Karen McAlister says she’s ready.
Ready to put away the textbooks, the class schedules, the study groups, the late night coffee runs, the dozing off on the student center couch only to awake to a lost hour. Or two.
Yep. She’s ready for adulting.
Ready for the scary, perplexing real world outside the University of Texas Arlington college bubble where the Sea of Life is stormy and choppy and couldn’t care less about those student loans wrapped around her ankles like perpetual body weights.
“Yeah, I’m ready for that, too,” she claims.
Well, kind of. Maybe. Probably.
McAlister is sitting outside the campus Starbucks on a warm Wednesday. She’s smiling and cheerful and expressive because after six years she’s done. Done with undergraduate degrees in Advertising and Public Relations, done with a master’s in Communications.
It has been an interesting ride,
some eight majors, countless extracurriculars, a 4.0 GPA, and one husband later. Many college students will enter their adulting phase this month not knowing what they will do, how or when. At least McAlister knows what she won’t do, since she pretty much tried them all.
We’re joking, but there was criminal justice and news broadcasting and psychology and history and even a flirtation with law. None stuck.
In fact, a strange thing occurred to McAlister while en route to living happily ever after in communications. She fell in love with the inner workings of student development. Over her college career she has held a number of jobs in Student Affairs, from marketing with The Shorthorn student newspaper, to student legal services, the Center for Students with Recovery office and multicultural affairs. She enjoyed advising students in the women’s leadership program.
“Like a lot of my classmates I’ve been trying to figure out what works best for me career-wise,” McAlister says. “What I kind of landed on is staying in a college environment. I had never thought about a career in student development but I really, really enjoy helping other college students. I said, ‘wow, I like this. I can do this.'”
McAlister is from a UTA family. Mom went there. Dad went there. Her brother went there. An aunt and uncle went there. She met her husband, David, during a summer orientation session her sophomore year when their recruiting booths (he was there for his fraternity, she with Student Legal Services) were side by side.
Awkward small talk led to a comfortable association,
which led to friendship, which led to a date, which led to a November, 2013 wedding.
A 2013 graduate, David McAlister is a systems engineer for the City of Lewisville.
While Karen McAlister seems better positioned than most for adulting, leaving the college bubble is a mixture of excitement and angst.
“There is a certain amount of fear, even with a master’s degree,” she says. “Life, college debt. It’s all about to hit. What do I do with all this? But being educated is a leg up on the game already. You can make something of an education. It may not be exactly what you want at first. But you have something some don’t have. Your education can’t be taken away from you.”
McAlister has already shown her resolve. A month into her graduate program her father passed; right before exams, her mother suffered a heart attack and underwent a quadruple bypass. How she maintained her strong academic record is a testament to her resilience and is a pretty good indicator of how have she’ll manage in the work world.
In fact, of all the things she’s accomplished at UTA, what stand out are not only speaking to the entire incoming freshman class, but also teaching them the school fight song. Speaking in public wasn’t all that comfortable before, but she wowed them. Then there was crooning that fight song. “I can’t hold a tune,” McAlister says, smiling broadly.
So she did what any straight A, two-time finalist for UTA Outstanding Student Leader would do. “I brought along someone who could,” she says. Yep. She’s ready.