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May 5, 2013
By Philip Gruenwald, media relations assistant
Mary Smith, who graduates this spring with a degree in comprehensive psychology and sociology major, was not a typical college student at Northwest Missouri State University. The 37-year-old native of What Cheer, Iowa, is a mother of six children, of whom three are foster children.
Smith graduates with a broad education strengthened by her part-time job helping unemployed individuals at the Missouri Career Center in Maryville. She made the education her own by enrolling in courses not mandated in her degree program. To Smith, this was her chance to learn about topics like biology, Roman civilization and social work from the knowledgeable faculty at Northwest.
“As I take more classes I think, ‘Wow that’s something else I want to do,’” Smith said. “If you have an interest in something, definitely take a class about it. Don’t miss out on it because it isn’t required for your major.”
After growing up as a foster child from a broken home, Smith didn’t want her children caught in generational poverty so she decided to make a change. She wanted a career in helping youth, so her friends recommended she seek a teaching degree from Northwest. She quickly found her passion in comprehensive psychology and sociology, with the help of her instructors.
“This is my opportunity to overcome my generational poverty, get my education and provide a better future for my family because there are so many people who get stuck in that redundant loop of poverty,” Smith said. “We learn about it in classes and that’s what I come from. Somebody, somewhere along the line has to say, ‘That’s enough’ and change it.”
In the middle of earning her degree, Smith and her husband, Steve, welcomed a baby boy and became foster parents for a toddler and two elementary children. They were happy to raise the children, but mindful of the accompanying challenges. Their two oldest children are in high school and help with the basic functions of the family.
Still, life in the Smith house is “very hectic.” The two toddlers go to two separate daycares. Between classes, Smith works. After classes, she corrals everyone to the table to eat the food she made. After laundry, cleaning and bathing and putting the children to bed, it’s 9 p.m. and Smith begins homework.
After graduating, Smith looks forward to using her Northwest education to become involved with at-risk youth, helping them overcome financial obstacles through social work.
“My classes and professors have definitely shaped the directions I’m going in,” Smith said. “I know deep inside what I ultimately want to do, I’m just not fully aware of all the options that are out there for me. My professors have helped open my eyes to different venues I did not know were available and different options that I never would have thought of.”
For Smith, the effort of earning her education amidst a hectic but rewarding family life is worth it. She hopes to guide youth and adults to break generational poverty, possibly at a nearby group home.
“If I can reach one other person and help them come to that realization and change their future for future generations, this entire education, all the money and time I’ve invested in it, will be more than worth it,” Smith said. “There are so many people who are stuck in that rut and they don’t think they have anywhere to go, but it can be done.”
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468