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Adjustment to college, adulthood tough for circle of friends in West Plains

Culture of poverty persists in south-central Missouri.
Monday, July 2, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:02 p.m. CDT, Saturday, September 8, 2012
For Samantha Price and her friends at Missouri State University-West Plains campus, the temptation to spend time with friends often distracts them from other goals and their studies. Editor's note: This photo gallery has been re-edited to more fully capture the lives of the four young women featured in the story.

Editor's note: This story is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation in challenging times.

WEST PLAINS — There was a party at the dorm Friday night. The kids got together, had some drinks and then went off to join the West Plains night scene. They danced at the club and came back to the dorms after 1 a.m. Some of them went to bed. Others had more drinks and talked the night away. They ended up in rooms other than their own, on couches, in restrooms, in showers, in beds. When they finally woke up Saturday around noon, they showered, grabbed lunch at the cafeteria and updated each other on the previous night's events. They lingered over cigarettes and stories. Then they went back to their rooms to kill a few hours until Saturday night and the next party.

Among the partiers: Katie Castello, Tacompsy Rawson, Samantha Price and Heather Hopkins, a tight clutch of friends at Missouri State University's West Plains campus, a two-year junior college in the heart of the Ozarks. All are caught up in the drama of dorm life and the distraction of college classes. All are trying to find a way out of West Plains and into their dreams of well-paying jobs, loving families and bigger cities.

Katie wants to graduate from college, then work at something she's passionate about while she builds a family. What that something is — she's not sure yet.

Tacompsy wants to move to a big city — maybe Atlanta, where there are plenty of professional black men to meet — attend beauty school and have her own nail salon one day.

Samantha wants to become a paramedic with a fire department and someday own a restaurant.

And Heather wants to become a psychologist somewhere far away from south central Missouri.

These are the kind of goals — vague, romantic, idealistic and unformed — common to college-aged kids everywhere. But for these four, dreams of the future play out against the realities of the past and are underscored by a background etched in profuse poverty, indifference to education and lack of discipline or ambition. These four young women typify a demographic handicapped to fail: millennials who grew up in the central Ozarks, an area with high rates of unemployment and meth addiction and low rates of advanced degrees. They were raised in families where welfare was more common than steady work.

Now it's their turn, their time to try to shake off the inheritance of poverty and inertia to build happy, independent lives for themselves.

On a Saturday in early March, the four friends sprawl on blue couches in the dorm apartment Katie and Tacompsy share. They tell their stories, interrupting one another with laughter, encouragement and bursts of Facebook news. They are sweet and sassy, funny and frustrating, maddening and, at times, tragic.

They believe in one another and support each other's dreams of better lives. It's what they all say they want. But none of them are sure they know how to make that happen. Over the next three months, as they tried to make it through the school semester with passing grades and the promise of decent jobs, those hopes would repeatedly be challenged and re-tailored by an environment of low expectations.

March

Samantha, 17, is the youngest of the four and the only one who didn't grow up in Missouri. Her family moved from Yucca Valley in southern California a few months ago when they bought a house in Alton. They saw it online and decided they could afford to buy, after renting in California. Her stepfather is disabled after a forklift broke his back years ago, and her mother stays at home and, with the help of government assistance, cares for the four youngest of the couple's combined 10 children.

Missouri still feels strange to Samantha.

"Everybody waves to you, but they won't talk to you in stores," she says. "In California they won't wave to you on the street, but they'll talk to you in the store. You talk, and you're best friends. And you exchange numbers, and you hang out later that night."

Everything feels new to Samantha. She is dealing with her first semester in college, her first time away from her parents and her first time getting close to a boy, who'll later act like nothing happened. She has found an anchor in the other girls, especially Tacompsy, who has her back.

But moving here didn't change Samantha's goal: To become a paramedic and, eventually, run a restaurant. She hopes to join the Missouri National Guard to help pay for college, and expects to enlist in late March.

Samantha is trying to figure out who she is, Tacompsy says.

As for herself, Tacompsy drawls: "I was born a poor black child." Her send-up of Steve Martin in "The Jerk" sends her friends into peels of laughter. But the truth is, Tacompsy was born poor and black, to a 14-year-old in St. Louis. She was adopted by a white couple from Mountain View, a town 30 minutes north of West Plains. A few years later, the couple adopted Tacompsy's biological younger brother.

Tacompsy was the only black girl at her high school in Mountain View. Heather and Katie went to the same school, but they didn't hang out together back then. Tacompsy's father was a detention teacher at her high school; he kept a close eye on her at school and didn't let her go out much at night. Her mother had a job in Springfield during the week, and commuted the two hours home on weekends. Tacompsy recalls often being left in charge of her brother, having to cook and do laundry. She left home when she was 17, first living with a boyfriend, then with several other friends until she started college a year later. She says she hasn't been home since she first left.

Earlier this year, Tacompsy found out she was pregnant. She had spent a night with a young man during Christmas break. He freaked out at the news, and she hasn't decided what she'll do. She says she wants to keep the baby, but being a parent would make it harder to strike out on her own. She has her sights set on beauty school and then Atlanta, where there are more young black people.

"That has been my dream since I was little," she says. "I don't really know what's going to happen, but I do know that I'm going to make it there sometime."

Katie, 20, lacks that certitude. She also grew up in Mountain View, after her family moved from St. Louis to take care of her grandfather. She had hoped to go to college in Springfield, but her ACT scores were too low. Now she does her general studies at MSU-West Plains, just like the other girls. She is supposed to graduate in May but doubts she'll make it. She dropped credits because she had a hard time adjusting to college, then an uncle died, and then she fell further behind. She considers graduating next year or the year after.

Katie wants traditional things — good job, money, relationship, house — but has no idea how to make that happen. She would like to travel the world but doesn't know what kind of job would pay her for that. She considers event planning because she likes to shop. She wonders about being a flight attendant, but she is afraid the plane might crash. She likes baking cakes, so she might go into culinary arts.

"Everyone keeps telling me that I need to know what to do with my life, but I don't know how I'm supposed to know, or how I'm supposed to decide," Katie says. "I've taken those career quizzes, and they don't tell me anything. So I don't know."

She says she's dating a 27-year-old man.

"No," the other girls interrupt. "Not dating. No!"

Anyway, the man told Katie to Google it. Google life. It wasn't very helpful.

She has worked at fast food restaurants in Mountain View and as a sewing operator for a Nike manufacturer in Winona. But now her family is pressuring her to choose a stable career, even though neither of her parents were much interested in advanced education. Lately, Katie has had anxiety attacks and doesn't leave her room very often.

