Even as a college freshman in 2013, Khara Brown was already a leader on campus. An Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) scholar, she led efforts for inaugural events to showcase the college experience to young women while in high school, and she urged lawmakers to increase funding for EOF in the state budget.
But college dreams were dashed the following year when devastating medical issues brought an abrupt end to Brown’s education. Her intestines ruptured, she was hospitalized and severely ill for more than two years.
“There were a lot of hospitals, a lot of doctors, a lot of poking and prodding. It definitely changed my outlook on life because I was so vulnerable,” Brown says. “Before I became ill, I was living on campus. I had my own schedule. I marched to the beat of my own drum. So to be vulnerable like that, it was humbling. It was upsetting. It was a challenge. I had to get used to people doing things for me, and I don’t like asking for help.”
Her family – including the strong bonds formed with her EOF “family” – supported her throughout all the health challenges. Her EOF Counselor Delores McMorrin, now retired from Montclair State University, was among her regular visitors.
“I distinctly remember when I was in a coma, I remember Dr. McMorrin’s voice because she was talking to me,” Brown recalls. “She was saying, ‘You have to get better. You have to wake up. You have to get back in school, get back to class. We have stuff to finish.’”
This fall, nine years later and at the age of 27, Brown is back in the classroom, readmitted as an EOF scholar and determined to finish what she started. She relies on her supporters as she adjusts to returning to school. Juggling work as a nurse’s aide, living at home, commuting from Newark and majoring in Anthropology, “I feel like I’m fresh out of the womb,” she says.
Brown is not alone. Montclair has a growing cohort of adult learners who have re-enrolled after stepping away when barriers like finances, work or family obligations kept them from finishing. “Sometimes it’s incredibly stressful to come back,” says Assistant Provost for Academic Success and Tutoring Julie Mazur.
The University is building programs to re-engage these adult learners, including the University’s new Degree Completion Program and other online instruction options, Mazur says. It has in place academic and personal support, including coaching to help the adult learners prioritize all the things they have going on in their lives, and resources including the counseling services offered at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and academic support to brush up on skills in writing, math and statistics that may have slid during the adult learners’ absence from school.
Nationwide, more than 39 million Americans have attended college but earned no degree or other credential, according to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Now back on track, Brown says, “I don’t quantify my experience like I’m super strong. Many times I wanted to give up.” She bears the scars of multiple proceeds and takes the way she feels day-by-day. “It’s always going to be a struggle,” Brown says, “but I’m here to fight.”
Brown is also ready to once again be a leader on campus. “I feel grateful because I can help out the younger students because they don’t see me as a faculty member. They see me as a class leader. So we have that relationship. It’s kind of precious because since we have that established, they are more open to listen or open to ask,” Brown says.
“The path to success is taking one step at a time,” she adds. “So even though the first two or three steps may not seem like a lot, when you are on the road to graduation, it means something. It’s bringing you a little bit closer. I just want to help people get closer to the goal, to their passions.”
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