When I walked onto the campus of the University of Memphis as a freshman and mother of a two year old in 1997, the last thing I ever imagined was that I would one day be a professor on that same campus. When I chose business as my degree the next year, I never thought I would be a teacher of any kind.
And when I wrote a book about my life as a teen mother, I never imagined that it would be a textbook for a class I was ASKED to create. And that students who had lives very different from mine and some with similar experiences would learn so much from my life.
So how did that happen? How did a former teen mom with a business degree become a professor teaching a class about life…using her life story? MY LIFE STORY
When I graduated from high school, I earned the Emerging Leaders scholarship. I moved to Memphis and was excited to enter my freshman year at the University of Memphis. As a young mother, I balanced my school work, leadership roles in campus activities, and the toughest job of all…motherhood (single motherhood).
But I did it. In 2001 I graduated magna cum laude and was named Miss University of Memphis for my grade point average, campus leadership and community involvement. Soon after, I started my marketing career with the Memphis Grizzlies and later worked for ServiceMaster and FedEx.
While I was at FedEx, I wrote my memoir describing just how I did it. I included my experiences at the University of Memphis and how I balanced my time and my complicated life as a single mother. I began getting asked to speak at school, colleges, community events and other places sharing my story.
And I found my calling. My purpose. The reason I had been through so much and worked so hard.
CNN HLN asked to interview me and so did the 700 Club and nearly every local news outlet, but nothing felt better than giving a speech and talking to people afterwards letting me know that I had helped them. I decided at that point that I wanted to dedicate my career and my life to helping and encouraging others and that I would have to eventually leave the job at FedEx that I loved.
For the work that I was doing in the community and with my business, I was honored by the Fogelman College of Business and Economics as the Outstanding Young Alumna. To help with my transition out of my corporate job and to help me have some guaranteed income when I left, I applied for a position as an adjunct professor. Receiving the Outstanding Young Alumna award had given me exposure to key decision makers including the amazing and innovative Dean of the college, Dr. Rajiv Grover, and I was offered the position.
After three semesters of teaching a marketing course at a satellite campus, I was asked to create my very own course and teach on the main campus. Dean Grover recognized my ability to reach students and respected my knowledge and experience of managing LIFE during and after college.
I was paired with a tenured professor who helped with the approval process. I even heard that some of the people on the board who reviewed the course curriculum laughed and couldn’t believe the course was being presented for approval. I was asked to add other books and increase the academic rigor of the course, and I resisted saying that I didn’t want to teach the course if I couldn’t do it the way I wanted to teach it. The way I felt would be most effective to meet the objectives of the course.
After nearly a year, the course was approved for a pilot. I was given the green light to do it the way I felt was best. However, I was tasked with getting students, and if I didn’t get enough then the pilot would not go forward. Nervous that I wouldn’t get students to sign up for a new, unheard of class, I put my marketing skills to work and got 15 amazing students my first semester. Now in my fourth semester, I don’t have to promote the class at all.
My reviews each semester are incredible, and there are always tears and gratitude throughout the semester and especially at the final presentations.
As I stand before my class of amazingly diverse students (It’s so beautiful to see the race, gender, background, and age diversity I have each semester) for three hours once a week, I am full of gratitude myself. My students openly share. I watch them grow and evolve right before my eyes.
Here’s what some of my awesome students say about the class-
And their lives change and so does mine in my Life Skills: Personal Development and Change Management course. Textbook: Life After Birth- A Memoir of Survival and Success as a Teenage Mother by Summer Owens.
Want to teach? Start by learning and keep learning.
- Do what you know you need to do
- Work hard
- Live your best life
- Make yourself known
- Be open and honest
- Position yourself for opportunities…and they WILL come