By Claire Miller
In Tyra Pickens’ household, education is a top priority.
She played educational games with her two sons and read to them often when they were little. By the time they were old enough to start school, they were ready to expand on the foundation of knowledge she’d helped them build.
“When I saw the difference I could make in my sons’ lives,” she said, “I thought I’d found something I could pursue. There’s an intrinsic reward you get when you see them with that first inkling of understanding. I contributed to their learning and their desire to learn.”
She also gained teaching experience while serving in the U.S. Navy. She volunteered with the Adopt-A-School program and worked with kids on their basic math and reading skills.
These experiences made it clear she should pursue a teaching career, and Pickens started taking night classes at a community college in Norfolk, Va., to fulfill t hat dream. But when her younger son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, she put her education on hold.
“When my special needs son began elementary school and had difficulties transitioning and socializing due to his Asperger’s, I found myself going to all of the field trips and spending lots of time in his classroom,” she said. “In my efforts to help with his acclimation, I developed relationships with his peers and felt even more strongly that I was destined to become a teacher.”
It was only when her children were close to starting college themselves, and her younger son received the support he needed from his high school teachers, that she considered going back to school to earn her degree.
Now, Pickens is on track to graduate in December 2014 with a degree in interdisciplinary studies from the College of Education, making her the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree. She speaks animatedly about the coursework, her professors and particularly her time student teaching in elementary school classrooms.
She also has her sons’ support every step of the way, one of the most important parts of returning to school.
“I want to leave a legacy for my children and the children I teach. I’m going to reach for the stars, and if I land on the moon, I’m doing okay,” she said. “This is my season. This is my time.”
Pickens also hopes others considering going back to school decide to make their education, and their larger life goals, a priority.
“Often we get so caught up in making our children, spouses, church and communities a priority, we become comfortable putting our dreams on t he back burner,” she said.
“lf you want to make education a priority, set boundaries with friends and family members, ask for their support and manage your time. I’m turning 47 this year and I’m a prime example of ‘it’s never too late.’”
This article is part of Generation Georgia State, a series that highlights the academic, personal and career accomplishments of Georgia State students, alumni, faculty and staff who are the first in their families to attend college.
Portraits by staff photographer Steve Thackston.