Student parents at Wright State: The challenging blend of higher education and parenthood

Marissa Kirkland and family feed ducks at Duke Gardens.

Brandon Semler, Editor-In-Chief

Time management, planning and patience are a few of the essential skills that a successful student parent must practice, according to several Wright State students that are currently balancing the two prominent aspects of their lives.

The following will provide an in-depth look at several of the student parents at Wright State and the struggles, rewards, obligations and experiences they encounter as they tackle the world of higher education with another life to look after.

 

Kristina Thomas and son Ceasar.

Kristina Thomas

To Kristina Thomas, there is one word that helps her to the work through a challenge-riddled life as a single mother with limited support from the father and family.

“Faith,” Thomas said. “Not just faith in God, faith in myself.”

Thomas, 20, is the co-founder and president of Wright Parenting, a student organization devoted to providing advice, resources and advocacy for student parents. She said that she started the organization in 2012 to give student parents a place to bond with one another.

“There [was] no place on campus for parents,” Thomas said. “These students, they have people depending on them…[Wright Parenting] is an outlet, a resource and a support system.”

As a 17-year-old, Thomas found out that she was pregnant. She said the discovery completely changed her plan at the time, which was to attend Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga.

On top of a full day of classes, a marketing internship and ensuring the care of her child, Thomas also attends frequent meetings for Wright Parenting. She said the burden could be overwhelming but has gotten easier as Wright Parenting has grown.

“It’s not as much pressure,” Thomas said, “but it’s still a lot.”

Her child, Ceasar, 2, keeps her motivated to continue her education and prosper in the way she planned before she became a mother, Thomas said.

“It’s harder, but it’s not impossible for me to do the things I want to in life,” said Thomas. “I didn’t want to just stop and cut off my dreams.”

 

Marissa Kirkland with son Cyprian and daughter Lorien.

Marissa Kirkland

For Marissa Kirkland, 29, the steps to motherhood were completely intentional.

After spending a year in higher education in a program that did not interest her, Kirkland decided to take some time off. She and her husband, who had been together since age 16, decided that the time was right to have kids, since she was not in school and could spend time with them in their early years.

After trying to become pregnant unsuccessfully for a long time, Kirkland decided to go back to school. Soon after registering, she discovered that she had succeeded.

This was not only the case for one child, but both.

“It happened with both of them,” Kirkland said. “It’s kind of funny.”

Kirkland is a double major, studying both nursing and women’s studies. She said that the simple task of getting her 6-year-old daughter, Lorien, and 3-year-old son, Cyprian, where they needed to be was sometimes the most difficult.

“Even [getting my children] to and from school can be difficult,” Kirkland said.

Another challenge for Kirkland was finding the time to ensure that her “outside of school” work is completed, and making sure that her children’s availability could line up with hers.

“I’m trying to work my schedule around them, so when they’re free, I’m free with them,” Kirkland said.

 

Lola Dennis

“You have to be determined,” said Lola Dennis, a pre-med biology major and mother of one.

Dennis, , is now a fourth year senior and the vice president of Wright Parenting. She works as an office assistant at Miami Valley Hospital, takes a full class load and manages to regularly cook dinner for her family.

Dennis and her boyfriend had been dating since their days at Wayne High School in Huber Heights, Ohio. She decided to attend University of Toledo, while he traveled to Tuskegee University in Alabama. During their first year of school, she found out that they would soon be parents.

According to Dennis, organizations like Wright Parenting have offered her new opportunities and skills.

“I’m gaining other experience,” Dennis said.

Dennis’ family is supportive, and she is raising her daughter Yasmine, 1, with both parents in the picture. She said the support is not something she takes for granted.

“I know a lot of people don’t have that,” Dennis said.

 

Tyler Spears with daughter Rani.

Tyler Spears

As a fifth year music education major and father, Tyler Spears works to balance classes, performances and family time, but said he does not regret any part of it.

Spears found out halfway through his junior year at Wright State that he would be a father.

“It was a mixed feeling,” Spears said. “It was a feeling of … not knowing what to expect.”

The percussionist said the transition to fatherhood was not as extreme as he once thought, and that he is currently doing the same things he would if his daughter had not been born.

“Just a little differently,” Spears added.

Spears and his live-in girlfriend both work and take time to watch their daughter Rani, 1. The busy day-to-day schedule sometimes prevents him from seeing his daughter when he would like to.

“When I come home at 8:30 and she went to bed at 8, I want to wake her up. I want to see her,” Spears said.

Spears said he makes sure not to neglect family needs, and that family time has the same priority as work or school.

“It’s not only rewarding, it’s something you want to do more than anything else,” Spears said.

Though the option of dropping out was once lightly considered, Spears said he knew that he needed to follow through with his education.

“It’s not an excuse to not finish school,” Spears said. “There ways it can be done. It is harder…but if you have the drive and the passion, it can be done.”

 

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