Heather often keeps Katie company. The two have been friends since childhood. Although Heather doesn't officially live in the dorm, she's always there, often sleeping on the couch in Katie's living room. Heather spent her early childhood in Springfield, until her parents got divorced when she was 4 and her mother moved to West Plains with her three children. A few years later, they moved to Mountain View, where Heather finished school. Her mother, a single mom who for long time raised the children largely with the help of government assistance programs, didn't impose many rules — Heather could stay out as long as she wanted and sleep over at friends' houses. So when Heather was a teenager and her mother married a man who set an 8 p.m. curfew, Heather rebelled.

"I would always go to my friends' house because they weren't allowed to come over, so that's how it started out," she says. "I always wanted to be with my friends. I didn't want to be stuck at home."

Friends' parents took her in. In middle school, she went on a trip to Florida with a friend's family. Her track coach became a sort of a mother figure and helped Heather get a scholarship at Hannibal-LaGrange University. She went there for a year but lost her scholarship when she was caught smoking weed. So last fall, her coach arranged for her to go to a college in Humboldt, Tenn., and play basketball. Because she enrolled too late, she wasn't allowed to play basketball the first season and soon lost interest in school. She left after a couple of months and came back to live with her mother. She enrolled at MSU in January but can't wait to move away and be on her own.

Heather, now 20, is interested in a career in psychology and raising a family. She says she knows she could be a good mom — she learned from her mother how not to raise children. But she is not sure how she would provide for them.

"My mom kind of settles, and she doesn't push herself very much. We lived paycheck by paycheck, and we didn't get to do much of anything," Heather says. "That's my biggest fear. I don't want to end up like that."

All four friends separately echoed some version of that perspective. Tacompsy said she thinks that if you didn't have a great family growing up, it will make you want your own family even more, to be the best mom you can be.

Katie's parents always told her school was important but didn't model that in their own lives.

Samantha's family is the most important thing in the world to her but, she says, are also an example of what not to do. She needs to know that "I'm doing something with my life and not just sitting around, being a bum.

"A lot of my family is like that. They depend on the government. I don't want to be like that," she says. "I want to do something with my life and make a difference in somebody's life, anybody's life. One of my fears is actually to die without making a difference."

Living down to expectations

Heather has class at 8 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Waking up is not fun, especially after a late-night party, so she easily talks herself out of it. Then she wakes up at 10 a.m. and hates herself for not going to class. Sometimes, when she's sleeping over at the dorm, the girls lure one another back to sleep in the morning, only to feel bad a few hours later because they missed class again.

The work ethic of Millennials — people born between 1980 and 2000, give or take a few years — has been studied, debated, dissected and judged. They have been portrayed in the media as the trophy children of baby boomers, a demanding nightmare for employers, the entitled members of a lost generation.

In a 2008 survey by CareerBuilder.com, 85 percent of hiring managers said that Millennials had a stronger sense of entitlement than older workers. They wanted higher pay, flexible work schedules, a promotion within a year and more vacation and personal time. Back when the economy was booming, the dark joke among employers was that Millennials expected to become CEO in a day.

Now young people's expectations have slumped with the economy, but the discussion continues about their values. Work ethic, by most measures, is not at the top of the list. According to a 2010 Pew Research Center study, Millennials were the only age group that didn't cite work ethic as a trait that identifies their generation. What they did list: technology use, music/pop culture, liberal/tolerant and smarter. Only 5 percent mentioned work ethic as a core trait of their generation; that's almost four times fewer than baby boomers and half as many as Gen Xers.

Heather echoes the surveys: "I lived my life always doing what I want, and now I want to be successful, and I don't want to be struggling. But it's really, really, really hard to make myself do stuff. I have no willpower. It takes everything I got to wake up in the morning."

Tacompsy shrugs at her lackluster performance in school. She's only "bullshitting around here," she says; none of the classes at MSU interest her or will set her up for beauty school. Yet she has strong opinions about education.

"Growing up in Mountain View, Missouri, we are screwed from the very beginning," she says. "For the whole time you go from elementary school to high school, you really don't have to do anything. To pass high school, you just show up and you're good."

But all of a sudden you're in college and expectations increase tenfold. You don't know how to meet those expectations because you never had to before.

MSU tries to address that reality in part by offering remedial classes in subjects such as English, math and reading to help students perform at college level. Nationally, 58 percent of two-year college students enroll in at least one remedial class, according to researchers at the City University of New York. At MSU-West Plains, about 70 percent of freshmen, including returning adults, take at least one remedial class, said Mirra Anson, director of developmental education.

Katie, on the other hand, hasn't found college expectations to be very challenging. She turned in an English paper three weeks late, and it was accepted. The lesson she took away: That's the way things work.

Samantha doesn't reflect much on the rigors or failings of her college education. She started only two months ago, and it's as new and strange as everything else in this state and in this dormitory.

But Heather, who is on her third college experience, offers a blunt solution: "Government should cut people off."

Her theory is that because of welfare programs her mother wasn't forced to go out and get a job. If her mother had been forced to work, Heather would have grown up seeing someone work hard and understanding the benefits of that work. Now she sees the downfalls of not working — but she admits she doesn't know how to prevent them for herself.

Geography and poverty

South-central Missouri is one of the most beautiful regions of the state. The Mark Twain National Forest covers much of the area, and the locals take pride in the clear swift rivers, perfect for canoeing and fishing.

It is also the poorest region of the state, with an average wage of $510 per week in the first quarter of 2011, according to the Missouri Department of Economic Development. Even the residents of southeast Missouri, called the "Bootheel" and known for its striking poverty, earned on average $100 more per week; workers in St. Louis made nearly double.

The unemployment rate in south-central Missouri was 9.2 percent in February 2012, compared with a state average of 8.4 percent.

A national study published in 2002 listed south-central Missouri as one of the regions defined by persistent poverty since 1959. Wendell Bailey, a former Republican congressman from Willow Springs and former state treasurer, said he thinks nothing has changed. Last year, Bailey launched a program aimed at fighting poverty and increasing the quality of education and prospect of jobs for young people in a 10-county area in the region. He gathered leaders from 31 communities, set up a nonprofit and a 10-year plan to chip away at the underlying problems.

Bailey's aim is to change the "culture of poverty" in the Ozarks. "When you are immersed in poverty, it's generational," he says. "The parents are on food stamp programs, and children are on food stamp programs. The same way with education: When parents drop out and children drop out, it becomes a culture that's accepted to drop out of school. In fact, it's expected."

