Student Credits eVersity for ‘Reinvigorating’ Love for Learning

As chief operations officer for the Arkansas Community Action Agencies Association, Terry Bearden spends her days helping nonprofit organizations serve their constituents more efficiently. She loves knowing that her work helps people improve their lives and that of their families, chipping away at the cycle of poverty and all the problems that it brings. Simply put, she helps people help themselves.

It’s a philosophy she knows a little something about, particularly when it comes to her education, which has followed a winding path to success that’s unique to her personal journey.

“I was born in El Paso, Texas and lived all over the world because we were an Army family,” she says by way of introduction. “I was a very good student in elementary, junior high and high school and had been accepted at Bryn Mawr College (Pennsylvania). Unfortunately, my father was retiring from the military the same year that I graduated from high school and my parents did not feel like they could provide me with any kind of financial support to go to college.”

Bearden planned to take a one-year deferment and then resume her studies, but by the time the year was up, she was pregnant with her son, which she said, “pretty much determined that I was not, in fact, going to go to college.”

After meeting and following her husband back to rural Arkansas in 1990, Bearden settled into the life of a stay-at-home mother until her children were in high school. Then one day her life’s work came calling.

“Just by chance, my husband’s boss’s wife was the executive director of the local community action agency in Pine Bluff,” she said. “Because of an emergency with one of her staff members she needed someone to fill in on a temporary basis during a particularly busy program, so she asked if I would be willing to come in and help her out.”

“I said, ‘sure,’ and walked in and started working at that agency and decided that it’s really what I wanted to do. I wanted to get back to work and specifically, I wanted to work in community action to help low- and moderate-income families. We had our fair share of struggles economically and I knew I’d found my calling being able to help others find more stability and move to economic security.”

Bearden advanced quickly, assembling along the way professional certifications to assist in her work. But she quickly realized there was only so far she could go without a degree and she started looking around for a way to resume her college career. What she saw was daunting.

“We lived 20 miles south of Pine Bluff, 65 miles south of Little Rock; that would be a lot of commuting if I tried to go in the evening,” she said. “I looked into some of the for-profit colleges and that’s just really expensive. So I thought, well, I’ll just go as far as I can go in this career.”

Even after joining ACAAA in Little Rock, the idea of attending classes in the evening then driving an hour home was not a feasible one, especially after Bearden and her husband gained custody of their granddaughter following Bearden’s daughter’s untimely death in 2014. But when the couple moved to Little Rock to take advantage of special educational resources for their granddaughter, Bearden got serious about finishing her education.

“We were taking on additional responsibilities in terms of her upbringing, but it actually freed me in a certain way to take a harder look at getting a post-secondary education now that the commute was out of the picture,” she said. “I decided to Google and just see what is going on in the Little Rock area. I saw an ad scroll by on Facebook for eVersity and I thought, ‘I need to check this out.’”

In the year-plus that has gone by since, Bearden has maintained a 4.0 in her business degree studies, has been exposed to subject matter she might not have chosen for herself otherwise and has reawakened the academic ability she always knew she had. She credits eVersity for both the opportunity and the mechanism to reach the goals she’s set for herself.

“I think [eVersity] is a great opportunity for not only younger low-income families, but also for people who have found themselves, like me, having children early and then that derails their educational plans,” she said. “It’s just so accessible and affordable. You can qualify for and use financial aid to attend. I think for working people it makes so much sense because of the flexibility in terms of when you can do your assignments and the fact that you never have to actually go on campus and carve out that time.”

“I also think because I am a natural student – I’m a voracious reader – that it has reinvigorated my love of learning. I’m finding a lot more personal fulfillment in taking the courses through eVersity.”