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Dec. 14, 2016
When Allynn Lee reflects on her years at Northwest Missouri State University, she thinks of hard work, dedication and perseverance. Considering the challenges she faced and overcame to earn her degree, it’s no wonder those words come to mind.
Without any plans to attend college, Lee laid her path to Northwest only when, during a meeting with her high school counselor, she was instructed to complete five college applications before leaving the office.
Four years later, the Liberty, Missouri, native is graduating from Northwest with her bachelor’s degree in recreation and park management. She is the first in her family to earn a college degree.
“It’s really rewarding and it shows me that I can do any and everything that I set my mind to, and there’s no challenge that’s too big for me to conquer at this point in my life,” Lee said. “I just keep pushing and do what I need to do to make sure I’m on the right path.”
Lee’s path to earning her degree wasn’t an easy one. With an interest in culinary arts, Lee enrolled at Northwest as a dietetics major. But she left Northwest after one year.
“I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would,” she said. “I was like, ‘this isn’t for me. There’s gotta be another way,’ so I found a different way.”
Family and financial issues complicated matters also. So Lee opted to return home and try a different route. She enrolled at Maple Woods Community College to complete general education courses.
All the while, Lee’s academic advisor at Northwest, Dr. Sue Myllykangas, kept tabs on her. Myllykangas advised Lee of the courses she needed to transfer and successfully complete her degree at Northwest.
“She nursed me like I was her own little child,” Lee said. “I’ve been through so much since I started here and she’s really aided me in my growth from day one. She’s seen my potential. She’s seen what I could become, and she’s made sure that I’ve put every fiber of my being into anything I’ve done and really stayed on top of me. Even when I transferred, she stayed on top of my schooling at a different school.”
Lee, one of four children raised by a single mother, set her sights on earning her degree to help provide a better life for her family. She overcame financial challenges by working two night jobs in addition to her studies.
“I feel like I’ve been through it all and having to put my personal life aside to maintain my grades and make sure that my head is screwed on straight as it can be has been one of my biggest challenges,” Lee said.
She added, “I just wanted more for myself and I wanted more for my future family because I knew there was something better out there. I only knew one way out and that was higher education, and I wanted to be that inspiration for my younger siblings.”
After three semesters at Maple Woods, Lee returned to Northwest for her junior year of college. With a renewed confidence, she got involved in the First Lady Organization, which promotes women’s empowerment, and participated in panel discussions. Last summer, she helped plan activities sponsored by the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
“Now that I’m getting ready to graduate and have had those experiences and had the opportunity to grow, I’m very outspoken,” Lee said. “I’m completely fearless when it comes to speaking out against what I believe is wrong.”
Lee found a sense of belonging at Northwest and she enhanced her network. During the summer of 2015, Lee enrolled in Exploring Recreation Resources, a course Myllykangas annually leads and that includes a tour of Colorado to meet and network with recreation professionals in varies areas of the field.
“That was a real eye-opener to me,” Lee said. “I had never been out of the Midwest to see that there’s more to this than what Missouri or Kansas has to offer.”
With her goal of completing her college degree fulfilled, Lee is pursuing work in event planning and coordination. Above all, she wants to help others reach their full potential.
“Northwest has changed me in the sense that I’ve grown a lot,” Lee said. “I’ve matured a lot. I have a different outlook on what I want. It’s built my networking skills tremendously, and it’s taught me not to be fearful.”
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468