Ph.D. and NOVA Grad Shares Her Story of Being a Student Parent and Never Giving Up

December 11, 2023

Dr. Sonya Anyaka, Ph.D., is an accomplished figure in public health, epidemiology and academia. She is a NOVA alum, researcher, educator and professor with a career spanning over a decade. She has been a student parent throughout her educational journey and the mother of three. 

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Dr. Anyaka, the keynote speaker at NOVA's second annual Student Parent Conference on November 30, was honored to share her story of determination, perseverance and resilience in the face of many struggles.

Her academic journey began at NOVA and continued with earning her doctoral degree. Despite setbacks, she continually pressed forward. Her story highlights the challenges of balancing family, work and education while emphasizing the importance of believing in yourself. Hear her story in her own words:  

How does it feel to be back at NOVA?
It is amazing—all these years, ten years plus, and I'm back on the campus where I started my journey! I feel overwhelmed, overjoyed and elated to come back to my home. I feel like it's my home, my home base, where I started my academic career.

What was it like to inspire the Student Parents at this event?
I would be thrilled if my story of perseverance inspires at least one student parent to keep moving forward, no matter the obstacles they may face. Obstacles and setbacks can be very hard, especially when you're a parent. They can hit you so hard that you want to give up and say forget it. But at the end of the day, I just kept in my head that education is the key to success. I knew that my struggles, my setbacks, would soon be over. That's what kept me motivated, encouraged and determined to succeed.

Even in the face of a seemingly insurmountable setback, I made a commitment to myself that challenges would not define me. I was accepted into a physician assistant program, only to face the harsh disappointment of the program losing its accreditation. I had to make some quick decisions and change my career path. Despite those challenges, I shifted my focus and continued my studies, earning a doctorate in public health, specializing in Epidemiology.

The process of conquering challenges has been instrumental in shaping both my career and perspective on life.

At NOVA, you had a wonderful cheerleader and a resource to lean on. How important was that? 
I did, Dr. Beatrice McKeithen. She was my mentor. It was very important to me back then when I first started my educational journey, and now. Having mentors, friends, or family to lean on while pursuing an education is essential because you can't do it alone.

What brought you to NOVA?
Dr. Beatrice McKeithen opened the door for me. I was a hairstylist for many years. After doing hair, I realized I needed health insurance, benefits and a steady income. I wanted to be a doctor. I had a dream. I was talking to Dr. McKeithen one day, and she said, 'Why don’t you come over to check out NOVA for the Health Careers Opportunity Program'? She said it would expose me to different careers in the healthcare field and, from there, I could decide what path I wanted to take. I did. I showed up to the program, and I took off running. And I never turned back. I never stopped.

What would you tell NOVA student parents?
Remember, there's an end to this. There's an end result, and that end result is so rewarding. Once you keep that in mind, nothing can stop you.

I want to emphasize that earning not just one degree but multiple degrees is possible; reaching the highest level of education and building a successful career while still being there for your children and your family is possible.

You may be facing challenges that seem impossible to overcome today, but remember this: tomorrow's another day. Those early struggles, the sacrifices you make and the tears you shed will lead to a brighter future for you and your children. Stay focused and encouraged. You have the power to achieve your dreams!

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