When Joey Farque learned that she had been named Outstanding Senior for fall 2021 by the OU College of Professional and Continuing Studies, she couldn’t quite believe it.
“When they called to tell me, I was a little shocked,” Farque said. “I thought, ‘I’m too old for that. I’m a working adult who’s in school, and there are so many other seniors out there who are probably younger and more deserving.’ That all changed when I got to the ceremony.”
As she mingled with other outstanding seniors from across campus at the official recognition ceremony and began to hear their stories, she understood the magnitude of what it meant to her to be graduating in December with a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership.
“I don’t remember any time in my life where I was personally that proud of myself,” she said.
On her own since the age of 16, Farque has never been afraid to dream big and pursue those dreams as far as they could take her.
"I think that’s the fear for a lot of people when they go back as adults, that there won’t be people who understand you. I would tell anyone who is interested in going back to school to do it. You will have that support. I know that support is there because I have felt it and seen it, and it’s there for anyone."
After starting her career at the American Association of Petroleum Geologists magazine, in 2001, she began a 15-year run as editor-in-chief and then director of marketing with Sweet Adeline’s International—a women’s singing organization dedicated to the performance of and education about the art form of barbershop harmony. It was there that she first attempted to go back to school, taking museum studies courses online at OU before the combination of working full time and becoming a new mom forced her to put her education on the back burner once again.
Restless for new challenges, she left the organization in 2015 and pursued marketing and leadership positions in a variety of nonprofit and for-profit ventures, experimenting with different industries to find a home where she could make an impact long-term. When she found herself suddenly free of a job that didn’t mesh with her sensibilities last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, she knew the time was right to finally earn her undergraduate degree.
“I saw that a degree in organizational leadership was available online,” she said. “I thought, ‘That’s what I do now. That’s who I am.’ It was a perfect fit. It’s just been the best experience. Before the courses even start, I’m waiting for them to open, so I can get after it. I enjoy writing papers. I order my textbooks early so that I can pore over them.
“The professors have been so open and kind and helpful and knowledgeable and insightful. There is so much support on a faculty level. Knowing that you’re going to have that support behind you, especially as an adult, nontraditional student, matters a lot. I think that’s the fear for a lot of people when they go back as adults, that there won’t be people who understand you. I would tell anyone who is interested in going back to school to do it. You will have that support. I know that support is there because I have felt it and seen it, and it’s there for anyone.”
Her time at OU has also helped her to reconnect with her Native American identity. While her biological father was full Cherokee, but she didn’t grow up with him and didn’t have experience with that part of her own background until just a few months ago.
“I’m in the Neustadt Symposium class right now, where we’re reading Native American young adult fiction, and I just feel really in touch with my heritage, so that’s a very proud thing for me,” Farque said. “It’s exciting to know that there’s this whole world that I get to experience. Not growing up with my father, I never had that cultural identity. Now, it’s a whole new world for me. I’m scheduling time to go to pow wows and research my ancestry, and it’s enlightening.”
As she looks back on the last 18 months, she is proud of how far she has come and how much further she wants to go, including starting a master’s degree program in strategic communications and digital marketing in January 2022.
“I’m in my 40s, graduating from college, about to start my master’s program in January and getting in touch with my identity,” she said. “It’s a big deal. I’ve come full circle. I’m morphing and changing as an adult, and I never thought that was possible.
“I didn’t know I had it in me to get this far, and I’m very proud of myself for working hard in my courses and working overtime and moonlighting, so I could self-pay for school. I feel confident that I’m helping my son become a great man, and I know for sure that I’m a positive role model, which is something I never had.”
Farque plans to take that focus and drive into her next position as part of a nonprofit organization in the Tulsa area.
“I want to be part of something bigger than I am. I want to find a spot where I can help the most people,” she said. “I’m excited about seeing where my education takes me.
“I’ve really manifested my life,” she said. “I’ve done pretty much everything that I’ve wanted to do so far, and I’m just not going to stop. I’m married to this amazing man. I’ve traveled the world. I’ve done so much. I was a girl who grew up in poverty, and here I am, about to enter a master’s program, and that aligns with the life that I want.”
Farque hopes her story can inspire others to take a chance and pursue their dreams, whatever they may be.
“Make it a priority and give it all you have because how you will feel and what you will learn about yourself is priceless. That feeling I have now is priceless. Had I known I was going to feel like this, I’d be a doctor by now!
To learn more about the College of Professional and Continuing Studies’ undergraduate program in organizational leadership or for information about additional online degree programs for working adults, visit pacs.ou.edu/degrees.