Chance meeting inspires friendship, bachelor’s degrees

Posted on: June 21, 2013

For Doreen Bridges and Tomeka Blanks, History 1301 was a serendipitous choice. After a chance meeting in the class, the two students forged a bond that lasted through two schools, four years and countless hours studying.

Despite different circumstances – Blanks came to College of the Mainland after dropping out of high school and later earning her GED and Bridges after years of raising children –they were united in a determination to succeed in education. And that was enough.
 
“The odds were against us. We’re the people you read about in the textbooks,” said Blanks. “We had to keep telling each other, ‘We can do this, there’s a purpose in this.’”
 
At times kept from career advancement while working for a curriculum company by her lack of a degree, Bridges resolved to return to school. For Blanks, a divorce necessitated a career change after working nearly ten years in fast food service and eventually rising to management.  
 
“I have to do something that lets me be home with my kids,” said Blanks. “When I’m all they have, I need to be here so I can teach them and raise them.”
 
For both, education held the promise of a new life. After meeting, they arranged to have as many of the same classes as possible and created their own support system.

“We’d pick each other up and give pep talks,” remembered Bridges.

Besides each other, they also found support in staff at COM. Advisor Theo Moody introduced them to the program College Connection, which guided them through transferring to a university after graduation with coaching and group visits to four-year schools. Moody also hand-delivered Blanks’ application to the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
 
“He was the best,” said Blanks. “I have to say that COM prepared me to make that transition.”
 
Bridges also discovered a go-to person in advisor Robert Arenas, who had been her son’s third-grade teacher. He encouraged her through many challenges, especially algebra.
 
“I felt like college algebra was an evil stepmother,” said Bridges. “I had to take it twice. He said there are people who dropped out of school because of that (class), and I said, ‘That will not be me.’ He was a constant encouragement.”
 
Originally planning to pursue education majors, Bridges and Blanks charted new paths at COM. Blanks’ aha moment came during a Psychology for Success class, a course that uses discussions, skits and journals to introduce students to the habits and thought patterns needed to succeed in college.
 
“That was when I knew I was pursuing the wrong degree,” Blanks said. “It taught you a lot about yourself.”
 
The statement, “Thoughts produce behaviors,” leaped off the page.
 
“I’ve always been interested with how people think. I thought, ‘I need to go into psychology,’” Blanks said.
 
Bridges’ change of plan came after she shared her goals with Moody, who helped her map out a career path. He suggested a psychology major, which would allow her to work as an advisor while completing the master’s degree needed to reach her ultimate goal of becoming a school counselor.
 
“I really want to help students get in class and stay in class,” she said.
 
Both students were accepted to UHCL to study psychology and continued their trend of taking as many courses as possible together.

“We had each other,” Bridges said. “We were both striving perfectionists. We had to tell each other a B is not failure.”
 
They also threw themselves into campus life. Bridges became Student Government Association vice president while Blanks, encouraged by Bridges to get involved in a committee, strove to revitalize the Black Student Association. She eventually became its president and spearheaded a highly successful project—a day of free, onsite HIV testing—to help combat a common issue African-Americans face.  
 
Now armed with bachelor’s degrees from UHCL, both feel their efforts have paid off despite the challenges. Blanks has seen her attitude toward education mirrored in her four children.
 
“It’s great being on a journey while having them,” she reflected. “My daughter watched me (study), and her study habits improved. When I graduated from COM, we had a church service honoring graduates, and my son walked me down the aisle. He said, ‘Mom, I want to graduate.’”
 
Now armed with bachelor’s degrees, both are ready for the next step in their educational journeys—both have been accepted into master’s programs in psychology at UHCL.
 
“We made it this far, and I’m glad,” said Blanks. “If I had to do it all over again, I would do the same thing.”

Tomeka Blanks, left, and Doreen Bridges graduated from UHCL the same day.


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