"The number of women in the workforce now is at the same number it was 30 years ago. Working, going to school, and being a parent is difficult during the best of times, and Covid is not the best of times. I want to help women get back into the workforce when this is over."
Alyson Ballew wants to help people, particularly disadvantaged women whose lives have been disrupted by the pandemic.
“Since COVID began, women are leaving the workforce, by either choice or necessity,” Ballew said. “The number of women in the workforce now is at the same number it was 30 years ago. Working, going to school, and being a parent is difficult during the best of times, and Covid is not the best of times. I want to help women get back into the workforce when this is over.”
Ballew, 40, intends to graduate in spring 2024 with a Doctor of Education in Human Resource and Workforce Development Education degree from the University of Arkansas. She plans to stay in her current position as a program specialist in the College of Engineering at the U of A but hopes to someday work with a nonprofit that helps women return to the workforce.
“I couldn’t take time out of my day to sit through classes, finish my degree in a timely manner and still get my work done,” said Ballew, a single mother of one. “Online classes make it possible.”
Time management and organization are essential elements of Ballew’s study plan. She writes down every meeting, discussion post deadlines and assignment due dates on her calendar and checks it every day, including weekends. This attention to detail lets her work full time, attend classes and research her dissertation subject—how the career development of women has been impacted by COVID—yet still find time for herself and her 12-year-old daughter, she said.
“Anyone who wants to do an online degree program has to be self-motivated in a way that someone taking on-campus classes does not,” Ballew said. “You don’t get reminders from your faculty the way that you do when you’re on campus. Everything is on you to be self-directed.”
Ballew studies at times comfortable to her own schedule. She views lectures and works on assignments during her lunch hour or in the evenings, when it is convenient for her, she said.
“My daughter is in school, and right now because of Covid, she partially schools from home,” Ballew said. “She also does competitive dance. Online learning lets me attend lectures while I’m sitting in the parking lot waiting for her to finish up. During lunch, I go into the discussion boards and respond to what a student said. I can get pretty much anything I want online.”
Ballew credits much of her scholastic success to the support of her academic advisor and a clearly defined degree plan.
“I always felt like my advisor was there for me,” Ballew said. “She would answer emails as quickly as she could and counsel me about taking alternative classes that would fit better with what I wanted to do. We would get a copy of the degree plan from the graduate catalog then see what was there and make sure that if I didn’t take something this semester that it would still be offered two semesters down the line.”
In addition to email and Blackboard, Ballew participated in GroupMe and LinkedIn social media groups to stay in touch with professors and classmates outside of class, she said.
“I think is the absolute best idea,” Ballew said. “We can communicate, link into the network and see what everyone else is up to outside of what we learn in the discussion boards. Using the apps, I can see what they look like, where they work, and what their interests are professionally.”
Ballew also has taken advantage of virtual offerings and services provided by the U of A during the pandemic crisis. This includes attending online events, she said.
“There were some lectures and group meetings for female grad students that were amazing,” Ballew said. “And Mullins Library, even if I don’t physically go there, I can log in and get pretty much anything I want online, and interlibrary loan is the best thing ever.”
Ballew began studying online for her Master of Education in Human Resource and Workforce Development from the University of Arkansas in 2017. She graduated two years later, in 2019, with a 4.0 GPA while working full time. Much of her prior graduate work transferred into her doctoral program and will shorten the time until she earns her doctorate.
Ballew was one of 25 people to receive the W.E. Manning Memorial Scholarship for online U of A students for the 2021-2022 academic year.
“This scholarship means that I don’t have to pay out of pocket, and as a single parent, saving as much as I can is a huge help,” she said.