It's also likely that a 17-year-old girl who drops out of high school and gets a job at a fast food restaurant will still be working there when she is 27, because her employment options are limited by her lack of a high school diploma, Bailey says. "That creates its own expectation of failure because that's where you come from and that's where you remain."

Bailey's efforts may offer some new hope to children born during the next decade. But for those already here, the effects of being born in poverty will haunt them into adulthood. It all starts at birth, says Laura Speer, associate director for policy, research and data at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that supports disadvantaged children across the country. A child born into poverty is more likely to be born early, have a low birth weight and have developmental delays — and less likely to have access to quality health care. By kindergarten, the child is already behind the curve and likely to remain there throughout the first years in school.

The effects of poverty compound over time, Speer says. The child is more likely to drop out of high school and become a teen parent, and less likely to go to college, get a good job and raise children who have the skills to succeed.

Growing up in poverty weighs heavily against young people's motivation, she says, adding that it's difficult to believe that you will be successful if nobody around you is.

"Even for the ones who are motivated, there are always barriers that people have to overcome. The ability to overcome those barriers a lot of times has to do with people in your support system," Speer says. "So it's easy to give up if you don't have adults around you who can help you move past those barriers that come up in front of everyone."

Early April

Another Friday night. Another party at the dorm. Someone brought alcohol, which all the kids drank with Coke. Then they started doing stupid stuff, like writing all over a guy's arms and legs because he fell asleep with his shoes on. Then they went to the club. On the way there, the young man who Samantha had hooked up with got arrested for an unpaid ticket. The others made fun of him, wondering if the cops would let him go on Facebook at jail.

Heather, Tacompsy, Samantha and Katie typically hang out with maybe 10 or 15 people from the dorm, all of whom they consider friends. In total, there are about 60 students living at the dorm, all in their own little universes. There are the volleyball girls, who mostly hang out with one another or with the basketball boys; they have their own table at the cafeteria. There are the people who don't live in the dorms but might as well because they are there 24/7; Heather is an example. Then there are the good girls, who party sometimes but not too much, go to church but not all the time and have sex but not too often. A minority of the good girls are the good Christian girls, who don't drink alcohol and don't hang out with boys. There are the shy girls, who never leave their rooms except to go to class or the cafeteria; they spend their days playing cards and watching anime movies. Then there are the weird boys, who look and act creepy and are avoided by girls. Heather, Tacompsy, Samantha and Katie would fall into the category of bitches because they tell it to people straight and like to have fun. Except maybe not Samantha, who until recently was a good Christian girl.

Losing your virginity is a dorm event. When that happened to Samantha and everybody found out, she cried for two weeks straight. Then she got used to it. It's part of dorm life.

On this Saturday in early April, Tacompsy wakes up around noon, her eyes smeared with last night's makeup. A couple of weeks ago she had a miscarriage, which made her sad but also answered the question about keeping the baby. She doesn't know what caused the miscarriage, but she suspects the stress and panic attacks that she's had recently.

About the same time, she got a message on Facebook saying: "Hey, you can be a model!"

"Dude, are you legit?" she wrote back.

Turns out he was working in the porn film industry. His offer: $1,500 for three hours of shooting. Tacompsy asked for some time to think. The man referred her to another agent. This one worked for Ordinary World Models, an agency in New York that, according to its website and job postings, supplies fashion models for print and TV commercials but also for soft and hard porn magazines, such as Playboy and Hustler, and for websites. He invited Tacompsy for a two-day shoot in Boston in mid-April.

She posted on Facebook that she might have a shot at Black Entertainment Television (BET). When friends asked, she said she had lost the baby, so was in shape to model. She wasn't sure what she should do.

"I was really considering doing the porn," she says. "I mean, $1,500, that's a lot of money. But $1,500 for three hours of humiliation that other people are going to see — I don't know if that's worth it. But with $1,500 I could get out of here, I could go out and maybe get a car, I could go out and I could go to another city as soon as I wanted to."

What she had to decide was how far she would go to get away from West Plains and out of the trap she feels she's in.

"Around here you grow up in one of the small towns, and then you either get stuck in that small town, you get married, you have kids, and you stay here for the rest of your life, or you go to Springfield, and you stay there for the rest of your life," she says. "You look around and it's just like, wow. Some people haven't noticed that they've been here their whole lives and have never left this part of Missouri and probably never will."

Tacompsy didn't follow up on the modeling offer. But when she pictures herself five or 10 years from now, she doesn't see herself in south-central Missouri. She imagines herself enjoying life in a big city, grasping new opportunities, going to beauty school and finding a good black man in Atlanta. That's why she's decided to drop out of school come May.

Samantha has her own things to figure out. In late March, she went to St. Louis to enlist in the National Guard. She took the drug test and the breathalyzer and everything went fine until they weighed her, measured her body mass index and told her she was three pounds over qualifying weight.

Samantha went to the bathroom and cried and tried to vomit. She came back and got weighed again. She was told to come back in late April and try again. Back in West Plains, she is on a diet, which consists mainly of avoiding junk food.

Between the National Guard experience and the last month in the dorm, Samantha grew discouraged. She stopped going to class, earning mostly Ds and one C. She got carried away by college life and her first experiences with boys and alcohol. One night she got drunk and told Tacompsy she hated black people. Tacompsy wanted to jump at her throat, but she understood Samantha didn't mean it, so instead she took care of her through the night.

"Since my mom and dad aren't here anymore, I started to rebel," Samantha says. "They are not here holding the umbrella. I'm going to put the umbrella away for a little while."

Samantha says she wasn't pressured to start drinking or experimenting with boys. Actually, the other girls warned her against that. But it looked like fun, and she wanted to try it.

"Sam was a really good person when she came here," Heather says in a separate conversation. "And I'm not saying she's a bad person. But she saw the way that we lived and all of the mistakes that we've made, and she kind of felt like it would be cool to do some of the stuff that we did. And it's not. And I tried to tell her a million times."

As Samantha's morals dropped, so did her confidence in her dreams. She doesn't want to open a restaurant anymore — someone told her it's hard and most restaurants die within five or 10 years. She still wants to become a firefighter and paramedic. Maybe.

Most students come to college with their dreams intact, says Dennis Lancaster, an assistant professor of letters at MSU-West Plains and Samantha's favorite teacher. Somewhere along the way they realize it's a lot of work, it's going to cost a lot of money and they might need to leave the comfort of what they know.

"They feel limited. They put the limits on themselves," Lancaster says. "They might not be ready to leave this area."

Early April, continued

It's Saturday night, and the girls are going out. Katie is not with them. She just got back together with one of her ex-boyfriends, and she's with him in Mountain View. She stopped talking to the 27-year-old guy friend who wanted her to Google life.

