• ## PolyMOMial: Solving the factors presented by a pandemic

Being a 30-year old single mom, a full-time student, and out of work during a pandemic is not easy. It’s challenging trying to balance being a mom with a full course load, especially at a time with no child-care.

When campus and community closures first hit in March, I was stressed, but also happy about the time I would get to spend with my daughter. After two weeks on “stay at home” order, depression set in. I didn’t want to do schoolwork, play, clean, or even talk to anyone. It was very clearly rubbing off on my daughter as well, as she was losing interest in playing and becoming a Disney channel zombie.

## The bright side

Then came a day with almost 70-degree weather. The sun motivated me. I dragged my daughter outside to play. She napped well, ate a great dinner, and went to sleep at a normal hour.

That’s when I devised a plan to take my daughter outside every day- rain or shine. We both needed it. The outdoors is one of the most engaging atmospheres for children.

## Change of plans…

Despite my best efforts, that plan didn’t last too long. I still felt extremely overwhelmed with my daily responsibilities. Completing schoolwork, trying to play and teach my daughter, cleaning, and all my other tasks became difficult to complete.

So, I tried looking at this mathematically. A polynomial is a mathematical term that comes from poly- (meaning “many”) and -nomial (in this case meaning “factor”) … so it means “many factors”. Using this idea, I came up with a new, simpler plan.

### Step 1: Take care of the greatest common factor.

For me, this is my daughter. Take care of her first and make sure she is happy. Then deal with the rest. Nothing will be easy or doable with an unhappy child. Children can feel when you aren’t okay—so put the phone down, stop looking at the minute-by-minute news updates, and just PLAY. Children learn through play and exploration; this is the best way to engage them (and tire them out). Once they’re tired, at nap time and/or bed-time–that’s your time.

### Step 2: What factors are left and what makes sense where?

I’m a mom and a student. I have to cook, clean the house, do my work, let’s not forget shower. Prioritize. I like to clean up first, then shower, and then sit down and do my work. When my daughter naps, I complete schoolwork.

### Step 3: Put the remaining factors where they belong. Follow through.

I know at times it seems impossible.  This new normal is hard to navigate. These are some tips that have helped me through the last couple of months:

• Confront your feelings. It’s okay to be frustrated and scared. Your little ones feel it, too. Allow yourself to feel and then find solutions for problems.
• Make a plan and stick to it—children come first, and the rest will fall into place.
• Stop watching or scrolling through endless news, but stay informed. Check for updates once or twice a day, and then stop.
• We are social distancing… not social excluding. Stay in touch with people and reach out if you need to. You are not in this alone.

Being a parent can be tiring and stressful but if you focus on that “greatest common factor” first, the rest will fall into place. We can win parenting, education, and COVID-19.

• ## Pre-Med Students: 3 tips for a successful undergraduate experience

The path to medical school can be grueling. With the added process of transferring from a community college to a four-year institution, it can become further complicated. I would like to share three tips to help pre-med students, especially transfer students, to have a successful undergraduate experience while advancing towards their goal of attending medical school.

• ## How to get the most out of your college experience

Your first semester in college can be difficult, especially if you are from another country where the educational system and language are completely different. I have found several tips on how to help this transition become easier and enhance your experience in college.

• ## Community college students: Tips on deciding where to transfer

Congratulations! You got accepted to transfer to some of your favorite schools. Your hard work and dedication in high school and community college has separated you from all the other applicants and now all these remarkable universities want to welcome you into their campuses. However, now you face a new issue: how are you supposed to know where to go? You can’t attend two schools in different corners of the country, so you must choose between them. Before we dig in into this topic, let me give some quick advice: Do not select your school only for its name. Now that we are clear in what not to do, here are some elements that might help you make an informed decision.

