Fort Smith, AR
"I was determined I was going to do it. When I started nursing school, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do, but nursing education is a good fit. I have two bachelor's degrees and five minors. I'm a lifelong learner. I love being a student and a teacher."
Star Lowrey-LaGrone held her newborn on one hip and her toddler on the other hip as a photographer documented a diploma-presentation event beside the U of A's Razorbug on June 27. She earned her Master of Science in Nursing degree by studying online.
Lowrey-LaGrone's home in Fort Smith was the first stop on the River Valley leg of the Razorbug Diploma Tour in 2022. The tour celebrated the success of students in online degree programs.
Jan Emory, associate professor of nursing in the Eleanor Mann School of Nursing at the U of A, traveled from her home in Oklahoma to present the framed diploma for Lowrey-LaGrone. Toby LaGrone stood by his wife's side for photos, just as he has supported her while she took online classes, cared for their growing family and taught health courses at Western Arkansas Technical Center and in the allied health program at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.
Baby Atlas was born five days after U of A's spring commencement, but his impending birth didn't stop Lowrey-LaGrone from walking at graduation. Maybe that's because Aspen, who will turn 2 years old in a couple of weeks, keeps her mother on her toes.
"I was determined I was going to do it," Lowrey-LaGrone said about attending the graduation ceremony. "When I started nursing school, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do, but nursing education is a good fit. I have two bachelor's degrees and five minors. I'm a lifelong learner. I love being a student and a teacher."
She is planning to take a year off from academe before starting her doctorate, however.
U of A faculty and staff members traveled throughout south Arkansas and the River Valley in the Razorbug Diploma Tour to present diplomas to some of the recent graduates who earned degrees in online programs. The Razorbug is a converted red Volkswagen Beetle that sports a Razorback snout, tail and razor-edged spine. It has been used for recruitment and special events since 2005.
Lowrey-LaGrone was a first-generation college student - kind of, for a little while anyway. Her most recent degree is her nursing master's, which she earned studying online, but when she got her bachelor's degree, she started one semester before her mother also started a bachelor's degree. Now, Lowrey-LaGrone and her mom both have master's degrees, in nursing and teaching, respectively.
"We graduated at the same time for our bachelor's degrees, and then we got our master's degrees at the same time," she said. "We were first-generation together."
More than 440 students who studied in online degree programs applied for graduation from the U of A in May. Lowrey-LaGrone cited connection when asked what she considered important in an online degree program.
"It's important to find a program that you'll be comfortable with, where there is a lot of support from the faculty," she said. "It's important to do a lot of research beforehand, and it's important to have that connection."
Studying online was a must for her so that she could efficiently manage her time between school, work and family, she said. Arrangements for clinical hours were a little challenging, she said, both because of COVID-19 and the fact that there's an osteopathic medicine college in Fort Smith with students who also need clinical hours.
"I had a lot going with the babies and teaching, and we hosted two high school foreign exchange students, too," she said. "Life can be crazy, but you can do it."