In the last month, Katie's plans have turned upside down. While she was planning on graduating in a year or two, now she wants to speed it up and be done with school this summer. She needs one more credit to graduate and plans to take a one-week art class in the summer. She also needs to pass history this semester, where she is facing an F for not showing up.

Back in March, she had no idea what she was going to do. Now she's decided to go to culinary school in Springfield and live with her boyfriend. She got a job waiting tables at Colton's Steakhouse in West Plains, and hopes to transfer to their restaurant in Springfield.

Things seem to be lining up for her. Except for one credit in the summer and that F in history.

Back at the dorm, the girls are getting dressed for the club. Tacompsy changes from her leopard print top into a simple, black one and freshens her makeup. She keeps on her silver-colored necklace, which reads "I love Boys." Heather puts on jeans and a flowered top. Samantha doesn't dress up because she is underage and won't be allowed in the club.

Heather's phone rings. It's her boyfriend, Tommy.

"Where are you at?"

"I'm at the college."

"Stay there, I'm coming to pick you up."

Heather leaves with him. The girls comment on how possessive Tommy is. Tacompsy goes to the club with another friend. It's fairly quiet. The volleyball girls hang out with the basketball boys at the bar and a few people dance to rap music. Tacompsy goes back to the dorm after about an hour.

The next morning, Heather comes down hard on herself for not standing up to Tommy the night before. They had been together for about three months. It was all good at the beginning; they were best friends. But then Tommy started having trust issues, so Heather decided to make their relationship official and declare publicly they were a couple — the first time she's done that with a boy. It only made things worse. Tommy started suspecting Heather of cheating on him every time she went out without him.

"I don't know how to make the kid trust me," Heather says. "I don't even know why I want to be with him, honestly."

On top of that, Heather has been kicked out of the house in West Plains where she was living with a friend. In Heather's version, the friend got upset that Heather was never home, hanging out at the college all the time. Now she has no clue where she will stay. She considers moving in with her father, but that would be weird because they haven't lived in the same house since she was a toddler, before her parents divorced.

"Right now sucks," Heather says. "Eventually it will be OK but right now sucks really bad. Money is a big deal, and I hate it because my family is not rich. Whenever you're a child or an individual going out into the world trying to do something for yourself, whenever you start out it's not easy, especially if your family doesn't help you at all. I don't have any support to fall back on. If I fall it's all on me, and it's a million pounds, and it sucks.”

She wants to leave, go to a four-year college and mostly go far away from home, to a place where nobody knows her and nobody judges her. But ever since she got suspended from the college in Hannibal, Heather feels she started digging a hole into which she sinks deeper and deeper.

"I feel like I'm making a huge leap because we are really low class, and I have this expectation from myself way higher than that, and for my family way higher than that, and so it's really, really, really frustrating because I'm 20 years old, I want to get this going," Heather says. "But I'm stuck, and I feel like I'm stuck forever."

The ways out

It would be easy to watch how these girls party, skip classes and make random, questionable decisions and not see much beyond that. It would be easy to chalk them up as irresponsible members of a "lost" generation. It would be easy to miss their warmth and their kindness, how they take care of each other, how conscious they are of the effects of their decisions and how terribly they struggle.

What would be harder would be to ask how the lives of these girls, and others like them, might have been different had they been born in a different family, in a different place or in a different culture.

Grown-ups and officals offer their solutions.

For Sheila Orchard, who worked for 25 years as a middle school and high school counselor in the local school district until she retired two years ago, it's making tiny steps in helping students define their goals and the path to achieve them. The first step is to convince them to get up and go to school every morning as part of the "big life plan." Programs such as the Missouri A+ Schools Program will pay for students to attend certain colleges if they graduate high school with a minimum 2.5 GPA and 95 percent attendance rate.

For Dennis Lancaster, the MSU-West Plains professor, it's engaging students in one-on-one mentoring, sharing his own experiences and showing them that somebody cares about their struggles.

For Wendell Bailey, the ex-congressman, it's a strategic plan to increase the quality of education and convince businesses to offer more and better jobs for students and parents.

For Laura Speer at the Casey Foundation, it's early education and mentorship — finding successful individuals to serve as role models for the young and help them overcome barriers. At a more macro level, parents need access to better paying jobs, even if that means going back to school or, in the case of immigrants, learning better English.  

"Unless there's real commitment to the next generation there's no telling what's going to happen," Speer says. "It won't be good, though."

Early May

There was a party at the dorm Friday night. The kids reveled in the early summer weather and the approaching end of the semester. Some of them stayed in their rooms and prepared for finals week. Others had already given up, walking away from college life. Still others counted the remaining hours until they could be out of here.

One Sunday morning, a young man swung by to pick up Tacompsy and her things. She was finally getting out of West Plains. But her destination was not Atlanta or some big city. It was Springfield, where she would live with the young man and another roommate. She gave up the modeling idea and now she needed another plan.

Tacompsy's early departure fits the predominant trend at MSU-West Plains, where only 27 percent of the students graduate from the two-year program within four years. Another 23 percent end up transferring to other colleges before they finish their degree here.

Katie also left, in April — not to Springfield, as planned, but to Birch Tree, a town 45 minutes northeast of West Plains. Her boyfriend, Michael, has a house there, which he received as a graduation present from his parents and where he moved after he got a job as a McDonald's manager in nearby Mountain View. Katie moved in with him, giving up her plans of attending culinary school in Springfield and graduating from MSU-West Plains in May. She failed several classes toward the end of the semester because it was hard to keep up with school on top of moving and going to work. She quit her job at Colton's Steakhouse after two weeks, instead taking a job as a cashier at the Walmart in West Plains. But she quit that because commuting was exhausting and expensive. Now she has a job at a Mexican restaurant in Mountain View. She doesn't like it very much, but it pays the bills. She and Michael are discussing marriage.

Samantha was inducted into the National Guard in late April. She also got a job, as a cashier at McDonald's in West Plains. She starts mid-May and will work there until mid-August, when she goes on a 10-week boot camp with the National Guard at Fort Leonard Wood. She will then spend the rest of the fall and winter in South Carolina, where she'll get her training as a mechanic with the National Guard. She failed all of her classes this semester, and she doesn't know if she'll come back to MSU. She plans to get her training as a paramedic and become a firefighter, her long-time dream. The complication is that she will need to return to Missouri because her family is here and she doesn't want to live apart from them for too long.

