COLLEGE STATION, Sept. 8, 2011 – It was a pipe dream — at least that’s what DaLisa Owens calls it. Earning a college degree was simply not in the cards for the 47-year-old, nor her husband, Greg, 42. Attending Texas A&M University to earn that degree was also, in DaLisa’s mind, so farfetched of an idea that it made her laugh.
But this fall, that’s exactly what Greg and DaLisa are doing.
The couple has moved from their home in the small northeast Texas town of Anna to College Station, where they have both enrolled at Texas A&M this fall as full-time students. Along with their 9-year-old daughter DaLayna, they are living in new student housing; both have decided to study anthropology.
The road to Texas A&M was an unconventional one for the Owens.
After graduating high school, Greg served six years in the U.S. Army. He enrolled in one semester of junior college once his service was completed and then attended various schools over the years to earn different technical certificates. DaLisa never attended high school — instead, she began working and eventually earned her GED.
When the couple married in 2000, they had a plan: Greg would work to support the family as an insurance adjuster and DaLisa would be a stay-at-home mother who would home school their daughter. The plan was working out well, until DaLayna was diagnosed with mixed receptive-expressive language disorder. Realizing that DaLayna would require special attention from professionals, the Owens enrolled her into public school.
Suddenly, DaLisa had a lot of free time on her hands.
“Greg said, ‘well, what do you want to do?’” she recalls. “He said, ‘do you want to go to school?’ I told him there was no way I could do that. He told me that yes, I could. And he asked me what I wanted to study, and I said I always wanted to do archaeology. So he said, ‘well, go do it!’”
DaLisa found herself at her computer, searching for information about studying archaeology. One of her searches led her to something she had never heard of before: the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. She filled out the application, and a few weeks later, learned that she had received a full scholarship to Collin College. Excited and determined to prove herself, DaLisa began classes in January 2009.
Greg, who was also interested in archaeology, came to his own realization.
“I’m an insurance adjuster, and I work in a cube,” he says. “That’s not really what I envisioned myself spending a third of my life doing. I want to enjoy my work and do what I like to do for a living.”
With DaLisa taking classes full-time, Greg began taking online classes through Collin College. Though the couple never took a course together, they still enjoyed being in school together.
“She’s very competitive,” Greg laughs. “She’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met, so that really encouraged me to keep going. A ‘B’ doesn’t cut it for her. She wants to give it all she has to get the best grade that she can and get the most out of the class.”
Having someone readily available to critique papers and other assignments was also a plus, says DaLisa. In fact, the only downfall to their situation was the heightened emotions at the beginning and end of the semester, as they combated the uncertainty of classes and then the subsequent waiting to see the grades they earned.
Greg’s hours earned from previous schools allowed for he and DaLisa to graduate together in May with their associate’s degrees. Even though they had graduated, Greg and DaLisa were not ready to stop their foray into higher education.
“We got hungry,” DaLisa says. “We wanted more.”
At the encouragement of their grown children — Billie Lowe, 31, a property manager in Denton; Daniel Hughes, 30, a professor of chemistry in Washington; Cassius Hughes, 28, an Army sergeant serving in Afghanistan; and Stephen Owens, 18, who lives in Dennison — the couple began researching their options for continuing with their education. The outlook did not appear to be bright.
“We didn’t know about married housing, family housing,” DaLisa says. “We were accepting the fact that we may have to live apart until we finished our degrees.”
Finding the right school was difficult, too. Collin College had provided the Owens with a list of schools that offered degrees in archaeology, but nothing seemed right. When a friend from school posted on Facebook about moving herself and her son to study at Texas A&M University-Commerce, DaLisa was quick to ask how this was possible. The friend explained about family housing, and for a second time, DaLisa’s Internet searches took her somewhere she was not expecting: Texas A&M University. Although Collin College and Texas A&M have a partnership for conditional automatic transfers, anthropology was not one of the approved programs, meaning the university wasn’t even on the Owens’ radar. After seeing that Texas A&M did offer programs in archaeology, the couple saw a photo of something remarkable: a father and a mother walking on campus, swinging a child between them.
“We were sold,” DaLisa says. “But we thought there was no way we could get in.”
DaLisa’s father had often told her growing up that he would do anything to get her to become a Texas Aggie, but the family could not afford it. Greg, too, had a soft spot for the university, especially the Corps of Cadets. But using the same mantra that he had repeated to DaLisa through nights of studying — “keep your eye on the prize” — Greg applied to the university as a transfer student. A few days later, DaLisa did the same.
Within a few weeks, the couple learned that they had both been accepted to the university. From there, everything else has fallen into place. Greg’s company was being bought out, giving them an opportunity to sell their home and plan a move to College Station. The local school system was familiar with their daughter’s disorder and had a curriculum in place. The Aggie Spirit had already grabbed them, too (as well as their daughter DaLayna, who can sing every line of the Aggie War Hymn) after a visit to campus during Aggieland Saturday, a program that allows prospective students to visit campus for a weekend.
While they are both majoring in anthropology, Greg would like to focus on historical archaeology, while DaLisa has become interested in paleoarchaeology. The couple is debating on whether or not to double major and eventually hope to earn their doctorates. But, as they have learned, Greg says, their interests and plans may change.
“It’s hard to put your finger on one aspect and how A&M is going to benefit you and get you to where you want to be,” he explains. “It’s hard for me to commit to this being the one thing I want to do because you never know where A&M is going to take you.”
Choosing to pursue their degrees later in life may make them non-traditional students, but it is an opportunity that the Owens relish.
“If you want to be the best, you have to surround yourself with the best,” Greg says.
Contact: Krista Smith, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.