## Money

Cost of education has skyrocketed during the last decades drowning many graduates into student loans for years. If you are eligible for financial aid, make sure to take a deep look into your financial package. Analyze how much money each school is offering you in grants, loans, and work study in order to compare them to their cost of attendance. Remember that if you are planning on leaving your current town, you will need to account not only for tuition and fees, but also for food, housing, and transportation. When you are doing this analysis, do not assume that your in-state school is your best option because it seems cheaper. For many of my friends and I, out-of-state institutions offered us a remarkably better package of grants than what our in-state school did.

## Weather

Let’s say that you are fortunate enough that your family can afford any institution you want to transfer to or more than one school is offering you a full ride. If you are in this selective group, you might want to consider weather as part of your decision. Let’s say that you are from a northern state and you are considering moving to South Florida. Are you sure you want to live your next couple of years in a never-ending summer? Or what if it is the other way around? If you are originally from Florida and all you have experienced is summer, are you willing to transfer to a state like Michigan or Wisconsin where it can easily snow for five months? You need to be happy where you are at and the weather can play a big part in that.

## Happiness

Weather and money aren’t breaking the tie? Base your decision on what will make you happier. I know it can be hard to know what school will actually make you feel more welcomed and happier, but you can start by asking yourself the following questions. If you transfer to either of your choices, will you go alone or is there a friend that might go with you? Transferring with someone you know that can support you and help you in this new transition can make a huge difference. How is the student life at both schools? Make sure to do the appropriate research and see the universities’ traditions. What school resonates more with your own values? Can you visit either school and walk around town? If it is possible, try visiting both schools and pay close attention to their culture. Are they friendly and welcoming? Or do they look exhausted and mean? Being able to see these things can be a good representation of if you think you’ll be happy there and actually like going to school.

Once again congratulations, not many students have the privilege of saying that they are having trouble picking between two or more amazing institutions that accepted them. I hope these points help you make an appropriate decision. If none of these factors broke the tie, then refer to each school’s ranking. However, just remember that for any employer, their expectations and prestige will be the same for an engineering graduate from Georgia Tech, University of Texas, or University of Michigan; or a politician graduated from Stanford, Harvard, or Georgetown. If you are on the top, one or two positions on the rankings will not matter.

• ## Quality education can also be affordable education

At the age of five, most children embark on their educational journey in hopes to one day obtain a career within a field they enjoy and love.  If you would have told me thirteen years ago that I would be attending a junior college while excelling in and outside of the classroom, I would more than likely think you were joking.  In reality, as a junior and senior in high school, I was devout and determined to attend Mississippi State University to continue my academic career in the field of communications.

## Considering all options

However, after numerous calculations, tuition rates at this senior university over the next four years projected a future of student loans and debt.  As a child in a family of four kids, my main goal when pursuing my degree has always been to graduate with the least amount of debt as possible.  Therefore, though I still continued to ring my cowbell loud and proud, I began looking into other options and scholarships that would help make my degree more accessible.

One of the opportunities I embarked upon was the Distinguished Young Women’s program for East Jackson County. This scholarship program offers young junior girls the opportunity to earn cash scholarships while competing in the area of scholastics, interview, talent, self-expression, and physical fitness. To my surprise, after weeks of hard work and preparation, I was titled the Distinguished Young Woman of East Jackson County for the class of 2018.  Most importantly, I was awarded \$3,100 in cash scholarships, and I also was able to receive \$500 at the state program where I finished as a top 10 finalist out of 31 amazing young women. Through this program, I learned that I not only earned cash scholarships, but I also earned waived tuition at my local junior college, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, for holding the local Distinguished Young Woman title.

## Realizing the clear choice

Therefore, after endless hours of stressful worrying over the future cost of my education, I now received half of my education paid for debt-free.  Though putting my cowbell on the shelf for the next two years was difficult, I knew I still had the opportunity to transfer to Mississippi State University with a lot less debt.  My choice became a no-brainer.  While all my friends began packing their rooms and hauling off to their respected universities, I remained at home and prepared to attend Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

• ## To Infinity and Beyond: Use your own story to set a foundation for your future

Commencement address given by Jennifer Leonard to Ivy Tech Community College graduates on May 3, 2019.

