First-generation College Student Changes Direction of Family Tree


First-generation College Student Changes Direction of Family Tree

Twelve years ago, Lynette Leidner wouldn’t have dreamed she’d be where she is today. 

A 30-year-old single mom, she had a high school diploma and a decent job, but long hours at work ate up time she could be spending with her 5-year-old daughter. No one in her family had completed college, and Leidner felt destined for the same outcome.

“I knew my options were limited, which in turn meant that what I would be able to provide for my daughter as she grew up would be limited as well,” she said.

That scenario didn’t sit well with Leidner.

So, with a lot of encouragement from family and friends, she began a higher education journey that most recently landed her the prestigious honor of Banner Carrier at the OU Extended Campus Winter 2017 Convocation. There, she received her Master of Arts in Administrative Leadership (MAAL).

Prior to her MAAL degree, Leidner earned an associate degree in English in 2008 from Rose State College. She followed that with a bachelor’s degree in English and writing from OU, and a master’s degree in literary and cultural studies from OU quickly followed.

Leidner said her decision to pursue a second master’s degree came when she’d been out of school for about a year. She was working fulltime as the supervisor of the writing center at Oklahoma City Community College when a Google search led her to OU Extended Campus and the Master of Arts in Administrative Leadership program.

“Life’s too short not to try. I knew nothing about college when I started, except that it was the only way I would ever be able to gain the kinds of opportunities I wanted for my daughter and me,” she said. “Going to college changed my life in more ways than I could have possibly imagined.”

“I knew that I wanted to eventually pursue a Ph.D., but I didn’t know what I wanted to pursue that Ph.D. in,” she said. “Even though it was another master’s degree, the Administrative Leadership program sounded both interesting and beneficial. I wanted to be able to progress into upper administrative positions within higher education, and the MAAL program sounded like it would be an invaluable tool for preparing me for such moves.”

While pursuing her MAAL degree, she worked as full-time professor at Oklahoma City Community College teaching English composition and humanities.

“It was interesting to be both a student and a professor at the same time,” she said. “I was a student at OU while teaching approximately 150 students of my own at OCCC. That I could still function somewhat coherently on only two hours of sleep every night was surprising.”

She said she’s grateful for her MAAL instructors, all of whom were knowledgeable and willing to give their time. She said she’s been able to apply the skills and concepts from the program to almost every aspect of her life.

“I’m no doubt a more thoughtful person, a stronger leader and an overall better human being,” she said.

In January, Leidner moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, with her husband, Steve Bloomberg, who took a job as president of Southeast Arkansas College. She said together they have great plans for programs and initiatives they’d like to implement at SEARK and in the Pine Bluff community. In addition to volunteering for a handful of nonprofits, participating in literacy initiatives, teaching and running a small business, she plans to also pursue a Ph.D.

“Because of my leadership degree, I’m better equipped to effectively serve the students and citizens of this community,” she said. “With leadership, it’s not really about how the degree will benefit me, but rather how I can use it to benefit others.”

Leidner said if she could go back and offer advice to her younger self, she’d tell herself not to be afraid to make mistakes or take risks, and to get ready for an amazing life. That’s also some advice she can pass on to her daughter, who’s now 17, a senior in high school and a full-time concurrent college student. She’ll graduate in May with a high school diploma and an associate degree.

“Life’s too short not to try. I knew nothing about college when I started, except that it was the only way I would ever be able to gain the kinds of opportunities I wanted for my daughter and me,” she said. “Going to college changed my life in more ways than I could have possibly imagined.”

Thinking of taking the next step in your educational journey? Learn more about OU Extended Campus and apply today.

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Tami Althoff

Tami Althoff holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is a reporter with more than 20 years’ experience working for newspapers, including The Oklahoman. She has covered everything from breaking news to local music and art. She loves sports, especially OU football and basketball games, where she often embarrasses her children by yelling too loudly.