By Leah Jones, Features Editor

 

Donna Vickers, senior, sociology, with a minor in nonprofit administration, and her daughter, Ashlie Vickers, senior, business administration in supply chain and analytics, know that there is always room for improvement, and both have worked tirelessly to improve themselves, their communities, the processes at their jobs, and even boom boxes. The mother-daughter team will both celebrate their achievements and graduate together this upcoming May.

Their graduation comes during an exciting year in both of their lives. “She’s turning 30 this year, which is a big milestone. I’m turning 50, which is a big milestone, so it’s kind of a big year,” Donna said. “We are celebrating!”

The two began attending UMSL at different times, and Ashlie attends school part-time around her full-time job, so the two did not know that their graduations would coincide until recently. While both expressed excitement, Ashlie was a little more cautious with her enthusiasm at first. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” she said. “[I was concerned that] we were going to miss each others’ graduation.”

Self-described as a servant at heart, Donna has dedicated her life to helping to improve both health and social problems in the community around her. Donna previously worked as a nurse, though she found time around her busy life of as a nurse, mother, and wife to become an ordained minister, to create and bottle her own all-purpose seasoning, to start a business called Simply Cooking With Donna around her cooking products, to self-publish a cookbook entitled “Meals Seasoned With Love,” and to found Donna’s Restoration Diner and Community Outreach Center (DRDCOC). She continues to serve as the organization’s executive director. “We serve the underserved in the community,” she said, citing some of the organizations charitable activities, such as doing back-to-school giveaways, adopting families at the holidays, providing meals for families on Thanksgiving, participating in Toys for Tots, and running a clothing closet to provide people in need with free clothes.

The website for DRDCOC states that the organization’s mission is not only to meet the basic needs of the underprivileged in St. Louis but also to “restore love, hope, dignity, responsibility and the desire to dream and achieve such dreams by teaching immediate and long-term life skills that will ultimately improve their situation,” and to provide nonjudgmental services, regardless of race, creed, religion, and gender.

“My long-term goals for that is to actually have a complete center up and operating where we can serve those who are hungry for free in an actual restaurant-type setting,” Donna said. While the meals will be judgement-free, since the meals will be made with Donna’s all-purpose seasoning, they will also be free of additives and MSG and contain little sodium.

Even with all of these accomplishments, Donna was not finished. She returned to school in 2014 to pursue her BA in sociology with a minor in nonprofit administration. “I became ill. I was disabled, and so then the wheels start[ed] turning about what to do next, and this was part of my ‘what-to-do-next,’” Donna said.

While Donna hopes that her minor in nonprofit administration will help her to reach her ultimate goals for DRDCOC, her decision to pursue sociology was inspired by another great servant: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Donna visited a museum while on a trip to Atlanta. “They had [an exhibit] for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and they had all of his accomplishments [listed], and I just looked down at the little metal plate that was next to [the exhibit] and it said he received a degree in sociology, and I said, ‘Oh, okay, that’s what I will get my degree in,’ and now I’m here,” Donna laughed.

Donna sees her degrees working together to help her more effectively serve her community and those around her. “I enjoy the ability to serve,” she said. “That’s who I am. … I like both aspects [of my degree]. The sociology helps me to serve by understanding people, and then the nonprofit allows me to be hands-on, and I’m really a hands-on [person] … but I want to understand the people, so the two [degrees] merge together with my ability to cook and … those things … brewed up to the perfect storm.”

Like her mother, Ashlie also works to improve things, has excelled in all of her pursuits, and has worked hard to achieve her goals even before coming to UMSL. Ashlie works as a buyer at PLZ Aeroscience, a large aerosol manufacturer in Pacific, Mo., but she said that she knew that she would need to get a degree to further advance to director, vice president, or COO level in her career. “After doing really well at work, I decided that I needed to go back and get a degree so that I could really get where I wanted to go,” she said.

UMSL’s Supply Chain and Analytics homepage cites supply chain and analytics as the most recommended major by payscale.com. “The degree gives you the knowledge of understanding different system different the theory behind supply chain, so it gives you that knowledge base,” Ashlie said.

