May 11, 2017 8:45AM
Everyone hits a rough patch, now and again. For Pittsburg State University senior Jerryka Stevens, it seemed like those rough patches might conspire to keep her from reaching her goal of a college degree. With hard work, determination and the support and encouragement of faculty, however, Stevens will be among the more than 1,200 students who will receive degrees from PSU this week.
Stevens, from Houston, Texas, spent three years in the Army as a medic. She served at Ft. Riley, in Kansas, and was deployed to Iraq in 2010-11.
It was in the Army that Stevens first began to think about pursuing a career in social work.
“When I was in the military, I had some issues and our military social worker was amazing,” Stevens said. “Sometimes in the military you’re treated as a number, but she always treated me as a person. She taught me about treating the whole person and being there and showing your whole strength. I wanted to do that for others.”
When her active duty was completed, Stevens turned her attention to getting a college degree.
“I wanted to go to college and one of my battle buddies who I trained with was here and had an extra space,” Stevens said.
Stevens settled into college life. She met her husband, Aaron, and the two were married. The couple had their first child in 2014 and life seemed to be going smoothly. They even took in a troubled teenager who has having difficulties at home.
But then the rough patches came. In April 10, 2016, the family went out to buy a birthday gift for a friend. When they returned, the home they were buying was on fire.
“We lost everything,” Stevens said. “We lost all of our animals. We had three dogs and a cat.”
Suddenly, the family was homeless and they ended up staying with friends. Just 10 days later, their only vehicle was totaled in a wreck. Stevens found it impossible to complete the spring semester.
Many students in similar situations might have given up on their college dreams. But Stevens was determined and returned to school in the fall.
“The faculty were amazing,” Stevens said. “I couldn’t have gotten through without their encouragement and their guidance. There were times when I was like, ‘I don’t think I can do it,’ and they were like, ‘no, we’re going to work with you. You’re going to finish this. You’ve got one year left.’ They were awesome.”
Student Accommodations helped Stevens get incompletes in some classes so she could complete the work.
“They helped me talk to the teachers and I was given extended deadlines,” Stevens said.
Stevens completed her work from the spring and has taken a full load of courses in order to graduate this May. And, in March, she gave birth to her second child.
When Stevens talks about the hard work required to finish her educational journey, she uses the pronoun ‘we,’ referring to her two sons and her husband, as well as herself.
“We’ve been working hard and we’re finally getting there,” Stevens said, rocking her youngest.
She said she sees these past years as a life lesson for her two boys.
“I’m the first of my mother’s children to graduate from college,” Stevens said. “I want to show my sons that they can achieve their dreams, even through hardship.”