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Arkansas State University

A-State Academic Advisor Cindy Brawley Empowers Her Students and Family While Earning Her BSBA

When Cindy Brawley accepted her first job with Arkansas State University in 2017, she didn’t intend to go back to school. Her goal was to help her daughter, Zona Grace, who was about to finish high school and enroll at the university.A-State advisor and bachelor's graduate in business administration Cindy Brawley

Prior to her administrative position with the Concurrent Enrollment Program at A-State, she had been a full-time parent for many years, homeschooling her daughter and working as a medical transcriptionist. She and her husband Travis also wanted to make sure their only child had a good start in life financially.

“I came to work [at A-State] when she was 16 so that we could put her through school debt-free,” Brawley said. Her commitment to this idea was influenced by her own educational journey.

After graduating from high school in Willow Springs, Missouri, in 1995, Brawley enrolled in an associate degree program in business systems at Missouri State University-West Plains. She took a break in 1997 and moved to Pocahontas, Arkansas, to be closer to family. There she met her husband and they married in 1998. She had her daughter in 2000, four months after completing her associate degree in business at A-State.

As Zona Grace began taking her first classes at the university, Brawley was busy setting up new online courses for undergraduates and helping them choose their degree path. Her outgoing nature made her a natural when it came to working with students, and over time she discovered a new path of her own.

“My director talked me into going back to school,” she said, by offering the support and encouragement that made it possible. Brawley initially took courses on campus before enrolling in the online Bachelor of Science in Business Administration program in 2020, while her daughter was studying for a bachelor’s in psychology.

Brawley moved to the A-State Online Service (AOS) admissions office while studying for her degree, taking on responsibility for student records and transcripts. By the time she graduated in December 2022, she had earned her diploma and much more, including a promotion to the role of academic advisor and a raise.

Brawley says the degree gave her the professional skills and confidence she needed to advance in her career and build on her experience serving students. “I feel like the bachelor’s opens so many doors,” she said.

Blending Work, School and Family Time

Like many students who work full time, Brawley found learning online was most convenient for her schedule. She also wanted to accelerate her progress toward an undergraduate degree and knew that planning her studies carefully would be key to achieving that.

“A lot of people can’t—or really struggle with—coming back to college because of time constraints,” she acknowledged. “And I’m busy.”

For Brawley, being able to watch lectures and complete assignments online whenever it suited her was essential. “It’s the best way,” she confirmed. “You can work and do school on your own time.”

As she found a rhythm with her studies, Brawley realized that working for A-State had prepared her well. She knew how to communicate effectively via technology, and the importance of staying in touch with professors throughout each course. “It made the actual college experience a little easier,” she said.

As a highly organized person, Brawley appreciated the detailed modules and reading materials each class offered too. They helped her get a grasp on her responsibilities upfront, and weekly deadlines gave her the room she needed to fit school into her routine. “I would read through the week and then on Saturday is when I would hit it and get stuff done,” she explained.

Brawley notes that the support she received from Travis was important as well. He often assumed more family, home and personal tasks so she could focus. “He would cook and clean the kitchen at night,” she remembered. “He would also help out with other household chores so I could study.

The flexibility of the program ultimately worked for them both. Carving out time to give coursework her undivided attention was easier to do while learning online, and studying at home allowed her to be present for her loved ones as soon as she was done.

“It gave me the freedom to be able to have a life, but still progress,” she said.

Lessons in Life and Leadership

Brawley’s favorite class was Leadership, because it reshaped how she saw her own potential. “Before I took the course, I never considered myself a leader,” she admitted. “I just did what I was told.”

The self-assessments Brawley completed as part of assignments produced insights that astonished her. “It was very eye-opening to me,” she revealed. “This class showed me how I’m using the abilities I have as a leader—my skills—and I didn’t even know it.”

She says learning about different management strategies, personas and scenarios changed her perspective in ways she couldn’t have imagined. “You do not have to be the boss to be the leader. You can be a coworker. You’re a leader as a parent. You’re a leader whenever you’re volunteering, when you’re in social settings,” she emphasized. “I am more of a leader than I ever thought.”

Employment Law was another thought-provoking course that included some key life lessons for Brawley, in addition to the compelling subject matter. “I loved it, and I loved fraud examinations,” she said. “It was so interesting to me.”

When she told her professor how much she was enjoying his class—to the point that it almost seemed too easy—he reminded her of the distinct advantage she had as an adult student. “He said, ‘For you, it’s not that hard because you’ve got life experience,'” she recalled.

She already understood the legal concepts better than some of her younger peers, he noted, since many of them had not yet started careers. His observations helped her see the value she brought to the table as a nontraditional student, especially during discussions with classmates.

The knowledge and self-awareness Brawley gained as she completed each requirement for the program also motivated her to overcome any obstacles she faced. When she felt so nervous about passing a challenging math course required while she was in the program, business calculus, she considered giving up.

Brawley sought out A-State’s free academic support services for online students instead, and after working with a tutor for up to three hours each week, she earned an A+ in the class. From then on, she knew she could handle anything.

“Learning how to find resources and take advantage of the tutoring was really great,” she said. Now when her advising students are nervous about their math, science or writing assignments, she proudly shares her tale of conquering calculus and shows them how she did it.

Investing in Every Student’s Success

Brawley currently lives in Hoxie, Arkansas, and she continues to advise students in a wide array of AOS academic programs. She works with undergraduates earning degrees in psychology, criminology, sociology, political science, sport management and health promotions, as well as students completing prerequisites for master’s programs.

She says the leadership qualities she developed while earning her bachelor’s degree in business have helped her empower students as they plan for the future. Brawley hopes her journey to a bachelor’s offers lessons that will resonate with them, whether they’re starting coursework fresh or picking up wherever they left off.

“Now I have stories that I can tell my students to encourage them” she said. “Not only am I using skills and things that I’ve learned, I’m using [my] experiences.”

She’s grateful to be a stronger advocate, team member and professional due to her education, and for all that she discovered about herself in the process. “The program benefited me big time,” she said. “I feel like it has helped me so much.”

Lately, Brawley has been urging her loved ones to consider their education options. “My husband has an associate’s, but now I’m encouraging him to go back and get his bachelor’s,” she smiled, noting that she’s also open to earning a master’s.

Brawley hopes more adults and nontraditional students will follow her example and enroll in an online program that meets their needs. “I would do it again in a heartbeat,” she affirmed.

Whenever she encounters someone who has earned college credits but is hesitant to go back to school, she happily shares her story. Taking a break to earn a living, raise children or care for others isn’t a problem, she insists, because it’s never too late to learn or to finish your degree.

“I tell them it’s a huge blessing,” she said. “And if I can do it, you can do it.”

Learn more about the online Bachelor of Science in Business Administration program at Arkansas State University.

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