Heather also has decided to try to enlist in the National Guard. "I've been going to college for two years, and it didn't work out so well, so I need a plan B," she says. Meanwhile, she'll be in West Plains for finals week. And before finals week, there are parties.

Sunday is usually Sober Day among the girls' friends (after Margarita Monday, Tequila Tuesday, Wine Wednesday, Thirsty Thursday, Fun Friday and Super-fun Saturday). But on this Sunday in early May, they use the S for Single and find a theme for their party. On Friday, Heather's boyfriend, Tommy, broke up with her, so she joined the others at a friend's house. They played beer pong, a game in which each team tries to throw a pingpong ball into the other team's plastic cups. Usually, if the ball gets inside, the members of the opposing team drink from the cup. In this case, the garage floor where they were playing was too dirty, so they used cups with water and kept their drinks on the side.

The party started in the early afternoon. By 9 p.m. the game was old and the girls were tired. Heather and Samantha dozed off on a large couch in the garage, covered by a patchy blanket, in a tight embrace.

Clarification:

Samantha was sworn into the National Guard in late April this year. She then got a job at a McDonald's until August, when she is scheduled to go to National Guard boot camp.

Guard training starts in fall if she makes it through boot camp.


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Comments

d dorr July 2, 2012 | 9:44 a.m.

Excellent, excellent article.
Just happened upon this article, the development & depth are Vanity Fair or New Yorker like.
Well done.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor July 2, 2012 | 3:04 p.m.

Welfare at work creating idle people who spend our money on booze and drugs so they will be dumbed down enough to believe their own lies. Sad...

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 2, 2012 | 3:09 p.m.

It is a very well written article. The moral of the story is that some young people shouldn't go to college right away. It's expected, it's "normal", it's a lot of things, but it's too easy to have fun, rather than making good grades, if one doesn't have a specific goal and the path to get there.

The National Guard (or other military) could be the best thing that could happen to Samantha and Heather. It's likely that after they get out, they'll be much more able to separate work and play, and be more successful in whatever they want to do. Good Luck!!!

DK

(Report Comment)
Frank Bier July 2, 2012 | 7:06 p.m.

This has to be one of the most depressing stories I have ever read, rural America is a wasteland of drugs , alcohol and welfare. If we don't do something to regain a drive for a better America and remove welfare for FREE and the youth of today seeing no reason for the so called "HOPE AND CHANGE , but we're still going to keep you dependent on welfare" state of our country we will soon be over taken by countries like China that "work" and have a drive to better themselves .These kids and I do mean kids , they are by no means anywhere near being adults are a sorry ass mess due to the decline of the family, work ethic and welfare state of this country.

(Report Comment)
Holly LaCaze July 2, 2012 | 9:00 p.m.

I just have to say that as I understand this is an article about poverty, MSU West Plains was portrayed horribly. I think as a response to this article, you as journalists should pick 3 girls who live in West Plains and attend MSU who have also come from poverty but are doing well for themselves like myself. I was also a child of poverty and had children at a young age but have attended MSU West Plains, graduated once and will be receiving 2 more degrees in the coming year with a 4.0 GPA! Although MSU West Plains has a low graduation rate, this is not the case for everyone and there are ways of dragging yourself out of poverty and accomplishing great things in life. This article truly frustrates me.

(Report Comment)
Laura Johnston July 2, 2012 | 9:00 p.m.

The Missourian editors recognize that this story is one that could be polarizing. It certainly has sparked a lively discussion and we thank you for your viewpoints.
We don't expect everyone to agree with our decision to feature these four students, nor did we intend to paint them as the profile of all students in West Plains.

I think you might be able to find these types of students on any college campus. I talked with the reporter in her early stages of writing — partly for my perspective as a native of Missouri's Bootheel — about the fact that some readers would wonder why we were writing about these young women.

I recognize their struggles; I've seen them in my extended family. I was lucky enough to have strong parents and good role models who helped encourage me to choose a different path.

The story of these four girls is part of the American Dream as it's being re-imagined. These girls have hopes and aspirations for a better future. They haven't always had good role models and admit that they feel lost trying to find their way.
The photographer on this project has been in touch today with Samantha, who tells us that she has stopped partying and changed some of her ways after realizing what her life had become.

Here are some links to the project: http://www.columbiamissourian.com/p/amer...

And a column from the supervising editor:
http://www.columbiamissourian.com/storie...

Thanks for being part of the conversation. We welcome your viewpoint.

Laura Johnston, senior news editor
Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 2, 2012 | 9:35 p.m.

Do these young women know differences between right and wrong that lead to productive lives?

There is a connection, you know.

If so, they need to put the ethics into practice.

Lack of a delayed-gratification strategy does seem to be a problem.

It's a well-written story and, for me, extremely sad. I hope the women make it, but....don't wander around too long.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 2, 2012 | 9:40 p.m.

Holly, many people (for some reason) cannot tell the difference between a good long-term decision and a bad one. Indeed, those same people generally concentrate on bad short-term decisions only and ignore anything longer because it does not yield anything feeling good.

It appears you quit wandering and focused on something distant...but good. I congratulate you.

(Report Comment)
Sarah Becker July 2, 2012 | 10:01 p.m.

I agree with Holly, MSU was portrayed badly. Success in college life and in life in general has less to do with growing up in a povertous area than the ethics an individual has. I've grown up doing without but my will to do better for myself and my abstaining from distractions will take me so far.
Staying in the South Central area of Missouri will be my choice, not a boyfriend's and not my lack of finances. You have to want to do better for yourself and have the strength to divert your attention from "fun" activities and buckle down and make someting of yourself. These girls just didn't have that strength. It wasn't the college's fault, the fault must be taken upon themselves.

(Report Comment)
Ciera Lindley July 2, 2012 | 11:25 p.m.

Anyone who blames the choices of these individuals on the cycle of welfare, its abuse, excusing this behavior due to drugs and alcohol is simply avoiding the true issue. What individuals should take from this, they're missing. Outside of our area, outside of the Ozarks, individuals are provided a better economical opportunity. Not only is their availability to find economic income higher, but so is the level of work. Rural Missourians work hard, tough it out and survive. We are NOT a wasteland of druggies, drunks and welfare frauds. We DON'T have the opportunity. Do you realize how much funding public schools in rural Missouri receive? Per child? Not that much. Nothing compared to larger cities.

You cannot generalize a subculture, which is exactly what the Ozarks is. Nothing is ever definitive, nothing is ever absolute. Live it before you knock it. We work for what we want, we make sacrifices.

To some that sacrifice is education - this isn't an article to state individuals shouldn't go to college at a young age. What? Are you being SERIOUS? We're weening our children off of of childhood far latter than previous generations.

