Jan Emory, left, presents a framed diploma June 27 to Star Lowrey-LaGrone, pictured with her husband, Toby, and children, Atlas and Aspen, at her Fort Smith home.
The Lowrey-LaGrone star held her newborn baby on one hip and her toddler on the other hip as a photographer documented a graduation event next to U of A’s RazorBug on June 27. She earned her Masters in Nursing by studying online.
The Lowrey-LaGrone home in Fort Smith was the first stop on the River Valley leg of the RazorBug Diploma Tour this summer. The tour celebrates student success in online degree programs.
Jan Emory, associate professor of nursing at the U of A’s Eleanor Mann School of Nursing, came from her home in Oklahoma to present the Lowrey-LaGrone framed degree. Toby LaGrone stood by his wife for the photos, just as he supported her while she took online classes, cared for their growing family and taught health classes at Western Arkansas Technical Center and in the Allied Health Program at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.
Baby Atlas was born five days into spring at the U of A, but his impending birth didn’t stop Lowrey-LaGrone from marching to graduation. Maybe it’s because Aspen, who will be 2 in a few weeks, is keeping her mom on her toes.
“I was determined to do this,” Lowrey-LaGrone said of attending the graduation ceremony. “When I started nursing school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but nursing education is a perfect fit for me. I have two bachelor’s degrees and five minors. my life. I love being a student and a teacher.”
However, she plans to take a sabbatical year before starting her doctorate.
U of A faculty and staff have traveled to southern Arkansas and the River Valley for the past two weeks as part of the RazorBug Graduation Tour to present diplomas to select recent graduates who have earned degrees in online programs. The RazorBug is a converted red Volkswagen Beetle that sports a Razorback muzzle, tail, and sharp spine. It has been used for recruitment and special events since 2005.
Lowrey-LaGrone was a first-generation student – sort of, for a little while anyway. Her most recent degree is her master’s degree in nursing, which she earned while studying online, but when she got her bachelor’s degree, she started a semester before her mother also started a bachelor’s degree. Now, Lowrey-LaGrone and her mother both have master’s degrees in nursing and teaching, respectively.
“We got our bachelor’s degrees at the same time and then we got our master’s degrees at the same time,” she said. “We were first generation together.”
More than 440 students who studied in online degree programs applied for their degrees at the U of A in May. Lowrey-LaGrone cited the connection when asked what she considers important in an online degree program.
“It’s important to find a program that you’ll be comfortable with, where there’s a lot of support from the faculty,” she said. “It’s important to do a lot of research beforehand, and it’s important to have that connection.”
Studying online was essential for her so she could effectively manage her time between school, work and family, she said. Arrangements for clinical hours were a little difficult, she said, both because of COVID-19 and the fact that there is a college of osteopathic medicine in Fort Smith with students who also need clinical hours.
“I had a lot to do with babies and teaching, and we also had two high school exchange students from abroad,” she said. “Life can be crazy, but you can do it.”
The RazorBug Diploma Tour was hosted by U of A’s Global Campus. Global Campus works with university colleges to offer more than 75 online degree, certificate, micro-certificate, and bachelor’s degree programs. For more information about U of A ONLINE, please visit online.uark.edu.