As a student at Roanoke’s Virginia Western Community College, April Arnold ’19 wasn’t certain a four-year degree was in her future. Her mom was raising Arnold’s four younger siblings (three of whom were actually cousins who were adopted after their own mother passed away) when she suffered an accident that left her on disability. Arnold had to take on significant responsibility in helping care for her family.
“I was thinking I wouldn’t transfer to a four-year college like I had planned,” she recalls. “I was in Virginia Western’s early childhood program and figured that with a two-year Associate of Social Sciences degree, I could get a job working in childcare right out of school.”
While attending a college fair with her sister, Arnold first heard about Hollins’ Horizon program for adult women. “A few weeks later I came to a meeting to learn more, and something clicked. I met these amazing Horizon students and said, ‘I have to be here.’”
Thus began Arnold’s two years at Hollins and a remarkable balance of meeting family obligations while attending the university as a full-time student. “I love psychology and decided to major in it,” she says. “But, I’m not letting my early childhood education degree go to waste. I want to work with kids, so I’m going to become an adolescent counselor. Because of Hollins I’m already in contact with employers.”
Typically, Arnold’s day begins with getting her siblings off to school and arriving at campus by 9 a.m. for her first class. She’s done by three or four in the afternoon and meets her siblings when they arrive home on the bus. Then there’s household chores, dinner, and homework. “It’s a group effort. My homework, their homework, we do it all together.” Getting everyone to bed at a decent hour is of course also a priority, but Arnold says her own bedtime doesn’t usually arrive until at least midnight.
Arnold credits faculty and her fellow students for helping her make it all happen. “Luckily, my teachers know and work with me. [Professor of Psychology] Bonnie Bowers, my advisor, is the most amazing person ever.
“At the same time, my Horizon sisters understand the stresses of taking care of my siblings and juggling schoolwork. They’re ready when you need a shoulder to cry on or someone just to listen.”
Arnold is also grateful to the traditional undergraduate community for their cooperation. “Working on group projects, for example, residential students can meet at 11 or 12 at night, but I live 20 minutes from campus. Still, once you actually talk to the students and explain that you’re a commuter, they’re very accommodating.”
Arnold has excelled academically, earning induction into Pinnacle, a national honor society for nontraditional students that seeks to support leadership and scholarship. In addition to completing her psychology major, she took piano, choir, and voice, and performed solos at three music department recitals. “Mary Eggleston [adjunct voice instructor] helped me channel my energy and stress into singing and come out of my shell. It built my confidence level so much.”
Graduating, Arnold says, is “bittersweet. My first year was spent adjusting to campus, but now, I’ve made so many relationships and friends, I don’t want to leave yet.
“On the other hand, I’m very excited to have my diploma. I can’t wait for my mom and my siblings, who have been my biggest support system, to share that. It’s 40 percent for me, 60 percent for them. I know I’ve made all of them proud, and I’ve shown my younger siblings that even with all the stresses and hardships, anything is possible.”