Single mother Tawanna Smith enrolled at Barry University with two goals in mind -- setting higher education standards for her two children and furthering her career.
Smith earned a promotion at work a few months after graduating from the Bachelor of Public Administration (BPA) program in 2015. She is a records manager for her hometown, the City of Riviera Beach, Florida, and the first person in her immediate family to earn a college degree.
Her son, Teon Smith (18), definitely rose to the challenge. He is studying education at Morehouse College, while his sister, Layla Thomas (11), has a few years left before high school graduation.
"I got a lot more out of it than what I was expecting," she said. "I've made some lifelong relationships. You learn a lot from listening to other people's stories and how they do things in the workplace. The PACE [Professional and Career Education] program is diverse.
"There are people from all different career and religious backgrounds. It's also very close-knit. College can be overwhelming, but this program doesn't feel overwhelming. Barry is very accommodating to the working class. The great thing about it is that a lot of the professors at Barry came up through the program, so they really get it."
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Smith's experience was so good, she extended her time at Barry University. Smith is on track to graduate from the Master of Public Administration program in December 2018. She hopes to continue to advance in her career with 15 years of experience in the municipality under her belt.
"My job with the city started out temporarily and eventually became permanent," she said. "I started in the city clerk's office, and then I transferred over to the police department to get additional governmental experience.
"Once I graduated, I left the police department for a better-paying position in city hall. That's where I am now. I hope to progress. That was the purpose of getting my master's degree, because it seems pretty standard now in the departmental level and higher."
Smith learned about the PACE program at Barry University through her co-workers.
"Barry is pretty popular among our employees," she said. "I was referred to the program by other employees who were already in the program or had completed it. My work family was very supportive because a lot of them went through the program. They really helped me out and even kept my kids for me when I had schoolwork."
Friends and family members have also been very supportive of Smith through her higher education journey. Although it was not easy to return to school after a long hiatus, Smith settled in quickly.
"It was hard getting into that routine," she said. "You have to adjust your schedule, and you have to adjust your thinking. Once you do that, you've got it."
The BPA curriculum was applicable to several different areas of both her current position and the position she held while enrolled in the program - in administration at the Riviera Beach Police Department.
"The stress-relief class was great," she said. "So was the diversity class and college orientation, the first class we took, because it gave us strategies not just for school but for life -- time management, organization. That really helped.
"With the computer classes, it's almost like you don't know what you don't know until you need to know what you don't know. PowerPoint and different shortcuts in Microsoft Word documents helped in the workplace. The professional writing courses we were required to take really helped, too."
Smith, who loves to read and listen to talk radio, appreciates the commitment to working students in the PACE program -- especially as a single mother.
"It's very adult-oriented," she said. "You don't feel like a fish out of water. You're in there with like-minded individuals. The professors have a high level of respect for you. They give you that strong foundation. It's very manageable if you want to do it. "
Buccaneer for Life
Although she has plenty going on, Smith balances school with a career and raising her children. She regularly takes Layla to gymnastics practice and competitions. Higher education was a great decision for Smith, who has become one of those City of Riviera Beach employees who highly recommends Barry University to coworkers.
"I say, 'Just do it,'" she said. "Every day you procrastinate, it's a day you're not working on it. The time goes by really fast, and it is enjoyable. The bachelor's degree increased my level of self-confidence and my income. It has helped me grow professionally and personally."
Once she walks the stage in cap and gown after completing the MPA program, Smith looks forward to attending a couple more college graduations in the future.
If her kids have a higher education experience like she has had at Barry University, Smith knows they will be prepared for a career and not just a job.
"Barry University is more than an educational institution," she said. "It's a place of empowerment, a place which makes all professions possible."
Learn about the Barry University online public administration programs.
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