Overcoming Adversity to Succeed

February 20, 2024 - Tachana Baker-Cotton

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 This is the first in a series of guest blog posts by online students. We hope you’ll be able to get a sense of the diversity of experiences online students encounter at The University of New Mexico.

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My name is Tachana Baker-Cotton, and I am a 29-year-old senior attending UNM. I will be graduating with my bachelor’s degree in Community Health Education in the Fall of 2024. In 2019, I decided to go back to school and get an associate degree at CNM. At the time, I did not know what I wanted a degree in. My major went from business to therapy and then to nutritionist. I worried about my ever-changing degree, but it was well worth it as I was taking time to explore what path would be right for me. Ultimately, I received my associate degree in general studies.

The transition from CNM to UNM was seamless as the counselors helped me transfer my credits over. My decision to continue on to a bachelor’s degree was very difficult. I was struggling with social anxiety and the fear of still not knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life. At the time, all I knew was I wanted to help people.

Because of how much therapy, social work, and community support have helped me, I decided to get my degree in Community Health Education. I chose to obtain my degree online as it allowed me to balance school, work, and social life.

Learning to Become an Online Learner

When I began my first semester, I looked over my class syllabuses and felt overwhelmed, thinking, “How could I possibly juggle full-time school and work?”

Though it was challenging, I developed strategies to face these challenges. I thought to myself, “What is my top priority?” My degree and future career are what I value the most, so school and homework came first. I have an agenda where every Sunday night, I write down each class and its corresponding homework. This way I go into the week knowing what is expected of me and when it is due.

Physically writing down assignments and due dates has reduced my anxiety and stress tremendously, as I can see and predict how my week will go. It also reminds me that I am responsible for reading the textbook and having my homework and tests turned in on time.

The Experience was Enjoyable

I have had a very positive and enjoyable experience learning online. As the weeks and semesters passed, I became more comfortable with school and naturally developed a routine for homework and going to work.

Assignments were simple to understand and there was plenty of time for me to read my lessons and get the homework done. Discussion boards would allow me to talk to my classmates and make me feel like I belong, and that we are all in this together. While semester projects were the most difficult assignments, they have also given me the most pride and joy.

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My greatest accomplishment so far is my HIV Status Awareness and Action Program Proposal. I wanted to focus specifically on POC and LGBT as they are disproportionately affected as a result of racism, homophobia, and other disparities. I researched data and had a mock collaboration with a local HIV prevention group to aid in my Proposal. After creating goals and objectives, I detailed out a plan on how to implement my intervention. Also provided charts and timelines, as well as an evaluation plan for future improvements of my program. These projects, where I put what I have learned into program plans, have been exciting and fun, and I cannot wait to put my knowledge and skills into real-world applications.

On occasion, there were classes where assignments were difficult for me to understand. I have also had group projects that would be tough to accomplish as each member had their own life. If I ever felt like I needed help, my teachers would always be there to assist.

Support, Feedback, and Community

I enjoy using UNM Canvas as it is a convenient way to contact my instructors and complete homework assignments through detailed weekly modules. Within each week’s module, professors will have an overview of what we are learning, accompanied by videos, readings, and even external additional resources available to us.

Projects where I put what I have learned into program plans, have been exciting and fun, and I cannot wait to put my knowledge and skills into real-world applications.

Something I loved about my classes was even though they were online, I still felt a sense of community. My professors throughout the semesters were the same, and many of the students were familiar faces. I appreciated when professors would give me feedback on assignments, so I could improve them before their due date. Student discussions were friendly and respectful, and this made for a more pleasant experience as I did my assignments.

Looking Back to Stay Motivated

There have been times when my personal life became so difficult that I thought I would not make it to finish my degree. I have struggled with anxiety for years. It has deterred me from going to school and made me lose purpose.

On top of that, I had problems in my family including my brother becoming homeless. I was under an immense amount of stress wanting to help my brother, but also, I worried about falling behind in my classes.

What gave me the will to fight through these circumstances was to look back at my life and what I had accomplished. I was once homeless, and the younger me would be so proud of where I am now. In this present moment, I am working hard so that in the future I can yet again look back and be grateful that I went to college. I hope that through this bachelor's degree, I can help my brother and everyone in my community so that they can get the resources and support they need just like I did when I was homeless.

If I Knew Then What I Know Now

If I could go back and talk to myself about that first semester, I would say to not overthink and become stressed. I now take every semester week by week and put my mental health first. This means practicing gratitude for the things in my life and accepting that I cannot be a perfect student.

I forgive myself whenever there are times when I feel like I could have done more on an assignment, and I celebrate my accomplishments, both big and small. I do not try to finish all my homework in one day, and I make sure to find time away from school by having fun with friends and family. I also take breaks from my homework and recharge by getting out of the house and participating in some of my favorite hobbies like hiking and skateboarding.

Looking back at the assignments and challenges I faced has shown me that anyone can overcome tough obstacles if they work hard at it. All of the past stress and anxiety I had was just the fear of the unknown and what would play out in my future. Through my Community Health degree not only have I passed my classes, but I have learned to be a more thoughtful, empathetic, and compassionate person. I’ve accomplished more than I ever thought I could, and I am motivated and excited to make a change in my community.

If you are an online student with UNM and would like to share your experiences, please contact Rick Robb at online@unm.edu.

If you’re interested in finding out more about online classes with The University of New Mexico, you can request information here.

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