Stay-at-home moms who want to return to school know the devotion it takes to be both a mother and a student. AIU graduate and 2015 Distinguished Alumni Award winner Rolanda White not only braved that path, but paved it with dedication and determination, despite encountering challenges no mom should ever face.
In 2013, she lost her 12-year-old son to suicide. A short six months later, Rolanda's husband left her and their six children. Despite coping with hard times, less than a year after her son's passing, she enrolled in AIU's Master of Business Administration degree program. "AIU helped me to focus my energy on building the new. From starting over from out of the ashes, out of the pain, came a strength I didn't realize was there," said Rolanda.
After being a stay-at-home mom for almost eight years, Rolanda returned to school to benefit herself and her children. "I knew I had to move forward. ... I had children. I had to show them that it doesn't matter what happens in your lifetime. You either decide to stay down or get up and move forward," she said. "Children will understand [when you return to school]—even if you think they won't. You'll be surprised how supportive they can be and will be."
Rolanda had already achieved her associate's degrees in criminal justice and paralegal studies and a bachelor's degree in legal studies from Keiser University, but hadn't yet been able to pursue an MBA. "When I was married, I wanted my degree, but my time was spent supporting [my husband]. I felt I needed something to show employers—that I'm employable, even though I haven't worked in years."
At AIU, she found the support she needed to earn her master's degree online. "Even though we weren't face-to-face, [the advisors and faculty] I reached out to were amazing. ... There were times I wanted to walk away since I was dealing with too much—the death of my son, my husband leaving—they provided me with encouragement. I didn't want to fail for myself or my children."
Far from failing, Rolanda was accepted into the Delta Mu Delta business honor society in 2014 and graduated with a 4.0 for her MBA with an accounting specialization in 2015.
She had a special reason for selecting the accounting specialization: to attain the knowledge needed to start a non-profit organization to honor her son. One of the not-for-profit's areas of focus will be teaching children how to manage money. "I live in an area where parents have lots of money and buy things for their kids, so the children don't know the value of money," Rolanda said. The not-for-profit will also provide scholarship opportunities to help parents on the opposite end of the pay scale. "I've been through a divorce; I know how tight money is. There was a time I wasn't able to let my children go to summer camp. I want a scholarship program for students whose parents can't afford to pay for their children to go to summer programs or participate in athletics."
In addition to building her non-profit organization, Rolanda is looking to become a child advocate. "I want to be the voice for children who don't have a voice. Children who have been abused will often talk to someone they're comfortable with."
All of these tasks on her to-do list are in addition to her full-time job as a permit technician for the city of Friendswood, Texas. While this may seem like a full plate, it doesn't to Rolanda. "'How do you find the time?' people ask. I have to find the time. I'm a person who likes to stay busy," she said. "I volunteer as much as I can and teach my children what it means to give back."
Giving to others is a staple that is rooted in Rolanda's family. "My grandma raised me, and I saw how hard she worked to support me and my sister. We didn't have much. We grew up poor, and she would make homemade food—homemade biscuits, homemade pies, homemade rolls—and she would just give them to people. I had so much respect for that."
Rolanda and her children have continued her grandma's giving legacy. They serve food to the less fortunate on Thanksgiving, donate one gift from their Christmas presents each year, and she and her three daughters volunteer at their church. "There has to be someone out there less fortunate than you," she said. "Someone could be suffering and in pain, but they still wear a smile on their face. You never know whose life you could touch."
As for the next steps in her career and life, Rolanda says, "I'll go however life takes me. I'm very faith-based. Whichever way God directs me to go, I'll go. I'll go wherever I'm needed, I just want to help."
Rolanda White is currently keeping busy studying for the CPA exam, writing a proposal to a Texas school system to help children in pain, being an AIU Mentor, and providing consulting services on accounting and bookkeeping to any individual who needs it.
Learn more about past Distinguished Alumni Award winners and AIU's online degree programs.