Some Wayne State Warriors are juggling far more than classes and social lives. Among burnt out honors superstars, hyper-focused athletes and green-and-gold glad orientation leaders are students who double as parents.
These individuals can be familiar with the prospect of a spittle stained shirt and the sound of a crying baby rattling around their brains alongside the notes they’ve memorized.
“I used to have to wait until he would go to sleep and I would stay up to do my homework and study,” Aly Mashrah says. “I wouldn’t get anything done, I would study at the very last minute, I would turn in assignments late and I would have to miss school.”
In 2011, 4.8 million students, more than a quarter of America’s undergraduates were the parents of dependent children. While the number of parents in colleges grew by 50 percent from 1995-2011, childcare resources on campus across the country dropped, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
The only official WSU services for little ones are the tuition-based College of Education Early Childhood Center preschool programs for ages 2 to 5. Pell Grant-eligible parents may qualify for free services, but before- and after-school care requires a fee.
Jena Smoyer, 25, graduated with her Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in photography and a minor in public relations in May. After seven years in college, she walked across the stage and into a position she’s accepted as the full-time volunteer membership coordinator of the Ella Sharp Museum of Art and History in Jackson, Michigan.
However, her journey to this point has not been easy. Smoyer was a 21-year-old graphic design major at Western Michigan University when she became pregnant with her daughter.
“I was absolutely terrified, and I think I was in denial up until the moment I held Emery, but I’ve always taken life pretty seriously and I knew that I wanted to go back school after.”
Smoyer separated from Emery’s father in 2013 and transferred to WSU with three goals: make artwork, turn what she loves into a career and be a good mom. She says her family has been integral in making her pursuit of education possible. They take care of her daughter in her hometown Hanover, Michigan while she goes to school full-time and works three jobs.
“I know from talking to other parents that went back to school, not everyone has that support from their family,” she says. “I am beyond grateful, I have no way of properly thanking my parents.”
She’s only able to see Emery a couple days a week, and Smoyer says it breaks her heart.
“I’m not always there, because I’ve been in school constantly thinking about what homework I have do and I’m thinking about what projects I’m having to do,” she says. “It’s really hard, and as soon as she goes to bed it’s back to the grind with homework.”
Post-graduation, Smoyer says it will be the first time in years she’ll have enough time for the people she loves and a steady occupation to provide for them as well.
“I made these sacrifices now, while I was in school, while she’s younger. I hope in the future I won’t be making as many sacrifices and I will be able to spend more time with her, because I’ve worked my butt off,” she says.
Mashrah was married at 18, pregnant with her son Zach by 19 and divorced at 21. Yet, with the support of her family, her life has not slowed down.
“I live with my family and I get a lot of help,” she says. “It’s definitely a community effort when it comes to raising Zach. Education is a huge deal for us, and it wasn’t an option for me not to go to school, it was always something I was going to do. That’s why they all decided they were going to help me out.”
Things evened out once Zach started preschool, which allowed Mashrah to organize her schedule so she’s in school while he is. This way, she doesn’t miss at-home time with him, and they even bond by doing their homework together.
“Sometimes I wish I could spend more time with him and sometimes I wish both of us didn’t have school so I could just be with him all the time, but I think it’s important for parents to understand it’s okay to be away and do things for themselves if it’s to better support their family,” she says.