• ## A small islander's American Dream

I was born in the city of Newark, New Jersey but very quickly moved to my father’s home island of St. Lucia, West Indies. Growing up on a Caribbean island is a privilege I will forever be grateful for. From the picturesque scenery to the hard work and determination of its inhabitants, it is truly an inspiring setting for a young child growing up. However, as much as I adore my island, life in a third-world country is as difficult as you could imagine.

## Envisioning a better future

Growing up I was always taught that nothing worth having in life was handed to you and that only those who persevered would succeed in life. There was no time for dream-chasing because there were hours to be put into more important career-building pursuits. I watched my mother, a foreigner to St. Lucia as well, work tirelessly to ensure the best quality of life for her three children. I saw many other adults that I respected deeply, struggle to find jobs in their fields that would earn them a decent living. That was not the life I envisioned for myself nor my family in the future. I quickly realized that my only way out was to get the best education I could.

## Facing fears

Towards the end of my high school career, I took on my first leadership position as a prefect. In this role I would be responsible for ensuring my assigned classroom was well behaved and at the daily school assembly on time. Though I struggled miserably as a shy student “pretending” to be a leader, I learned many valuable skills and my confidence had increased by the end of my term. I realized that even the scariest, most intimidating opportunities had a lesson to teach.

## Saying ‘yes’ to opportunities

Once I finished my studies in St. Lucia, I decided that the best way for me to further my education was to return to America to get a college degree. The move to a first world country without my family was such a culture shock to me, but I did not let my intimidation get the better of me. Knowing what my stakes are makes it so much easier to say “yes!” to opportunities that come my way. I have since accepted many more leadership roles, including my most recent as Vice President of Fellowship for my school’s Phi Theta Kappa chapter. Though I still struggle with my confidence from time to time, I know that I can make it through. Success is but a mindset.

• ## From African Fish Eagle to American Bald Eagle

I may not be classified as an international student but I did move to the United States the year I began college. Prior to that, I was living in Zimbabwe. Born and raised in the city of Bulawayo, I grew up very reserved and may have lacked an element of self confidence. I came from a household where both my parents and grandparents were not very social and preferred to keep me occupied at home, with what felt like a mountain of responsibilities. While I did enjoy growing up there and miss climbing the rocks of Matopos, I felt restricted and my potential suppressed.

## Flying West

Moving to the United States marked a transition for me; not only geographically but also personally. I currently live in Mansfield, Texas and attend Tarrant County College–Southeast in Arlington, where I am working on obtaining my Associate of Science degree. I moved in with my uncle and his family while my parents work near Houston. This provided me with a sense of independence. Even though I have not exactly moved out, having more freedom allowed me to pursue new opportunities openly, without having to worry about my previous responsibilities as much. I could now focus on my education and building my future.

• ## My path towards engineering excellence

Around the age of twelve–in Ames, Iowa–I sat with my father to see what work he brought home. At the time he was working on fixing a software tool. Strange words and colors were displayed all over the screen and despite a fear of the unknown, his code seemed fascinating with its logic and pragmatic design choices. This began my journey of investigating software engineering.

## First Impressions

Fumbling about with coding tutorials and assistance from my father, I toiled through understanding computer logic while making games to occupy the time. I was also a 4-H program member during this time. Through static exhibits–projects to present and have judged–I was able to present my computer programs and other technology-based items to see if this is truly something worth exploring. The feedback given to me propelled me forward to expand and learn more about engineering.

## Changing My Ways

Around the age of seventeen, I was asked to help at my grandparents’ farm in Sanborn, Iowa. Not having a busy schedule that year, I traveled up north. While at the farm, I finally came to the realization of the work it took to farm. My grandfather pointed out to me that the work put into the crops was paying off with being able to pay bills and aiding our neighbors. Returning home, I decided to change my entire routine and do something more productive. Unfortunately, little happened until fall that year, which was when I began my first college classes while still in high school. While it was terrifying–considering I was transitioning from being homeschooled to attending college–it was an incredibly beneficial experience that allowed me to begin understanding more advanced studies and work hands-on with new people at Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC).