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Nontraditional student ‘breaks the stigma’ by graduating from Miami University

Kara Reynolds balanced school, work, and parenthood while earning her degree

Kara Reynolds and her son Leo during her graduation ceremony earning her associate degree.
Kara Reynolds and her son Leo.
Student Success Alumni Success

Nontraditional student ‘breaks the stigma’ by graduating from Miami University

Kara Reynolds and her son Leo.

While many students head to college directly from high school, the National Center for Education Statistics estimates nearly 74% of all students could be considered nontraditional. Factors such as age, marital and parental status, and the need to work while attending school qualify a student as nontraditional.

Miami University senior Kara Reynolds checks all those boxes.

Graduating on Dec. 15 with a degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology, Reynolds was a single parent to her son, Leo, and worked two jobs at one point during her college career. While the road to her degree was rough, it was rewarding.

“I had a statistic posted on my wall and I would look at it all the time. It had the percentage rate of single mothers and bachelor's degree obtainment,” Reynolds, 26, said. “It motivated me to help break the stigma and up that percentage.”

Forced to choose at times between housework and schoolwork, Reynolds would listen to audio versions of her textbooks while folding laundry. “I would go to school all day and come home and tidy the house and play with Leo, make dinner, do the dishes, get Leo ready for bed, and do his nighttime routine (the three B's: bath, book, bed), and then I had to go straight to my computer to do my assignments.”

Reynolds began her college career at Miami University Hamilton, where she earned an associate degree in Pre-Kindergarten Education. While there, she became friends with a custodian, who offered a novel way to work Leo into her schoolwork.

“She was a student when her kids were 2 and 3, which was close to Leo's age at the time,” Reynolds said. “She suggested I read my textbook out loud for when he was in the bath, which could count as his reading.”

Reynolds became interested in speech therapy while participating in a nursing program at a local technical school during high school.

“One day, while observing therapy sessions at Atrium Medical Center, I sat in on three different speech therapy sessions, and in that moment, a lightbulb went off in my head. I fell in love with helping others communicate.” 

During her junior year at Miami, she “discovered” audiology and added it to her educational plate.

“I learned about a hearing aid company and its efforts to help hurricane victims with hearing loss. I’ve always been passionate about social justice, and I thought ‘how can I merge the two things that I love?’” Reynolds said. “Seeing that company help people in a time of need made me realize the importance of communication in our daily lives and inspired me to pursue audiology as a career.”

Little did Reynolds know that both curriculums would soon converge to have a major impact on her own life.

In October 2022, she suffered a transient ischemic attack, a stroke that lasts only a few minutes but can affect portions of the brain — including those responsible for speech — for up to 24 hours.

“I started trying to talk with a professor about what I had experienced and I had difficulty making a sentence and finding words. She showed subtle concern, and I'm sure it was because she was not allowed to give medical advice. But as a speech-language pathologist, I think she knew I was experiencing aphasia-like symptoms,” Reynolds said.

Being seen by a specialist reinforced for Reynolds the importance of communicating and articulating one’s thoughts. Having that experience, she noted, will help her understand her future patients on a personal level.

 

Kara Reynolds and her sisters Kaela, Kate, and Jenna
Kara Reynolds and her sisters Kaela, Kate, and Jenna.

Reynolds is quick to admit that it took a village to get her to this point, and the list of people is long — friends, classmates, employers, social service providers, campus counselors and faculty, even her former softball coach. She knows she could not get to the threshold of where she stands today without her family.

“To my three sisters — Kaela, Kate, and Jenna — thank you for supporting me. Our group chat is my lifeline, and I hope I made you proud. I’d like to thank my son, Leo, for being the best little boy. There were so many sleepless nights but there were also so many good times. Mommy did it. I did it for you. And to my fiancé, Brett, thank you for encouraging me to pursue my dreams.”

While she awaits word on her application to the University of Cincinnati’s graduate program in Audiology, there is one more person Reynolds would like to thank — her mother, who is currently battling addiction and is not a part of her life.

“My mom would drive us around nice neighborhoods and speak greatness into me and my sisters, instilling in us that with hard work comes great reward. She told us we can have our dreams come true if we go to college and work for it. She did this as a single parent living in poverty raising us on her own.

“Mom, if you see this, I love you and I’m rooting for you. I did it. I broke that cycle.”