Nickaylynn Barner suspected that psychology would someday play a role in her career. Someday just got a whole lot closer.
"I remember doing a Google search to ask, 'What can you do with a degree in psychology?'" she said. "I saw an ad come up for forensic psychology. I thought, 'That's weird. I've never heard of that.' When I clicked on it and read about it, the description said it was a mixture of psychology and criminal justice. That was my aha moment."
Barner graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology from A-State's online program in May 2018 after completing an associate degree in psychology program. The single mother of two daughters -- Laniya (14) and Lanecia (11) -- is the first child and grandchild in her family to earn a college degree.
"It's a big deal," she said. "Everybody was excited. I ultimately want to do forensic psychology like they do on Criminal Minds and CSI. I love watching those shows. I took a lot of criminal classes with this degree, which gave me a lot of background and an in-depth look into the law enforcement system and how it works."
Barner is currently a medical assistant at Cy-Fair Medical Partners in Houston, but she hopes to start her new career in the near future.
"I want to be hands-on in forensic psychology," she said. "I've been looking into it. They have posted a couple of positions that I am interested in at a forensics center in Houston. One is a forensics tech. They want you to have a bachelor's in criminology or criminal justice or anything of that ilk. I definitely think the degree will create opportunities for me. I can't wait. I'm excited."
Barner initially enrolled in college in her hometown as a psychology major at the University of Memphis, although she didn't know which career path to take with the degree.
She said, "My dad [Leonard] asked if I was planning on getting my master's or my doctorate in psychology. I said, 'No. Why?' He said, 'Unless you're planning on getting at least a master's degree, there's not much you can do with your degree.'"
Looking for a new field of study, Barner left the psychology program and enrolled at Remington College to chart a course in the medical field.
"Even though I stopped going for psychology years ago, something in the back of my head kept telling me to go back to psychology," she said. "I didn't know about criminology at all."
While maintaining a full-time job and raising two daughters, Barner graduated with an associate degree in psychology from Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis in 2016. She moved to Houston the following year and began working for Cy-Fair. But before moving to Texas, she learned about A-State online from some of her coworkers who were earning nursing degrees at the university.
"Once I talked to the nurses and they were telling me about doing their classes online, I looked into Arkansas State," she said. "Online was the only way I could do it. I also learn better online as opposed to sitting in a classroom. I liked the flexibility of the online classes. It worked perfectly."
That flexibility was necessary for Barner since she moved from Memphis to Houston while in the program. She was glad to have so much cooperation from the faculty and staff members at A-State.
"Everybody was pretty helpful," she said. "If I had a question, they emailed me back. It made it easier for me. I enjoyed the program."
Barner's favorite course in the online BA in Criminology curriculum was CRIM 4243: Social Justice.
"I liked that course because it touched on today's topics," she said. "We did a lot of discussion and research on current topics. We had to apply whatever topic we were going over in class to the world today. With the discussions, we got to see everybody's viewpoints and how they interpret things. I really enjoyed that class."
Red Wolf for Life
Now that Barner is a graduate, she is an unofficial recruiter for A-State.
"I always try to encourage people now to get into the online program, period," she said. "Even if it's not for criminology, just go to Arkansas State because the program is seamless. It's not something where you have to put your life on hold in order to go to school. It's very convenient with online classes. A-State's tuition is also very reasonable."
Of course, Barner hopes her higher education accomplishments will motivate her daughters to follow her lead and earn college degrees, too.
"Even at an early age, I have always pushed education with them," she said. "They have pretty much come along for the ride with me going through college. Sometimes I had to tell them, 'Okay, I have a test coming up. Don't come in here. Don't bother me.' They have been really good and understanding. They were really proud of me, of course."
That pride peaked on graduation day when Barner made her first trip to Jonesboro to walk the stage and receive her degree with her daughters cheering her on.
"Graduation was really fun," she said. "The campus was so pretty. I had to go to the bookstore and get some A-State memorabilia. I had a lot of family there. Most of my family still lives in Memphis and Mississippi, so it was not a long drive. My oldest daughter said, 'Mom, I think I'm going to go here when I go to college.' I said, 'Oh, you're going to make me cry.'"
Learn more about the A-State online BA in Criminology program.