Former homeless veteran, mother of 6 to become UA-Little Rock first-generation graduate

A first-generation student at UA-Little Rock, LaKendra Mackey, is working every day to succeed for herself, her 6 kids, and other students like her.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 22.6% of Arkansas adults have a 4-year college degree. For many students who want to go to college, without having parents or family members that have had the experience, it can make things even more challenging. That’s why UA-Little Rock is celebrating first-generation students this month with a new campaign.

A first-generation student at UA-Little Rock, LaKendra Mackey, is working every day to succeed for herself, her 6 kids, and other students like her.

“I want my kids to know that it doesn’t matter what stage you are in life, you can complete anything you put your mind to,” she said.

A veteran who faced homelessness and other life obstacles, Mackey’s life was changed by people who believed in her even when she didn’t believe in herself.

“I found myself in having obstacles that I couldn’t overcome and even though I had family and friends that were there for me, I wasn’t able to see it in myself,” she said. “I had social workers that basically were able to shine a light on me and tell me I can do this.”

Wanting to pay it forward, she’s now a social work major graduating this year. She’s one of the 41 percent of students at UA-Little Rock who is a first-generation student. She’s one of the many being honored by the university’s new #FirstGenTrojan campaign highlighting past and current first-gen students.

Desarae Nelson, TRIO Director at UA-Little Rock, said the university offers numerous resources to help first-gen students succeed. She’s hoping the campaign will spread the word that people are here to help.

“As a first-gen student, you can feel like you’re isolated, out on your own, and you don’t know what you’re doing just trying to find way through it,” she said. “Having the campus campaign, it shows them they are not the first first-gen student; they have a community on campus to help them adjust and be successful.”

She said the university is committed to helping students who may not know where to go or who to ask for help.

“We have to meet students where they are and a lot of times, we ask them to reach out and let us know what they are needing but with first-gen they may not know what to ask or what they need even though they do need it,” said Nelson.

Mackey is hoping the campaign will help students know they are not alone and that their dreams are within reach.

“I hope that it uplifts people that need to embrace themselves and that want to go to college but are nervous or think they are too old,” she said. “I thought I was too old but here I am making A’s on the chancellors list and anyone can do it.”

Students can participate by posting their story on social media with the hashtag #FirstGenTrojan and tagging the university’s official page. For more information about how the university is supporting students, visit here