Overcoming THE ODDS

Conway woman gets education despite going through ‘hell’
By Elizabeth Sharp

Her research has been published twice. She has presented at the International Conference on Learning. And not only does graduate student Tennille Lasker-Scott have a 4.0 GPA, she was the only Conway resident of 50 University of Arkansas at Little Rock students named to Who’s Who Among Students at American Colleges and Universities.

For Lasker-Scott, who is preparing to begin work on her doctorate in adult education at the University of Georgia at Athens, things couldn’t be better, but there was a time when she thought things couldn’t get any worse – and it was only the support of her friends, family and mentors that helped her get to where she is today.

Growing up with her parents, Lloyd and Janie, and five siblings – three brothers and two sisters – Lasker-Scott said that her family was just like “the black Brady Bunch.”

“I loved it,” she said. “I loved having older brothers to beat up people I didn’t like; I loved having younger sisters to torment.”

And when things got boring around the Lasker house, all she had to do was step outside, walk a short distance down Lasker Lane and seek out one of her 72 Lasker cousins to hang out with.

In such a big family, a strong personality was a necessity.

“If you weren’t outgoing, you were swallowed whole,” she said.

But having an abundance of aunts, uncles and cousins surrounding her shaped her into who she is today.

“You feel so loved,” she said. “I saw what being hospitable was all about.”

In high school, Lasker-Scott, who had been raised in a strict Pentecostal home – she didn’t get her ears pierced until she was 16 and didn’t cut her hair or wear pants until she was 18 – was active in Future Business Leaders of America and Drama Club. But she was a “sports junkie” at heart, attending baseball, basketball and football games to cheer her cousins on to victory.

After graduating from Conway High School in 1995, Lasker-Scott attended UCA. She started out studying predentistry, but a semester of micro-cell biology turned her off to the idea completely. She continued to fulfill her general requirements until 1997, when she got pregnant and gave birth to her first child, Qua, now 11.

Facing the challenges of being a young single parent was something for which Lasker-Scott wasn’t prepared. While she understood the importance of getting a college degree, she also understood the importance of being there for her son.

“It was very, very painful,” she said. “I had the intelligence and the ability [to continue with school], but I didn’t want my parents to raise my child.”

She went back to school for two semesters, but in spring of 1998, Lasker-Scott realized out she had to drop out.

“My mom and dad were wonderful, but I missed my son terribly,” she said. “That was it for me. I wasn’t motivated. To me, I was wasting my own time and the professors’ time.”

She said that she also started listening to lies from the media and within the community about “falling into the stereotype of being a young, black,single mother.”

“It ate at me,” she said. “It was like my own personal hell. I felt ashamed.”

In 1999, Lasker-Scott got married, but she and her husband separated in 2002. Left without a husband, without a job and with Qua and her younger son, A.J., now 7, to care for, Lasker-Scott felt like she had reached the end of her rope. But as she was sitting in a dark room one day, crying and wondering if her children would be better off without her, Lasker-Scott got a phone call from her sister-in-law.

“She said, ‘I want you to know how proud I am of you,’” Lasker-Scott remembered.“She brought me back from the edge.”

Within a half hour, Lasker-Scott had changed her mind about her future. In June 2002, she decided to go back to school – this time at Pulaski Tech in North Little Rock.

“I literally started over again,” she said. “I didn’t want any resemblance from the past.”

At Pulaski Tech, Lasker-Scott said it was “weird” being in classes with – and even getting hit on by – 18-year-olds, but the educational experience is exactly what she needed.

“Going to Pulaski Tech was a confidence builder,” she said. “I was really able to talk to the professors, and they were able to encourage me. I needed that comfort, the comfort of sitting next to the same person every day.”

In 2004, she received her associate’s degree from Pulaski Tech and received a full scholarship at UALR, whereshe studied business administration with an emphasis in human resources. She received her undergraduate degree in 2006, and she worked at the Department of Human Services before landing her current job at the Arkansas Department of Correction in Little Rock.

In the four years between dropping out of UCA and enrolling at Pulaski Tech, Lasker-Scott had gotten a job at Teletouch doing employee training. Remembering how muchshe enjoyed teaching adults, she decided to push herself further and pursue a master’s degree in adult education at UALR.

Last September, Lasker-Scott’s mentor, Dr. Carrie Boden, encouraged her to send her transcript to a handful of doctorate programs in adult education – including one of the most prestigious adult education programs in the country at the University of Georgia at Athens. In January, she was accepted and received a full scholarship.

As she prepares to leave with her two sons on Wednesday, July 1, Lasker-Scott looks back on how much things have changed the past seven years.

“To be honest with you, when I think about it, I say, ‘Thank you, Jesus,’” Lasker-Scott said. “And I’ve thanked my parents so many times, they get tired of it. It’s hardly believable.”

Lasker-Scott said that she hopes to become a professor and conduct research on the plight of the single-parent black family – in particular, how to increase the chances of getting those children hooked on education at a younger age. She feels like her journey has enabled her to be an inspiration to other women that find themselves in the position she found herself so long ago.

“When you’re down and out, and you think you can’t go any further down, you can,” she said. “But no matter how bad it seems, your life can turn around in a blink of an eye.”

This article was published Sunday, May 3, 2009.
River Valley Ozark, Pages 141, 150 on 05/03/2009

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