Newman student TaTy’Terria “TaTy” Gary has been attending college visits since she was 12 years old.
As a seventh-grader, TaTy participated in AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), which was the first of many years during which she would learn about and increasingly become interested in a higher education journey.
Little did she know, five years later she would be chosen by the New York Times to be interviewed for a feature story about searching for a college and all that the process entails.
In the beginning
TaTy was one of three students the New York Times chose from two separate Topeka High School AVID classes to follow during their search for a college.
She said the experience with the newspaper and its author, Anemona Hartocollis, was and continues to be a positive one. She checks in monthly with the article’s author and has received nearly 80 emails filled with encouragement sent from readers.
The monthly communication is simply a way for TaTy to keep them updated on how her classes are going and how her college career is progressing in general, she said.
TaTy said she wasn’t sure what to expect when she was chosen for the article, but that she is happy to have participated and hopes it will help other students who are going through their higher education search.
“The two college visits they followed me on was at Wichita State University and Newman. It was fine because it wasn’t so much a huge crew, just one photographer and Anemona (the author). They hung behind. She was just there asking questions, and my mom was there and it felt really normal, almost like having a second parent there.
“Me personally, I wasn’t expecting the article to be such a big deal. I just thought, ‘OK, this lady is coming to follow me and talk to me, and then it’ll be over,’ but there were people sending emails and words of encouragement and blessings. Messages like, ‘Follow your dreams’ and ‘Stay strong,’ that kind of encouraging message.”
She added that the feedback she received from both the readers and Anemona were very appreciated. TaTy explained it as having an extra set of eyes on her situation and said the extra support was nice.
“It’s really nice to have a support system. The phrase ‘It takes a village’ is true, so it’s nice to have those people saying positive things and it definitely helps keep me going.”
Quitting is not an option
“My mother didn’t raise me to quit,” TaTy said with determination. “I knew that college was something I wanted to do. For me there is no other option other than going to school, getting my degree and doing what I want to do.
She credits a variety of people in her life who have influenced her, shaped her and helped her be the woman she is today. TaTy said her mother has always been big on education and has always encouraged her to continue with higher education.
TaTy said her mother doesn’t just “talk the talk, she walks the walk. She is only a couple classes away from earning her criminal justice degree from Washburn University.”
Seeing that living example through her mother, TaTy said she wouldn’t think twice about losing sight of the opportunity that is in front of her.
“Seeing people who are less fortunate and who want to go make something out of their lives but not being able to, that is something that I don’t take for granted. All those years in AVID, it’s a college readiness course essentially, and having all those tools while seeing students not take advantage of those tools — it really makes me sad. For me, it’s a squandered opportunity.
I like viewing an opportunity and act accordingly. That’s probably one of the reasons I won’t ever drop out. I may change majors — but probably not — but I won’t drop out. So many people have given everything just so I, or other students, can be here. I refuse to waste that opportunity. That’s just me as a person, though. There are so many other people who would want to be in this position, so I want to take full advantage of what’s in front of me.
Looking to the future
TaTy said she may not be certain on the exact career she will end up in, but she is certain about what her career will entail — helping others. Currently, her major is biology with a pre-med concentration, which she would use to earn a doctorate in obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN).
Although she is considering other options such as a physician’s assistant degree and international medicine.
“I know I want to help people and I have to figure out what that looks like for me,” she explained. “I’m an advocate for women’s health so that’s why I’ve thought so much about an OB/GYN career. But I also have thought a lot about what medicine looks like in other countries, so my goal is to take some mission trips to see how I could make a difference in third-world countries.
“I know my higher education journey is an investment,” added TaTy. “It’s an investment in my future and in other people’s future because what I learn now is only going to help me make a difference for other people. For me personally, my return on investment will be seeing those results in those individuals’ lives.”
Learning from experience
Choosing Newman rather than a larger state school is something TaTy said she will never regret.
She talked about conversations she has had with her friends that are at some of those larger schools and said her Newman experience plays a big role in her success as a student.
TaTy explained that throughout high school she was an advocate for big schools and for some, that would be the better choice. However, she said for her, the smaller university was the better option for her.
“For me, I feel like for the goals I’m trying to achieve, I don’t think I would have gotten the same message that I got here from a big school. I really appreciate that they (staff and faculty) care so much. If we are struggling, if we are sick, they truly care. There are just some things you can’t teach. I could have gone to a bigger university and made waves, I know that to be true, but I feel like I would have had a little more struggle.”
She added, “Newman is a school of folks that say, ‘Here are the tools, this is a gift. Take them and do what you will.’ The big schools don’t have a Debbie (Haslam, coordinator of early intervention) or a Melody (Head, director of career services) to say, ‘I see you are struggling in this class. Let’s talk. What do you need?’
“My first semester, Debbie watched my grades, watched my improvement, and sent emails with encouraging messages,” TaTy continued. “That is something you won’t get out of a bigger university. That type of energy pushes me to do better. Just being in this environment, makes me feel like I can do it. I don’t feel like I’m drowning.”
TaTy said her biggest take away so far is the importance of connections. The importance of being connected to the community is a value she said Newman has taught her more about. She said learning to reach out to others — individuals that will help her be her best self — is something she is grateful for and practicing that skill more and more in her daily life.
“The faculty here at Newman have taught me how to listen to feedback, learn from others, and then apply it to my life. They have taught me to take what others tell me as gold, to really see what they’re telling me, and to make adjustments in my life and take those steps.
“And that is how I see all the professors at Newman — they help you be your best self. Then we just have to be willing to make sacrifices, to make changes in our lives and become that better person.”