Saturday, August 04, 2012

My educational journey: Turning stumbling blocks into stepping stones

by Lola King, PhD
Tinker Education Services Officer

8/3/2012 - TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- My educational journey began in Oklahoma, one very hot day in 1965. I was picking cotton in order to purchase school supplies and clothing for my children, and I looked up to the sky and said, "God, there must be something better than this!" And there was!

At the start of the 1966 school year, I entered Langston University as a college freshman. I paid my tuition by working as a relief dishwasher at the Masonic Home for the Aged on Saturdays. Food was served family style, which means there were A LOT of dishes. The job paid less than $20 a month, but it was a start. I did not own a vehicle at the time so I carpooled, hitchhiked or walked the 17 miles to school. Finances and transportation were stumbling blocks, but I refused to give up. During my first semester at Langston, I learned that my tuition would be free if I earned a 4.0 grade point average. I quit my dishwashing job, concentrated on my GPA and earned a 4.0. I probably would not have completed my undergraduate degree if I had not maintained my GPA.

I began working at Tinker Air Force Base in 1969 as a production controller in a welding shop. Being the first woman in this position, I faced a lot of adversity. Although I scheduled the workload and ensured the welders in eight shops had everything necessary for their work, people who came to the site didn't want to talk to me because they thought I didn't know anything about welding. Once they found out that I did, that stumbling block was overcome.

I went back to school in 1973 to work on a master's degree at the University of Central Oklahoma - Edmond. Two years later I graduated with a master's degree in guidance and counseling. I left the welding shop to work at the base Education Office, where I have been ever since. Eventually, I was promoted to the base Education Services Officer position. I mainly coordinate education endeavors between various colleges and universities on Tinker, and ensure the guidance, tuition and programs are provided so our Airmen can meet their personal and professional goals. I still and always will enjoy talking with the young Airmen, and I try to instill in them the idea that education is life and the most reliable upward mobility tool available.

Looking back on my achievements, I have not forgotten where I came from. I have a stalk of cotton set in a base upon which is written the word "Motivation". This was the stumbling block that I turned into my stepping stone, which led to my college degree, my career at Tinker and the award of my PhD in 1983. I hope you will turn your stumbling blocks in to stepping stones and achieve your educational goals!

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