Had Amanda Norris not gotten her oil changed that day in the summer of 2014, the conversation and its ensuing revelations that led to her attending the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith might never have happened.

She had been waiting for her oil to get changed when she struck up a conversation with another patron. Their conversation turned to college, and how Norris, who was working a low-paying job that she saw as a dead-end, would love to go back to school.

“Why don’t you?” the man asked.

Norris had plenty of reasons. She didn’t have the time, as a mother of two and a wife to a disabled husband, nor did she have the money. Not only that, but her grades in high school were lackluster.

“It just felt like a college education was such a huge thing out of my reach,” she said.

The man told Norris that he was the chancellor at UAFS, Dr. Paul Beran, and that the university was looking for students just like her that didn’t realize college was a reality.

Beran explained away each of Norris’s reasons for why she didn’t think she could attend. She could take out student loans to pay for tuition not covered by scholarships and Pell Grants. Night and online classes were available to accommodate her busy schedule. And her high school grades didn’t matter as much as she thought they did.

Norris went home after getting her oil changed and thought about what Beran said while reflecting on her life.

“I just wasn’t happy with my situation. I was living paycheck to paycheck and not even doing a good job at that,” she said. “And that day when I came home and talked to my husband, and I’m like, ‘This sounds so good, I want to check into this, what do you think?’ And he was all for it.”

Norris enrolled that fall and majored in business with the hopes of one day working in human resources. While she was intimidated by the college environment, she found common ground with other non-traditional students in her courses and bonded with them.

She also benefited from professors who helped her along the way.

“I’ve not been to one class that I thought the faculty or the professor wasn’t there to help me. Every time I’ve gotten an email or I’ve emailed somebody, everybody has been willing to meet with me and help me,” adding that the tutoring center in the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics was particularly helpful.

Returning to college opened up additional opportunities for her even before she completed her bachelor’s.

“Before, people would look at my resume and say, ‘Oh, high school education,’” she said. “But as soon as I said I was pursuing my bachelor’s degree, they started asking me more about my college experience, which opened up my interviews and gave me more time with them to talk about myself.”

Two years after starting school, Norris was hired as a secretary at Fort Smith Public Schools.

“I believe getting that job is all due to going back to college and trying to get my bachelor’s in business,” she said.

Norris, who plans on graduating in 2020, reflects back on that conversation with Beran often, and how transformational it was in her life.

“I feel like I would’ve been stuck at that same dead-end job, wanting something more but not knowing how to start,” she said. “And that’s what makes me know that I probably would’ve been at the same silly little job wanting more, but obviously not knowing what to do or where to get it.”

“You have to have that drive. You have to want it. And I knew I wanted it, and I wasn’t going to settle for anything less, because I knew I wanted to get a degree to make my family better,” she said.

For more information about educational opportunities at UAFS, visit www.uafs.edu or call 479-788-7000.