“I am not just very numbers focused but increased productivity focused, and I like efficiencies. I like to see people do better at whatever the task is at hand. So that is why supply chain fits me. “There are so many opportunities in supply chain that you can make a difference for the company, whether it’s increasing sales or it’s increasing productivity on the bottom line, but just increasing processes,” Ashlie explained. “I’ve always been able to take something and say ‘Okay, how can I make this better?’ so supply chain fits.”

Donna corroborated that Ashlie has always worked to improve things. Donna said that when Ashlie was about 12 years old, she and her husband bought Ashlie a boom box. While the boom box played music, it was not capable of recording people singing; that is, until Ashlie got a hold of it. “I still don’t know what I did to this day,” Ashlie laughed. “It was a new item at that point!”

While Ashlie has always been good at rearranging things to make them work more efficiently, she, like her mother, also hopes to give back to her community. “People don’t understand what supply chain and analytics is,” she said. “High school students have never heard of it. … So getting that degree allows me to give back that information to people.”

While both mother and daughter have excelled at everything that they have set their mind to, their journeys have not been without challenges. As someone who analyzes the effectiveness of processes and systems, Ashlie noted that there are some unique challenges for adult students. “I want to get the information that I need and I want to be able to walk out of the door and be able to apply that information. A lot of the times the teachings that you get are geared toward people who just came out of [high school], which is perfectly [fine]. … But you have this entire base of students who are now coming back as adults, and I think that’s a challenge,” Ashlie explained. “You have to start tailoring some of that [teaching] towards that student base because it is a large student base.”

Donna said that she has had minimal challenges during her time at UMSL. “I don’t see that I have had … a challenge because I have flexibility [and] I have a big support team,” she said. “It has been almost a clear shot. I just kind of went straight through it … except [for] math. But I overcame that one too!”

“The fuel for me has been first, my husband, my daughters, who have helped me tremendously along the way,” Donna continued. “Everyone has been so supportive of me going back to school. A lot of people say, ‘Well, you are already a nurse, what are you going back to school for?’ and sometimes, it used to throw me back, [and I would ask] ‘Why am I going back to school?’ But I had to pull the whole thing together. … My biggest push [has been] proving to myself that I can still do it. It’s not too late. I always wanted the campus experience. I went to college, but it wasn’t a campus experience and I wanted that to be a part of my history.”

While the duo never had any classes together, both agreed that the help and support that they gave each other throughout their time at UMSL brought them closer together. “I believe it has definitely strengthened our relationship,” Donna said. “It’s just good [to have] the reassurance and the reminders, [about] ‘Hey did you do this? Did you fill out your FAFSA?’”

Ashlie explained, “It’s another connection. It’s something else that we can talk about with each other, but we’re talking about it from the same viewpoint. We’re both students.”

“I’m very protective of my mama now,” Ashlie continued. “Now it is like, if something is not going right with her at school, I am like, ‘What happened? What do I need to do? Who do I need to talk to?’”

“I’m still the mom!” Donna laughed.

While Ashlie had originally feared that their graduations may fall on the same day, her graduation will fall on Mother’s Day, and her mother’s graduation will take place the next day. After their family comes into town to celebrate their big year, the mother-daughter duo have planned a vacation to Dubai and Egypt. Donna chose Dubai, while Ashlie cited her childhood fascination with King Tut as her reason for choosing Egypt.

“That’s our graduation present,” Ashlie said. “That’s the good thing about being in school as an adult. You can really celebrate. You have the money to celebrate.”

While both women persevered to improve their own lives and the world around them, they both also encouraged others to do the same, despite difficulties and obstacles.

“It’s never too late, it doesn’t matter how long it takes you. It’s your own education,” Ashlie said. “The four years doesn’t fit everybody. Going right after high school doesn’t fit everybody. It’s whatever works for you, and don’t let anything stop you from going. Don’t let it be norms or standards that stop you from doing what you want to do.”

Donna concurred with her daughter. “In my case, it was an illness, and I knew a lot of people who just gave up, and they just don’t push forward. Especially as we get older … illnesses do happen and people will … say, ‘Well, I’m done.’ Well, you should never be done learning. You should die learning. It’s an attribute that we should all cherish: the ability to learn and the ability to give back. I think those are the most important things.”