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Finding Supports When ‘Life Happens’

St. Louis Community College will celebrate commencement Saturday, May 21, at Chaifetz Arena on the campus of Saint Louis University, marking both small and monumental accomplishments for graduating students. There are as many stories as there are graduates, and with this special series, we celebrate all of our 2022 graduates with stories about five students who demonstrate in their own way what it takes to earn a degree. The third story is below; a new story will publish each day the week of May 16-20, leading up to the commencement ceremony.

Photo of Jen NewmarkWhen Jen Newmark took a campus tour as a prospective student at St. Louis Community College-Meramec, she didn’t know it would have the impact it did. 

“I was as old as some of the moms on the tour,” she said. “But had I not gone on the tour, I might not have learned about these resources until much later.” 

That was 2019, after deciding to go back to college to pursue a new career. After several years as a veterinary technician, Newmark’s “life happened.” A kidney transplant, raising a set of young twins and many other factors brought her to a crossroads. She decided to go back to school as a non-traditional student to pursue a career as a graphic designer and illustrator, after getting a small taste of doing design work at a veterinary clinic.

Newmark has maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA and will graduate with an associate degree in graphic communications at STLCC’s commencement ceremony, May 21 at 7 p.m. at Chaifetz Arena. 

Returning to College

Newmark was all-in, planning to take a full load of courses her first semester. During the campus tour, she learned about the TRIO program, as well as the campus writing center and Access office. She gives those programs much credit for her success as a student.

TRIO advisors spend a semester working with students to understand their goals and then developing plans to help them reach those goals—through advising, transfer planning, academic coaching, peer mentoring, workshops, leadership development career exploration and much more.

“It was clear to me she was a very organized, involved student and dedicated mother,” said her TRIO advisor Robert Flowers. “She came to me with a plan for her classes from semester-to-semester which was accurate for her to complete her degree and move on to her next endeavor.” 

“Jen is a first-generation college student and spent a lot of time in the TRIO lab working tirelessly on her classes,” said Sanela Mesic, interim director, TRIO programs. “As a busy mom, Jen is always carving out moments to study and complete projects.”

Flowers added that Newmark was a regular attendee at TRIO events and had conversations about her experiences to inspire other students through her “scholarly and motherly endeavors while destroying the obstacles that life inevitably throws at times you do not need the extra stress.”

Finding Support

“I didn’t always have the support that I needed, and I didn’t know what supports were out there or how to ask for it,” Newmark said about her earlier attempt at graduating college. “I had a misdiagnosed disability, and the early years of struggling after high school, it was hard. Once things were figured out and properly managed, and I had supports on and off campus, then I was able to become the student that I knew I could be and that I wanted to be.”

“Jen is very disciplined and motivated to reach her academic goals,” Mesic said. “Prior to the pandemic, Jen would be in the TRIO lab or office almost daily after classes to make sure her coursework was completed.”

Newmark said it was difficult for her to not get a degree when she first attended college. 

“Knowing where I wanted to be in life, and struggling with college previously, it was an ego blow,” she said. “It’s important for me to get this degree for my career, but also to show my children we can do hard things.”

Things did get hard. After her first year of classes at STLCC, the pandemic hit, and Newmark had to adjust her initial plan of graduating in two years. Her children were at home, going to school virtually. 
“So, I worked my fall (2020) schedule around what I could handle with them being home,” she said. 

With a reduced course load, she said, “We’re doing this and we’re going to get through this.” 

As her path changed direction, it also got longer, evolving into a three-year plan. 

“So many things happened that were out of my control and giving up that control was the hardest part for me,” Newmark said. “After making all of your lists of what I have to do and what the time frame is—that was the hardest part—saying it’s going to be three years."

Mesic said Newmark’s time was well-spent, as she left an impression on others.

Jen Newmark's graphic design work

“Jen has been such a dedicated student that she inspires all of us in TRIO, including staff and students, to work harder and do better,” Mesic said. 

“It was a joy assisting Jen in her academic achievements and I look forward to watching her walk across the stage,” Flowers said. 

Newmark describes it as both surreal and bittersweet.

“Looking back at the three years, it seems like it’s been forever, but also it goes by so fast,” she said. “It’s amazing how quickly the semesters have flown by, knowing how much work and effort and time and tears that I’ve put into this.

“I loved my time at Meramec. I have made friends, great connections, and had this wonderful opportunity to become the student I want to become and the person that I wanted to become.” 

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