Lakeisha Gardner – Success Story

School: University of Louisville

Year: Junior

Major: Psychology

Hailing from Georgia, Lakeisha Gardner is not the typical recipient of a 15,000 Degrees scholarship. But her education story follows a similar theme. Growing up, the 23-year-old was always a good student. She graduated from high school with honors, the only African-American woman in her class to do so.

Lakeisha always knew she’d attend college. She was sure of that much. The problem was, no one in her family had attended college, so finding her way there was something she largely did on her own. “My parents knew what the college process took as far as applying,” she remembers. “But as far as finances and just matriculation throughout undergrad, they had no clue. I was basically going into it by myself.”

She was able to enroll in a Spelman College in Atlanta, but after a year and a half of courses, Lakeisha and her family couldn’t afford for her to continue. “When I was there, it was like $40,000 a year. I’m from a low-income family. I’m a first generation college student,” she explains. “We just didn’t have the money for me to finish.”

Lakeisha decided to enter Job Corps. She first came to Kentucky in 2013 as part of that federal education and training program. Pleased with where she was in her life, Lakeisha didn’t initially think she wanted to return to college. “I didn’t intend on going back to school, at least not in Kentucky, then,” she recalls.

But it was while living in Kentucky that someone steered Lakeisha to Simmons College. She liked what she heard about Simmons and decided she’d apply.

Though she had found where she wanted to be, studying at Simmons was not going to be easy. Few, if any, of the credits she accrued in her previous college tenure transferred. Lakeisha had to start over completely. And though she was enjoying Simmons, Lakeisha knew she would eventually have to transfer. “I really loved Simmons, but they didn’t have a psych program, so that’s why I decided to transfer.”

After graduating with her associate degree from Simmons in spring 2016, Lakeisha decided she’d stay in Kentucky and transfer to the University of Louisville. “After spending time at Simmons, I really wanted to make Kentucky my home,” she explains.

Moving from a small, more intimate setting of Simmons to the larger, state-run University of Louisville may have been daunting at first. But Lakeisha seems to have assimilated nicely. “So far, U of L has been a good transition for me,” she says smiling. “I don’t regret it at all. In order for me to get prepared for where I want to go eventually, as far as grad school, this is a good academic environment that I need, as far as the rigor goes.”

Looking ahead, Lakeisha wants to be a therapist when she completes all of her schooling. She’s been drawn to the psychology field by a curiosity about people and how they operate. “I’m a very introverted person. I’m always in my own head, and so I’m interested in getting into other people’s heads,” she jokes. “(I want to) learn about how they think, why they act the way they do. I just love learning about human behavior.”

Lakeisha hopes to use the knowledge she’s gained to assist people of color specifically.
“I’ve been interested in doing studies in health disparities,” she says. “I know in the African-American community, we typically don’t like to talk about mental health issues. It’s kind of a taboo subject, so that’s something I’d really like to work with.”

Lakeisha doesn’t take for granted the challenges she has faced as a first-generation college student. That said, it’s important to her to keep a positive perspective as it relates to her family’s situation. To any scholar who would potentially be a first-generation college student, she says: “Don’t be resentful of your parents. It’s not their fault.”

Though the process of matriculating through school wasn’t something her family could necessarily help her with, Lakeisha chooses instead to focus on the positive. Her family may not have possessed the knowledge of how and where to find and apply for scholarships, but they provided encouragement and support for her as she worked to find her way. “Even from a young age, my parents told me, ‘Go to college, go to college,’ ” she says.

In fact, Lakeisha’s observations of her parents have fueled her will to complete her degree. Growing up, she noticed how hard they worked and how they still struggle to provide financially for their family. “Seeing my family members and seeing what they went through, I knew I didn’t want that for myself,” she says. “I just had to do something.”

Given her deep connection to her own experiences and to those of her family, as well as her career goals, it should surprise no one that Lakeisha has most enjoyed connecting with others throughout her time in college.    “(I’ve enjoyed) becoming more socially aware as a person,” she says. “I know a lot of people are pushing this idea of becoming a global citizen, just being well-connected to what’s happening around you. From each school that I went to, that’s something that I really appreciate.”

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