As a first-generation student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock who is about to graduate, LaKendra Mackey, a senior social work major, is working hard to show her six children the importance of a college education.
“I waited so late in life, but I’m doing it,” Mackey said. “I feel like I have to prove that I have a right to be here because of my age, my race, my gender, everything. I am showing my daughter and my sons that you shouldn’t let obstacles stop you from achieving a degree. My oldest child is 21 and is a junior while I am senior. I am trying to beat him to graduation. I feel that having a degree will assist me and my children in having a better quality of life.”
Mackey moved to Little Rock after serving 10 years in the U.S. Navy and earned an associate degree at University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College before joining UA Little Rock. She’s found the UA Little Rock TRIO programs and staff, which help first-generation college students succeed, to be of immense support during her college career.
“They are giving me the tools to stand on my own two feet,” Mackey said. “TRIO has helped me in a lot of ways to stay afloat in my courses. The advisors let me talk to them and give me a sense of relief that it’s just not me. You just have to get over that hump. They take your small successes, and they make it into a big deal.”
Mackey will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in May 2021 and plans to enter the Master of Social Work program at UA Little Rock next fall. After facing homelessness, PTSD, and raising one child with special needs, Mackey wants to become a social worker to help others the way social workers helped her.
“I found that when I was at my lowest in my life that it was a social worker that assisted me and helped me get on my feet,” she said. “They were there for me more so than a family member or friend. They assisted me by making me realize that it was already within me to achieve what I wanted to do. Since I was new to Little Rock, they helped me get my bearings of where to go. I like helping people. I want to help fellow veterans and people who are disabled like my son.”
Working as a social work intern at Hall High School is providing Mackey with valuable experience for her future career, and she is working hard to connect students with resources that can help them during a pandemic.
“Hall High School has recently changed into a magnet school, and their student body has changed drastically. A lot of the students are virtual, and it can be harder to reach out to them,” Mackey said. “I feel like we are reaching out to the students more so because of the pandemic. I feel that it is affecting students more. They are not engaging with their friends, and they may be getting depressed or mentally anguished.”
Mackey also strongly believes in service to the community and setting a good example for her students and future social work clients by staying active in volunteer work and community organizations. At UA Little Rock, she is a volunteer for the Mentoring Veterans Program and the Student Affairs Diversity Initiative. In the community, she volunteers with Arkansas Food Bank and Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, as well as passes out student breakfasts and lunches at Dee Brown Library.