes and retook a few courses from my time at UCA to try to rehabilitate my GPA.
I had always excelled at math and, after being inspired by an episode of “How It’s Made,” I decided to try my hand at engineering. I finished taking the prerequisites required for the UA Little Rock Mechanical Engineering Technology program at UA Pulaski Tech and earned an associate degree in general studies. Taking classes at UA Pulaski Tech was a good experience that helped me ease back into an academic mindset.
My first semester at UA Little Rock truly felt like I had returned to college. At first, I was very worried that I would be impeded by the same obstacles I had experienced during my time at UCA. My UA Little Rock experience was different. I remember taking the manufacturing processes course with engineering professor Dr. Mamdouh Bakr and the properties of materials course with Mr. Benjamin Bell. They were difficult classes, but I felt engaged, and I was able to pull from my experience working on the factory floor on multiple occasions. The time spent in the lab was even more familiar and helped me feel comfortable.
What have you learned in college that is already making a big difference in your life?
The best lesson I have learned at UA Little Rock came to me during the 2018 spring semester. I was taking four degree-specific courses and getting my butt kicked. For a couple of weeks, I thought I might flunk out. Mentally, I was telling myself that this was all going to end the same way it did the last time, in failure.
Somehow, I did well on a test and program coordinator Dr. Srikanth Pidugu pulled me aside to congratulate me. He told me that he was glad that I understood the material so well. I remember calling my wife to tell her what he had said, and we ended up having a long discussion about how I perceived myself as failing, when really, I wasn’t.
I finally came to the realization that my failure was not in poor grades or missed assignments. My failure was in quitting to try to do better. If I was still putting one figurative foot in front of the other, I had not failed.
What does graduation mean to you?
Since I returned to my college career, I have lost a sister to a drugged driver and an uncle to cancer. My wife and I struggled in our relationship for a while, welcomed a daughter into our lives, found our love again, and remarried. This final semester leading up to graduation, we have all been affected by the quarantine and threat of COVID-19. Through all of this, I continued to forge ahead toward my goal.
I am graduating with a degree at the end of the semester because my family, friends, fellow students, and the faculty at UA Little Rock gave me the support I needed to make it happen. I look forward to finding a job that can help me pay off student loans, keep a shirt on our backs, and a roof over our heads.