The road to graduation day has been littered with potholes for Qubilah Jones-Harden.
The radio show co-host originally enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences program at Arkansas State University in 1995. Two restarts and 22 years later, Jones-Harden is close to completing her bachelor’s degree — this time in sociology.
“Long story short, my husband and I separated, my son [Quante Jeffrey] graduated from high school, and I decided, ‘It’s time for me to take care of me and do what I need to do to get my life on some kind of track,’” she said. “Starting back to finish my degree was to show that I could complete something in my life, to show my son that his mother is not a quitter and that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to.”
The first two times Jones-Harden enrolled in an A-State bachelor’s degree program, in 1995 and 2003, life circumstances forced her to leave school. She has overcome even more issues, like being diagnosed with lymphedema, on her way back to finishing what she started.
“I dealt with a few things that distracted me from finishing my degree,” Jones-Harden said. “When I first got accepted in October 2016, my friends and family were super elated because they knew it was something I wanted and needed.”
Not surprisingly, she is eagerly counting down the days until she will walk the stage in cap and gown to receive her degree.
“It would take hell or high water or a snow storm to keep me away,” Jones-Harden said. “I don’t care if I have to have a walker, a wheelchair or a cane — I will be at graduation.”
The Perfect Cyberspace
The online option for the BA in Sociology program was a big reason why Jones-Harden was able to pick up where she left off.
“The reason I chose online this time around is because I am disabled,” she said. “It’s easier, physically, for me to take my courses online versus trying to walk around campus and maneuver around everything.
“I’m also kind of an introvert, so anxiety can kick in if I’m around too many people for too long of a period. I love people; don’t get me wrong. For me, my focus is better, and I feel like I’m thriving taking online classes.”
In addition to all of the privacy she wants, Jones-Harden enjoys the flexibility of the online format.
“It is awesome,” she said. “I love the self-guided learning. The professors post the lessons for whatever time they say they are due. I can be up at 10 or 11 o’clock at night reading, watching lecture videos or writing papers. I can do things on my time versus I have to be in class.
“I’ll get home, read for about an hour and take a nap. I work on school a good three hours a day, which includes reading, videos, writing papers or whatever the assignment is. I try to get everything done by Friday, but sometimes I’m punching the clock until Sunday at the deadline. I take one or two days where I don’t do any schoolwork because my brain needs a reset.”
She’s also glad she decided to return to A-State to complete the degree.
“During my time off, I got to meet [A-State] staff members and professors by way of a previous job at another nonprofit agency where I worked before my disability,” Jones-Harden said. “I got to know people and make connections. A-State was right here. I already know how it works. They already had my transcript and grades, so why go through the trouble of transferring?”
Over the Airwaves
Jones-Harden is primarily a full-time student. Her volunteer job for KLEK 102.5 FM, a nonprofit radio station in Jonesboro, takes up just two hours per weekday. She is the co-host of “Community Conversations,” which has a partnership with A-State.
The first professor I had pretty much spoiled my experience in a good way. She set the bar so high … I feel like I’ve had great experiences.
“The station manager needed an office person to do data entry,” Jones-Harden said. “I started doing that, and then he hosted some fundraising events. One that was near and dear to me was a Poetry and Jazz Night. I write poetry, as well, so I thought, ‘This is right up my alley. This will help give me the exposure I need as I’m writing.’”
That involvement led to a spot conducting interviews with students, faculty, professors on the various programs and things happening on campus.
“The station manager just saw something in me he liked, and he asked, ‘Would you like to be the co-host of this show?’” she said. “I said, ‘Okay.’ It fell into my lap. I used to read poetry in church, which was the only public speaking I had done. This is a whole different ballgame. It’s live radio and live video.”
Jones-Harden, who recently wrote a book of poetry and is working on another one, hopes to remain at the station and enter Arkansas State’s Master of Public Administration in Non-Profit Management online program.
“With the umbrella the radio station is under, I can help develop more programs,” she said. “I’m working on one now called ‘Organized Unity.’ I would love to get the heads of other organizations together to plan events throughout the year where we can see some unified organization for a singular purpose to serve the community.”
With her current show and the BA in Sociology online program, Jones-Harden feels as though she is opening doors to her future.
“I get a lot of feedback from people who enjoy being guests on the show,” she said. “The interaction leads to another interaction to another to another. What I’m doing right now is really connected to what I’m studying.”
Jones-Harden has always been interested in a career that allows her to assist people in need.
“I have a love for the community,” she said. “I have a love of wanting to help people. I want to get to the root of whatever their problem is and then try to find programs and resources to help the individual. For me, sociology is, ‘I need to understand human behavior. I need to understand society. I need to find a way to lead people to the things they need to help enrich their lives.’”
The curriculum has helped provide Jones-Harden with new insights to help her achieve her career goals.
“My favorite course, even though it was challenging emotionally, was [SOC 3273] Social Stratification,” she said. “It’s not that I didn’t already know about socioeconomic statuses and discrimination and poverty, but that course really opened my eyes to the inner workings of society and how and why things are the way they are still today. It was my number one favorite. I spent a lot of stressful nights crying. When you come to the realization of something, it makes you sad. It makes you grow, as well.”
With the long layoff since the last time she was in school, Jones-Harden wasn’t sure what to expect in the online program.
“I was anxious at first about if I was going to be able to keep up,” she said. “The first professor I had pretty much spoiled my experience in a good way. She set the bar so high … I feel like I’ve had great experiences.”
A New Day
Now that Jones-Harden has some experience in the online program, she believes the format is ideal for anybody who would like to earn a college degree.
“First of all, you have to make sure you are motivated,” she said. “It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, I’ll do it later.’ Then, your deadline comes up and you have a 10-page paper that’s due and one day to type it. You have to make sure this is what you want to do.
“It will require dedication, as well. I know people have families and life happens, but you have to be dedicated to the time and lesson requirements and have a dedicated work space. The overall thing is, what is your why? Why are you finishing this degree? Is it just to get a piece of paper? Are you trying to get a promotion? I consider myself a spiritual person, so sociology is a great field for me.”
Jones-Harden credits her strong work ethic for educational endeavors to her father.
“My dad had a couple of degrees and certifications,” she said. “I know this is cliché, but he was the wind beneath my wings. Even though he’s no longer with me, my dad always pushed education. I still keep in mind how he pushed me towards getting as much education as I can in a variety of areas. He made sure I had the extra resources to expand on whatever I was doing.”
Now that she’s back in school, Jones-Harden feels like the sky is the limit.
“Going back to school is bigger than finishing my degree,” she said. “It’s a personal, spiritual, emotional journey, as well. It’s helping realize my potential and get back to the Qubilah I was before I got married. I’m finding my spark again. When I study and am learning new things, it’s like a light bulb goes on. Imagine being in the darkest of places, and then it illuminates. I can’t even express it in words. I’m finding my confidence. I’m finding me again.”
Learn more about the A-State online BA in Sociology program.