‘Where I’m supposed to be’: December grad, young single mother Lauren Bowers figures things out at UMSL
When she talks about her daughter, Lauren Bowers’ voice changes.
It’s always lively and focused but, upon mention of Skye, suddenly there’s an apparent smile and more than a hint of pride.
“She’s 1,” Bowers said. “She was born on 2/20/2020. She was due on 2/29, so she was going to have a quirky birthday no matter what. But she’s so smart. She can count to 18. She knows her ABCs, and she’s not even 2 yet. So, yeah, she’s, she’s just – I don’t know – I’m kind of speechless. I’m at a loss for words, but I love her.”
A Pierre Laclede Honors College and criminology and criminal justice major, Bowers graduated cum laude from the University of Missouri–St. Louis last weekend after a year away following the birth of her daughter. Having to take a break proved to be extremely difficult for Bowers, an ambitious and talented student, and persevering to graduate as a single mother, while working full-time, is a triumph.
“I didn’t intend to get pregnant,” she said. “But after I did, I was really excited. I wanted to have the opportunity to do motherhood my way and see what that was like. I did not anticipate the challenges because you don’t know until you are a parent. I have learned a lot, and becoming a parent has made me a better person.”
Bowers’ story starts in her hometown of Normandy, Missouri. Academically driven, she participated in dual-enrollment courses as a high school junior and senior, the UMSL Bridge Program and Gateway to College through St. Louis Community College – Florissant Valley.
At Gateway, she developed an interest in criminology and criminal justice and politics, taking criminology and juvenile justice courses with Wesley Bell, the current prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County.
“I decided, OK, this will be a good major for me,” Bowers said. “I wanted to be a defense attorney. I’d wanted that for years.”
Bowers developed a six-year plan: she’d spend three years in undergrad and then matriculate into law school. So she started looking around for colleges that would help her achieve her ambitions and, with the help of her school’s college adviser, Mivon C. Green, found UMSL, the CCJ program and the Honors College.
Because of Gateway, Bowers knew a lot about being a college student. She didn’t have a hard time adjusting to the increased workload but found the open schedule different at first.
She decided to create structure in her life by getting involved and joined some friends in signing up for cheerleading, which led to finding out about a residential advisor position. She also completed a work-study; worked in for the Triton Telefund, raising more than $11,000 for university scholarships; and as the university’s first CCJ supplemental instructor.
All of those roles required Bowers to develop new skills, but the SI job stands out in her mind. Getting recruited for the position meant she’d not only stood out as academically strong to her instructors but also that they thought well of her.
“It definitely helped me sharpen my presentation skills and my planning skills because Jenna Alexander, who runs the SI program, was a great supervisor,” Bowers said. “She’s always helpful, but she also had expectations. It took a lot of creative energy to develop those lesson plans.”
Through that experience, as well as being an RA, Bowers developed strong leadership skills – an asset but also a point of anxiety for her.
“I always find myself in leadership positions in everything that I do,” she said. “I was always the boss, so I was hardly ever the friend. I struggled to foster those friendships and relationships with people. It was definitely challenging for me that way.
“I feel that, since then, I’ve been able to grow from that and figure out a balance between, ‘OK, this is my personal life, my personal relationship. And these are my professional leadership relationships.’ I can have the best of both worlds. I didn’t realize how many people were in my network.”
The relationships she’d built with family, friends and faculty became even more important in the spring of 2020 when Bowers gave birth to her daughter. Going through school with a baby would have been challenging under any circumstances, but the coronavirus pandemic and a full-time position with Target’s management internship program compounded the difficulty.
Though most of her professors understood what she was going through, Bowers struggled.
“It was awful,” she said. “I went through a breakup, and being postpartum, I had all the things that come along with that. Here I am registered for Love 101. I know I’m oversharing. But this is my truth. It was tough, and I was just sad.”
Enrolled in five courses, Bowers finished two and took delayed grades in the others. But the realities of her Target job, which demanded day-long shifts, combined with everything else kept her scraped thin.
Daycare and babysitting assistance from her parents helped, but it wasn’t enough. Bowers needed a break from school.
“It haunted me every single day,” she said. “I’ve always been an excellent student. I would tell myself, ‘I’m going to do this work,’ but I could not will myself to do it. I just couldn’t do it. I was tapped out.
“I felt really bad that I hadn’t finished college. I labeled myself as a dropout. I was not kind to myself at that time.”
In March, Bowers told her supervisor that she needed some time off and flew to Hawaii with her daughter and brother to visit an aunt. The freedom and relief Bowers had on that trip felt great. She was happy, and that made her understand how unhappy she was with her current situation.
When they returned to St. Louis, Bowers put in her notice and re-enrolled at UMSL.
“I don’t need to tolerate this; there will be another job,” she said. “I was living to work, and I felt like I wasn’t able to enjoy my life or be there for my daughter. I couldn’t continue like that. I needed to reprioritize. I needed to finish my degree so other opportunities could open up to me.”
Bowers caught up on her delayed grades, knocked out three classes during the summer and worked on her capstone, determined not to have to wait another year to finish. That paid off this month when Bowers graduated with her bachelor’s degree.
That time off to focus on herself paid off in another way as well. Earlier this year, James Moyamba, a contact from Beyond Housing’s Vikings Advantage, a program that supports high school students through their transitions throughout collge, reached out and let her know that the Missouri College Advising Corps was hiring for a position in Normandy. Bowers took the job and is now a college adviser, stationed in the same high school she attended.
Though Bowers is in a very different place than where she started school, it’s a good spot to be in. Maybe she’ll go to law school eventually but, for the moment, she’s happy living her life with her family and exploring different options.
Bowers is grateful for the scholarships that helped pay for her education and the people who helped her along the way: Andrea Cox, a former coach in Multicultural Student Services; Associate Professor Terrance Taylor; Teaching Professor Tim Maher; Honors College Associate Teaching Professor Ann Torrusio; Manager of Annual Giving James Bragado; Alexander and others.
“When I was in high school, I had a six-year plan, and I can’t plan that far ahead,” Bowers said. “I can’t say for sure what my future looks like. But I know right now, I’m where I’m supposed to be. I really enjoy working with my students. Maybe I’ll have a career in education. Maybe I’ll go back to school for counseling to become a licensed professional counselor, but I’m not sure yet. I felt like this was my opportunity to give back. I am very passionate about helping others.”
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