Photo Courtesy MK Starr
MK Starr and her fiancee, Michael Proulx
MK also had trouble relating to her fellow transfer students. She was 24, and the majority of incoming transfer students were 18 to 20.
"As an older transfer, I didn't really fit in," she said. "I saw young students listening to their iPods… in their own little worlds, not worrying about where to find a job, a good apartment or [how to pay] the bills each month. If I didn't have STRONG-CT, I'd be lost."
MK said that the program directors and coordinators at STRONG-CT helped her to adjust during the difficult transition period by offering advice concerning classes, professors, parking, and studying.
"Cheryl [Brown] and Hedley [Freake] at STRONG-CT were my sounding board," she said, "If I had questions or issues, they would try to direct me to the right person or be my advocate." (Professor Hedley Freake is Director of STRONG-CT at UConn. Cheryl Brown is Program Coordinator.)
Navigating the large UConn campus was a serious challenge for MK. She dropped a physics course when it became clear that she could not make it across campus in the 10 minutes between classes. Although the university offers a van service for students in need of transportation, MK refused to use it.
"The one time I called the van service for help, they forgot to pick me up," she said. "When they told me I had to leave my classes 10 minutes early during busy times to get to my next class, I just rearranged my schedule. I didn't want to miss the last 10 minutes of class, which are usually reserved for announcements and finishing exams."
MK was the first student to graduate from the STRONG-CT program at UConn in December 2007. After 6 1/2 grinding, painful years, MK received her B.S. in Agriculture and Natural Resources, with a focus on Waste, Land Use and Safety.
MK hopes to find a permanent job with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection as an environmental compliance specialist. She has considered applying to graduate school after she marries Michael, her boyfriend of six years, this July.
She tries to keep her worry about another flare-up at bay by doing physical therapy exercises and coping with stress.
"For the first couple of years after [the severe flare-up] happened, I worried every time my legs went to sleep or I felt even the beginning of tingling or numbness," she said. "I don't worry about it as much, but when I have a bad flare-up or my back is out, it worries me a bit. I do things a little slower, but I get them done. I just suck up the pain and keep going."
Katie Rollinson is a senior majoring in journalism and English. This story was written for Journalism 213W, Magazine Writing, taught by Professor Wayne Worcester.