Kids have to learn, and they have to make their own decisions. To some, giving up their opportunity to learn to support their family is what they think they have to do. It is what they have to do.

What you should take from this article is the avoidance lack of opportunity provided to rural pockets of America.

And for the record? Wasteland of drugs? If there wasn't a demand for it elsewhere, there would not be a need for a suppler. Basic principle of supply and demand. Individuals who do NOT live in rural Missouri are some of that demand because not all rural Missourians are druggies.

How do I know? Because I am a first generation college student, working four, FOUR jobs, president of a college club, active in a majority of clubs, going on 22 years of age, looking to buy a car, and have provided for myself primarily for the past five years plus some.

And I go to Missouri State University West Plains, and I am proud of where I come from.

Its not a wasteland of drugs. Check your facts, check your regions, check your geography and politics. Poverty is a vicious cycle, of course its a culture plague. Of course is both a circumstantial and generational cycle.

What cannot be avoided though? We're the tenth poorest congressional district. We're underfuned. But we try, we live and survive.

So? Don't knock all of us.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor July 2, 2012 | 11:56 p.m.

First off let me say I graduated from MU, so I, like most others probably, recognize that this behavior happens on most college campus's and won't hold this against MSU. I think Holly hit it on the head. Those kids that arrive at campus with a pocket full of loan $ without direction are headed for trouble regardless of their parents bank accounts. I lived with a large group of about 26 ppl my freshman year and the only guy that resembled these girls and flunked out was the son of a div i college football head coach. Having said that the lack of parenting skills seems to be rampant among those in poverty. It seems we need to change a system that rewards poor decisions and increases the numbers of ppl living in poverty with poor parenting.

Kudos to Laura, Holly, and Sarah. You are living proof that the American dream is alive and well! Well Done! Samantha, if you want to be like these women, start acting like they do. It's not too late!

(Report Comment)
katie castello July 3, 2012 | 12:37 a.m.

i must say i do not like this artice. i thought it was suppose to be about the american dream and about our goals and what we thought the american dream means...and everything i have said has turned around and sounds like i have no ambition in life. like i have have no direction in life and dont plan on doing something great for my self. it sounds horrible as well reflecting badly on me.

(Report Comment)
heather hopkins July 3, 2012 | 1:23 a.m.

i feel like a lot of us were misunderstood. they had much better pictures to post. one of the photographers went to class with me. we weren't drunk all the time. every decision we made wasn't poor. we aren't white trash. you people know nothing about us. we talked to the journalists thinking we could be open with them about some things, i had no idea my life would be broadcasted on the internet. part of growing up is finding out how to manage responsibility and be responsible. we have a lot to learn but it's not like we honestly believe that living one huge party is really gonna get us far, where's the logic in that. i feel like we were poorly portrayed. and where did you see any drugs? they went out with us one night, took pictures, posted them on the internet and now we're a buncha partyin' kids that have no direction in life. we are much more than what has been shown in this article.

(Report Comment)
Janet Franke July 3, 2012 | 2:04 a.m.

My name is Janet and I have lived in West Plains, Mo for the past 14 years and I am a proud alumni of both West Plains High and MSU-WP.
Now, I have no intention of insulting the article or the writer because that would be no different than what I would be accusing you of doing to the school and the city. What I will say, is that it paints an unrealistic portrait of our school and the city but I applaud your initiative to write about a subject that would be tough for any journalist. No matter what area you would have selected, the stories would most likely be similar though like you stated,they do not represent the entire student body.
A suggestion for the future would be to take both positive and negative viewpoints from the same school and compare and contrast them rather than taking one viewpoint (either positive or negative) from each school because it in turn makes some schools look more appealing while others appear less than inviting.
Again, I appreciate you taking the time to stress an important matter that is occurring in the education systems across the country. It's all a learning experience so please do not take personal offense to any comments that may follow.
Have a nice day. :)

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 3, 2012 | 2:12 a.m.

Now, let's have an article about four students matriculating at a state-supported university campus in "South Central" Missouri* that has gone a long way toward providing the American Dream for its students, a full third of whom come from American families in serious financial difficulty. It's a subdivision of UM System. A national rating agency tracking bachelor's degree starting salaries ranks the campus top 10 in in the Midwest, something no other institution of higher learning in Missouri, MU included, can claim.

Those unfortunate young women could NOT for several reasons be accepted for admission to the institution in question. Enrollment is maxed out due to facilities limitations. (Such are the warped priorities of University of Missouri System.)

I have one question: Why was it felt necessary to go "so far south" in Missouri in order to find a campus having serious motivational, attitudinal and drug problems? Do such problems NOT exist NORTH of the Missouri River? :) Otherwise, I feel the writing itself was quite good.

*-There's South Central Missouri, and then there's "South Central Missouri." :)

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 3, 2012 | 3:38 a.m.

Retired (from both NASA and MS&T) Astronaut Tom Akers was born in St. Louis but his primary and secondary education took place in Eminence, Missouri. Eminence, an old saw mill/lumber camp center, is a place to rent a canoe and float the Current or Jack's Fork rivers, or picnic at Alley Spring, but it's NOT an epicenter of learning.

Tom managed to obtain two degrees in mathematics, become a military aviator, fly a number of missions for NASA, and end his career as a calculus instructor at MS&T, his alma mater. Tom was motivated.

A number of MSM/UMR/MS&T graduates come not from large metro areas, nor were they born with silver spoons in their mouths. That's also true for our middle school and high school MS&T summer camp attendees. While we charge tuition for most camps, we have means of helping families with that.

Again, why did you need to go that far south in this State to find examples? If you need photos of drunken, vomiting college students, do you even need to leave Columbia?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 3, 2012 | 7:03 a.m.

As I recall, junior colleges are mentioned in the article. One of our neighboring states has only three (3) public universities! How many are there in Missouri? At least a dozen, perhaps as many as fifteen. How many public junior colleges are there?

The population of Missouri is almost double that of the other state. So does Missouri really need more than six (6) public universities? As I recall, both Kennedy (Missourian) and Waters (Tribune) have addressed this.

The other state has a physical system of junior colleges such that no part of their state is without one! No matter where a prospective student lives in that state, there's a junior college in his/her area. Enrollments vary, but one of the junior colleges has an enrollment larger than any of the three state universities.

Subject to a junior college student's curricula and grades, eventual transfer to state university is allowed and encouraged.

It is not a university's primary job to motivate students who lack motivation. On the other hand, how many ROADBLOCKS do we propose to put in students' way?

