Alyson Jarnagin graduated high school from the Chicago suburbs in the late ‘90s and was ready to move south. She had fallen in love with The University of Alabama during a college tour her junior year.
“I ended up visiting during Iron Bowl weekend, which I didn’t know was a thing at the time. The energy of it was exciting. I also visited Auburn on that tour, and I hated it. UA had a great Criminal Justice program, which is what I was interested in at the time, so that is where I ended up,” she said.
Her first year, Alyson performed pretty well. But the summer after her freshman year brought complications. “My mom got really sick, and it threw me into a spiral. I have a tendency to handle situations like that really well in the moment but then come apart later, so I handled it fine that summer, but when I got back to campus, I sort of shut down.”
That fall, she medically withdrew from UA and returned in the spring. “I continued to spin my wheels once I came back and just tanked my GPA. I was working 60-70 hours a week in retail, and college just had to go at that point. I decided to go be a person and work a job and had resigned myself to the retail world,” Alyson said.
She returned to UA as a staff member in the spring of 2007, working for the Office of Teaching Innovation and Digital Education. Before long, she had moved to the department in charge of Student Services for distance education students. “I honestly never thought I would finish college, but once I was working in that environment, I couldn’t not do it. I was in the office that helped working adults earn college degrees, and I had the tuition benefit from UA, so I had no more excuses.”
Alyson was readmitted to UA in the online bachelor’s program in Human Environmental Sciences – the best option for her since she was working full time.
Alyson said she found that traditional students are viewed as individuals whose primary goal in life at the time is school, but that “one thing that was nice about the distance program is that there’s an inherent understanding among most of the faculty that there’s this whole world out there outside of your schooling. You don’t necessarily get that as a traditional student.”
She continued, “In 2009, right in the middle of my classes, I had brain surgery. And then in 2010, my mom passed away. Lots of life happening during that time, and the faculty were really good about working with me and being reasonable and not letting these events shut me down. That was invaluable. They understand that you’re a nontraditional student and school is just another thing you’re doing right now. They understood I had a career and a family — and as long as you didn’t use these things as excuses, they understood that life happens, and that it doesn’t always happen at the most convenient time.”
After graduating with her bachelor’s in 2011, she went straight into earning her master’s 100% online in Human Environmental Sciences with a focus in Consumer Quality Management. “I figured, ‘I’m in it now. I might as well keep on keepin’ on,’” she said.
The Consumer Quality Management (CQM) program is designed to help professionals learn to evaluate systems and become experts in continuous quality improvement for organizations in a variety of industry settings. “I’m a very logical person – a process person. I was thinking of a career in IT at the time, so the path made sense. But what I really enjoyed about the program was that it offered these concepts and you could spin them toward your professional experiences. I was able to implement the concepts into my work in IT, and that made everything more practical and helped it all make more sense than just learning abstract concepts.”
When she finished her master’s in CQM, Alyson was working in the UA registrar’s office, and she soon moved into a promotion as the registrar for the UA College of Communication and Information Sciences. Because of some college leadership transitions, her tenure at C&IS began at a perfect time for her to utilize what she’d learned in her master’s.
“We had a new dean and associate dean, so we really got to build up what we do here. We needed more structure and hierarchy to help us serve students better, so we created the director of Student Services position to oversee advising and at-risk students and other related needs for students. My master’s really helped me as we restructured the entire department.”
Alyson said the master’s and her educational experiences have elevated her contributions to students and the College, especially as they work to fill four open positions. “One of our student workers remarked how crazy it is right now, but this is where I thrive. I get bored with the day to day, but I thrive at finding solutions. All of that came from the master’s program. And I like this population of students because they have backgrounds similar to mine, struggling to juggle everything. Most of the time the students on academic warning are actually just dealing with really adult things that they don’t have the tools to deal with, so it helps that I’ve had those experiences too.”
Alyson is currently the college registrar and director of Student Services at C&IS, and she is grateful for all she learned in both her online degree programs.
“It’s given me a really unique perspective that has helped me professionally. I’ve experienced both sides of the coin – traditional and nontraditional, main campus and distance – so I get to be an advocate for certain processes that are implemented to help students in all situations.”
Published: August 5th, 2021