Formerly homeless veteran and mother of 6 becomes 1st-generation college graduate

LaKendra Mackey, a first-generation student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, is determined to show her six children the importance of a college education.

Mackey moved to Little Rock after serving 10 years in the U.S. Navy and earned an associate degree at University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College.

She was previously homeless and experiencing other struggles when she was accepted to UA Little Rock, where she discovered its TRIO programs and staff, which serve to help first-generation students like herself succeed.

TRIO became a critical part of helping Mackey get herself back on her own two feet.“TRIO has helped in a lot of ways to stay afloat in my courses,” Mackey, a senior social work major, said. “The advisors let me talk to them and give me a sense of relief that it’s just not me. They take your small successes, and they make it into a big deal.”

Her own experiences of facing homelessness, PTSD, and raising a child with special needs have inspired her to become a social worker to help others in need.

Mackey found that when she was going through hardships, social workers were there to support and assist her.

Now, she hopes to extend the same helping hand to fellow veterans and disabled people.

“I feel like I have to prove that I have a right to be here because of my age, my race, my gender, everything,” Mackey said. “I am showing my daughter and my sons that you shouldn’t let obstacles stop you from achieving a degree.”

“I feel that having a degree will assist me and my children in having a better quality of life,” she added.

Mackey is on track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in May 2021, and plans to enter UA Little Rock’s Master of Social Work program next fall.