Amarillo student triumphs over hurdles to succeed in education 

July 1, 2010

AMARILLO – Past failures need not dictate a student’s future. Just ask Stephanie Morrow.

A native of Amarillo, Morrow struggled for her entire high school career with one looming test: the TAAS math portion. A mental block and the stress of the important exam meant try after try with no avail.

Years later, however, she’s a senior at Wayland Baptist University’s Amarillo campus, where she’s excelling in her coursework and loving school for the first time in a long time.

“I made it through a lot and am proud of myself for making it this far,” she said. But getting to where she is now has meant a journey through a lot of pain and perseverance.

When it came time for Morrow to graduate from Amarillo High School in 1996, she still had not passed the TAAS math test. She received a certificate of completion and moved on with efforts to pick up that final piece of the puzzle. After a few tutorial courses, she took the test again in 1999 and failed once more.

Heartbroken, Morrow said she was sure she’d never pass and entered the work world, destined never to be part of the college scene. After a few years, she went to work for the Texas Department of Transportation and saw many possibilities for future advancement. Education, she knew, would be a key component to that climb. But she had an infant son Peyton (now four) and wondered if she could handle the juggling act of mother, student and full-time employee.

“As he got older, I realized that if I wanted him to get a college education, then I needed one myself,” she said.

Morrow learned of a special state program that pays for education and applied to receive the grants. Finally, in early 2007, she was accepted and began planning for college.

“I just figured with as many more years as I have, and the fact that I love it here and want to move up, it was time to go back to school,” she recalled.

Spurred by the testimonies of coworkers who had earned degrees through Wayland’s Amarillo campus, Morrow decided to check into the non-traditional location that afforded her the chance to maintain her full-time job and take classes in the evenings. She visited with an academic advisor, felt the fit was right, applied and enrolled in the next session. Then she hit a snag.

As academic advisor Cindy Perez recalls, Morrow needed to produce a high school diploma or GED since she did not have any college credit hours. Only problem was, she didn’t have one.

“She was heartbroken and in tears. I had to drop her administratively,” Perez recalls.

Morrow contacted Amarillo I.S.D. about her options and was told she could pursue the GED or take the math test again and try to pass. She wanted that diploma, so the test was the natural route.

In four weeks, she sat for the ninth time to tackle TAAS math. This time, she was more focused, less stressed and more mature. And she passed. The diploma came shortly and she marched back into WBU Amarillo and completed the enrollment process for the summer term starting in May.

Since then, Morrow has not missed a term at Wayland, taking two or three classes each 11-week session and even making the Dean’s List this last spring term for the first time in her life. She’s already passed intermediate and college algebra with WBU, crediting very good teachers who were patient and encouraging.

At the current rate, Morrow will graduate in the summer of 2011 with a Bachelor of Applied Science in management. She’s already thinking seriously about the MBA with Wayland immediately afterward, setting herself up for more future career success.

Morrow has been with TXDOT for eight years, now as office manager for the special jobs department for the district, which handles heavy equipment needs for highway maintenance jobs. The district covers 18 counties and has 400 employees. But she’s got her eye on leadership roles and knows her education – and her newfound confidence – will help her get there.

She said her Wayland experience has been critical to both.

“The classes and the faculty have been nothing but great. They’re so understanding when things come up. They realize that life happens and it’s part of it. They find a way to help you out when things do happen,” she said, noting that from the start she appreciated the fact that WBU faculty members are many times full-time employees in their teaching field, bringing valuable real-world experience to the table.

Morrow credits husband Eddie Smith, her mother and a work friend for encouraging her and supporting her dreams as she pressed on despite the challenges.

“My best friend here at the office tells me that I’ll always run into hurdles in life, and I just have to jump over them,” she said.