Twenty years after Tamika Scott gave up a full academic scholarship and left college to enter the workforce, she is back in school and on a mission.
"You always say, 'I can finish it later,'" Scott said. "When I went to work at AT&T, they had a tuition reimbursement program. I thought, 'Oh, great, I can finish.' Then, life just happens. You get caught up. Now, it's 20 years later. It goes quickly."
Scott is enrolled in the online Bachelor of Science in Business Administration program at Louisiana State University of Alexandria. She is slated to graduate in 2020 and become the first person in her family to earn a college degree, although that doesn't mean she will be finished.
"I've already started researching MBA programs," she said. "I wasted too much time."
One of the primary reasons Scott was eager to return to college was to influence her son, Daylen, a junior in high school, to also pursue a degree.
"I have done quite well professionally, but it has always been a personal goal to earn that degree," Scott said. "I didn't want to be a hypocrite and expect him to do something I never did."
After she had a conversation with her best friend, Shalika Scott, who is a middle school principal and her husband Don's first cousin, her return to school went from possibility to inevitability.
"She said, 'You take care of everybody at work and at home. You need to do something for yourself,'" Scott said. "I said, 'It's too expensive. I can't afford it. I don't want to be in debt.' She said, 'Look at it this way — it's an investment in yourself. Don't look at it as a bill or a debt. Who better to gamble on than you?'
"At that moment, the light bulb just went off. I said, 'Yeah, I'm worth it.' I had never thought of it that way. That's something that women do — we sacrifice to make sure everybody else has what they need. At that moment, I said, 'I'm just going to go for it. I'm going to do it.'"
Go With the Flow
After putting in 10 years at AT&T, Scott was laid off. She was unemployed for nearly six months before she accepted a position as an administrative assistant at the Louisiana Workforce Commission in her hometown of Baton Rouge.
"That was a job I had never done before," she said. "You get to a point where you've just got to do what you've got to do. In the first year, I was promoted something like five times. I said, 'God, I know you answer prayers, but can you slow down a little bit? You're making me dizzy.' I started off in the executive director's office, and I ended up getting all of these opportunities."
Scott, who has been with the agency since 2009, is now a second-level manager in the unemployment insurance tax unit. She has been with that department since January 2017.
"The manager in that unit was hiring, and I was asked if I would be interested in stepping into that role," Scott said. "What I had been doing was more like document management and managing the data entry clerks. Now, I'm on the business side where I am over the employer call center and the employer accounts sections of unemployment insurance. It's a little different because it's more involved in knowing and interpreting laws and taxes, but it's very rewarding."
Purple and Golden Opportunity
Scott chose the online format in order to have the time and energy to concentrate on college.
"I have been able to balance it pretty well," she said. "I have a lot going on at work, so a traditional classroom setting wasn't a good fit for me. I'm a planner. I did a lot of research on the online degree programs."
Scott knew she didn't need to look any further once she discovered LSUA's online program.
"I happened upon a website that listed the online programs at the state universities," she said. "To me, it was a no-brainer. I could attend the most recognizable universities in Louisiana online, make my own schedule and earn a better quality degree at a fraction of the cost."
Scott's favorite course to date is LSUA 1001: Seminar for Academic Success, taught by director of distance learning Teresa Seymour.
"It's more of an orientation to the university and the program," Scott said. "I'm really glad I took that first because it showed me a better way to do things. It focuses on things like time management and all of the tools that are available. It was basically saying that although you're not on campus, you still have the same resources that an on-campus student would have. It teaches you to use those resources to complete your various lessons."
Scott has also found that her work experience has been a big benefit to her as a student.
"I didn't know the official names of the methods, but a lot of it I already employ in my day-to-day work," she said. "Having the technical know-how will help me with career advancement. I'm almost at the top of the food chain but not quite. I don't think you can ever learn enough. Your maturity level and amount of focus with work experience helps."
It also gave Scott the discipline and perspective she needed before she returned to school.
"I was an honor student in high school," she said. "I graduated third in my class, but my head wasn't in the game when I started college. I was also really young — I was only 17 when I graduated from high school. The real-world stuff doesn't mean a whole lot to you then. If I would have had some discipline and stuck with it, it would have been a big game-changer. No regrets. It is what it is."
Now that she is back in school, Scott is embracing the experience. She writes a blog for LSUA about her experiences as a non-traditional student.
"The first blog we had to do was an 'about me' introduction," Scott said. "I sent it to my closest friends and my mom and my sister. They were all crying, and I was like, 'What's wrong with y'all?' They were so proud. That's a good feeling, as well. They've been pretty supportive and very encouraging."
Scott believes preparation is key to succeeding in an online bachelor's degree program both for students pursuing the degree right after high school and for those with work experience.
"Don't assume that it's easy because it's online," she said. "It still requires discipline and commitment. It's not just going to be given to you. Pay attention to the syllabus. Whatever is asked of you is what you need to do. You can get in trouble trying to do too much, so just do what's asked. Otherwise, you end up wasting a lot of time."
Scott, who enjoys reading and spending time with her family, eagerly looks forward to the day she can walk across the graduation stage with her family cheering and her mission accomplished.
"I'm very glad I did it," she said. "My only question is, 'Why did I wait so long?'"Learn more about the LSUA online BS in Business Administration program.
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