(Report Comment)
Chris Roll July 3, 2012 | 9:53 a.m.

Hi, I'm Chris Roll. I graduated from Missouri State University-West Plains in 2010, and have lived in the West Plains area my entire life.
I certainly won't deny that poverty is a very serious issue faced in south-central Missouri; indeed, it's a problem my family faces on a daily basis, especially since my father is disabled and my mother is his primary caregiver.
Furthermore, I won't deny the fact that these girls' situation is something I see all-too-often. It's very easy to lose hope here, to lose sight of dreams, to follow bad paths.
Having said that, though, I must say that tragedy is not the only thing to spring forth from the Ozarks. I've seen a lot of people do really well for themselves, despite economic hardship. I've seen a lot of people thrive due to hard work and determination (and, perhaps, eating their green vegetables as their mothers told them to). I've seen people find the happiness they were looking for and more, despite the presumed hopelessness of the region.
And you know what? In many cases, MSU-WP is what made the difference.

(Report Comment)
Chris Roll July 3, 2012 | 9:54 a.m.

MSU-WP isn't a "junior college" so much as it is a 2-year branch of a bigger university. It still offers some 4-year degrees, such as business, education and nursing, and even offers some masters programs. In all my college experience, I have NEVER encountered faculty who cared more about the success of their students, and in many cases, it's because they, too, know what it's like to have dreams, to see them temporarily squashed, and then to rise up and make it in this world anyway. Bar none, the English department here is unparalleled in its devotion to developing creativity and critical thinking, and I learned a great deal from all my teachers. Beyond that, I was proud to serve as a tutor during my time at MSU-WP, and I saw first-hand how much of a difference caring tutors can make in helping students to get their bearings and find a drive to succeed.
What makes this school special is that it offers open admission. ANYONE can attend this university, no matter what their high school test scores were. Financial aid opportunities are many, too, for those willing to look. Because of my grades, I was making a substantial amount of money through financial aid alone, and that was vital toward my transfer process to a bigger school for my bachelor's degree.
Basically, what I'm saying is MSU-WP opens doors for people who might not have an opportunity to succeed otherwise, and might be trapped in a life they don't want. Now, whether their happiness lies in the West Plains area or beyond is up to them, but this school gives them a choice; it's up to them to make the one they want.
I know this school helped me; I'm currently a journalism student at the University of Missouri. I've seen my work published in multiple publications already, and I'm confident my horizons are only going to broaden from here. I clawed my way up from nothing, with no money and no connections, and I've seen others come from less and do even more.

So, my comment is this: adverse circumstances do not guarantee hopelessness. I wish these girls the best, and I hope they find what they're looking for.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor July 3, 2012 | 11:08 a.m.

^^^^
Great post Chris. Good luck at J-school and beyond.

Katie and Heather, good luck. The fact that you don't like what you see here is a good sign! Focus on long term goals first. School, whether college or tech, leads to job. Job leads to economic freedom for you to choose where and how you live. The Amercian dream! So, school/tech is your must have focus for now. If you read one of the other stories in this series you will know that most other people in the world who come from backrounds similar to yours, ('cept they would be called middle class instead of poor elsewhere...) do not have the opportunities that you have. It is easy to look at the rich kids who have connections and feel like you got the short end. I would encourage you to look at the rest of the worlds population and consider all of the blessings that you have that they don't. Your future will be determined by the choices you make from here on out!!!

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 3, 2012 | 12:33 p.m.

MikeM: Your future will be determined by the choices you make from here on out!!!
_____________________

I agree. A life is the sum of all choices made, and a not-very-significant amount of "luck" in most cases.

When you get to my age, tho, it's impossible to look back and identify all those choices. I've stated (in this place) my belief that most folks encounter 2 or 3 REALLY BIG choices in their life that have a very significant impact, directing that person into another line of "lesser" choices. I still believe this.

To me, the real question is whether a person is in the habit of making more "good" choices than "bad".

I don't subscribe to the notion that life is a roulette wheel with random "winners" and "losers", but have no wish to turn this into a luck vs deliberate choice argument. Been there, done that.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 3, 2012 | 12:40 p.m.

PS: No other place to ask this question, but has the Missourian reported on the allegations of lewd behavior at the police charity event at AL Gustin?

Did I miss it? If so, where is it?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 3, 2012 | 1:51 p.m.

It must indeed be marvelous that we have one public university campus in Missouri so without problems of the type discussed that MU is forced to send journalists to a campus in the Missouri Ozarks.

Tom Warhover will straighten this out for us at the end of the week. Tom is the managing editor. Tom straightens put everything.

Chris, we (MS&T) wish we COULD "open more doors," but we have no place to put more students. Send 'em to MU? They only have half as many engineering majors. As it stands, a motivated Missouri high school graduate with good grades and even sufficient funding, wanting to major in certain branches of engineering must either make our admissions "cut" or the student must either "give up their dream" or study outside Missouri, at higher cost.

More attention would probably be paid to these problems if they involved football stadiums...

(Report Comment)
Laura Johnston July 3, 2012 | 2:54 p.m.

@Michael Williams: We did report on the allegations. You can read the story here: http://www.columbiamissourian.com/storie...

Laura Johnston, senior news editor
Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
Ciera Lindley July 3, 2012 | 4:08 p.m.

The Ozarks is a subculture within Missouri with notorious associations, poverty and slowed progress being some such associations. Individuals have to realize though, just because Winter's Bone was published, filmed and released doesn't mean its an accurate account of Ozarkian life ....

What could have been learned from this article is being missed.

The essence of the article, I feel, is totally being missed .... Individuals should realize poverty IS an issue, it IS a cultural problem, and we ARE one of the poorest congressional districts. But everyone, us included, are missing the opportunity this article could have ... Change the pattern, get us more economic funding .. but instead? We're left with arguments of poor judgement, excuses of drugs and alcohol and blaming the work of idle people. This article had potential, it does have depth, unfortunately its been wasted. Shame.

... or am I the only one that feels like that?

(Report Comment)
Marti Richmiller July 3, 2012 | 8:41 p.m.

I have to agree with Ciera. The story had potential to shed light on an important issue: the lack of funding provided to schools in this area of Missouri. However, it slowly transformed into a story on a few freshmen girls and their clouded judgement on college life. I lived in the same dormitory at the same junior college with these women and I had a completely different experience. My roommates and I went to class. We all passed all our classes. We are ALL moving to bigger universities to continue our studies. This article leaves the impression that these women did not succeed due to where they are from or how they were brought up. Even if circumstances weren't in their favor, motivation is determined by the individual. The fact that they all made it to a university despite hardship highlights the success of MSU - West Plains and their financial aid department. They gave all these women an opportunity to better their lives. That point is completely missed.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 4, 2012 | 2:14 a.m.

Marti Richmiller said, "They [MSU-West Plains] gave all these women an opportunity to better their lives. That point is completely missed."

That sums it up.

Above, I mentioned Astronaut Tom Akers. Dr. Theodore Planje at the time of his sudden death was Dean of the School of Mines & Metallurgy at UM System's Rolla campus. Planje was from Doolittle, Missouri (Phelps County). "Do little" as a place name would seem to suit some people's perception of any place or person located south of the Missouri River. WRONG!

(Report Comment)
Bob Brandon July 4, 2012 | 9:17 a.m.

The local paper in the little town in the Ozarks where we first lived when we move to Missouri ran the honor roll for MSU-WP students from the local area. Still does. These kids are breaking the stereotype. A lot of these children also go elsewhere to college/university: one young man from the town just graduated from Rolla with an aerospace engineering degree.

The Missourian needs to tell their stories as well, and there are a lot of stories like these to tell. Not just the problematic ones.

(Report Comment)
Chris Roll July 5, 2012 | 8:34 a.m.

Rock on, Ciera.

Furthermore, I'm glad to see the photo gallery has been edited, but I'm still reeling from what I see as an ill-reported slight toward a great school. For more than 2,000 young people in southern Missouri, Missouri State University-West Plains represents a chance for something more, an opportunity to reach for stars otherwise unreachable. It's a beacon of hope in an area that, yes, does have its share of blights. But this school allows them a chance to move on to bigger and better things, or to better influence the community they already live in.

Also, when the school's low graduation rate is addressed . . . many times, students take difficult classes here, where there are more opportunities for one-on-one instruction and tutoring, and then transfer to a bigger school that has their desired degree program and proceed from there. That's kind of the point . . . the school can be a means to an end or an end in itself. Just because someone doesn't graduate from MSU-WP, that doesn't mean their educational progress is forever stunted.

As for remedial classes, sometimes it's necessary. "No Child Left Behind" doesn't necessarily guarantee the kids understand everything they learned by the time they graduate. Maybe they never understood something like algebra or English composition to begin with. That's why visiting a tutor is a REQUIREMENT for MSU-WP's remedial English class, and students must document their weekly visits.

(Report Comment)
Chris Roll July 5, 2012 | 8:45 a.m.

And, frankly, I feel that this article kind of threw its subjects under a bus. I ask, what prospective employers will Google these girls and, seeing this article, give them a chance? How much harder will Tacompsy's life be because people will know she "considered" doing a porno?

There are a lot of very harsh realities visited in this article, a lot of which are damaging. And yes, a lot of the more controversial photos are gone, but who greenlit them in the first place?

Kids make dumb choices. It's true. But this could very well destroy their lives. Would I have done the same in the reporter's shoes? I can't say for certain because I am most certainly biased. But I might have considered omitting their last names at the very least. And I might have asked the girls if it was okay to use some of their stories, because they clearly didn't know any better about saying things "off the record."

I might have also talked to people in West Plains who have a lot of time and resources invested in MSU-WP. I might have talked to Herb Lunday or Carol Silvey or Dusty Shaw or Alexandra Graham or Craig Albin or any other number of people who can discuss the positive side, and that even though some students do make bad decisions, and do fail, there is still hope in this place.

Just sayin' . . .

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 7, 2012 | 4:57 p.m.

@ Chris Roll:

Right on! For starters (see my above posts) this article would have been more unbiased had they not published two of their photos. Why was that deemed necessary? I think a written reply from the Missourian staff is warranted. Are we dealing in facts or sensationalism? Next we'll expect to see the Missourian displayed in super markets next to tabloid newspapers. :)

For the record, MS&T knows we've had problems with alcoholism: several years ago we had a student die from alcohol poisoning. How much worse can it get then that? We don't need to go to someone else's campus to take pictures of drunken students, and, as you say, does that REALLY tell the story of a campus?

Hey, MU, people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. -:

(Report Comment)
Tarynn Huitt July 10, 2012 | 11:46 a.m.

I was born in Springfield and raised in Salem. I can agree with a lot of what was said in this article about the culture of poverty in the Ozarks. However, I will not accept poverty as an excuse for laziness. I grew up with many poor, hard-working individuals. They may never have had a lot, but they did appreciate the important things like family. I know kids with terrible parents and still put themselves through trade school to learn a respectable profession. Some chose to stay in the area because they love it, and others moved to big cities to work for big companies.

As for me, I was better off financially than a lot of my friends, but I still made the decision to work hard in high school and attend a university on the East coast for engineering. Even though my high school was a joke compared to the high schools my college friends attended, I still worked hard and made excellent grades my Freshman year. Now the big question for me is whether or not to get a PhD or start work after my Bachelor's so I can work my way up in a company.

I can't deny that the Ozarks would make an interesting sociological study, but I would recommend looking at the whole picture. It's not money or success or the ability to "get out of here" that distinguishes us, but how hard we are willing to work in life.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 10, 2012 | 12:30 p.m.

I assume, Tarynn, you are still in engineering.

One advantage of studying engineering is that no matter whether you opt for going directly for a job or on to a MS and PhD, you will probably do well. With some occupations it is difficult to get a well-paid job with only a BA or BS degree; further study before looking for a job is often necessary.

An engineer can do well with only a BS degree. He or she may subsequently elect to go back to school to achieve a MS or PhD degree, OR one often chosen alternative is to achieve a MBA degree (and some institutions also offer MS degrees in scientific and engineering management).

Ellis Smith, PE

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum July 10, 2012 | 12:34 p.m.

This is normal behavior for most people. Anyone can point a camera at you on one of the few occasions that you get tanked. For those of you who haven't/didn't do this sort of thing when you were 17... I'll bet you're really fun to be around! If you're going to do an exposée on the subculture of poverty in the Ozarks, you should show us something other than what I can see right here in Columbia (by the thousands) -- young people who like to get messed up and are confused about what they want to do with their lives. The main issue driving academic failure is timing -- kids going to school before they're ready, and before Federal grant monies become available to them.

Drive along the Missouri River's small "towns" and look around: Osage City, Gasconade, Chamois, etc. Makes the Ozarks look like a resort. Show us what's up near home, instead of perpetuating the cliche of pointing the finger at the 'hillbillies'. If you analyze the Census data, you'll find that the marginal communities near us are very much similar to those of the deep Ozarks.

(Report Comment)

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