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'I want my life to be purposeful'

An MU student from an education-driven family works her way through college
Monday, March 7, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:33 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Forty-some pairs of multicolored shoes line the shelves under Brianne Black’s bed. She says it is an obsession, but others might claim it is just a consequence of Black’s big personality.

That might be going too far, she said.

“I’m obsessed with shoes, but I don’t have the clothes to go with them,” she said.

In a similar manner, Black’s driven nature has led her to get involved with many jobs and activities. Sometimes, though, it seems she doesn’t have the time to go with them.

Black, 20, is a pre-nursing student at MU. She grew up in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house in Kansas City, Kan., with three sisters, two brothers and her mother.

“I get a lot more ‘me time’ in my dorm room,” she said.

But Black managed to get out of the house often. She was on the dance team at F.L. Schlagle High School and spent her summers taking courses for college credit at the University of Kansas and Kansas State University. Her mother encouraged her to take the classes because Schlagle didn’t offer many college-level courses.

“I love my school, but it wasn’t the best education,” Black said. “It was more about disciplining than teaching.”

She made the decision early in high school to transfer from a college preparatory school, Sumner Academy, to Schlagle so she could dance.

“The choice was to get better education at Sumner or to dance,” her mother, Darleen Black, said. “She focused on dance until she got focused on her studies.”

Black agreed that her mother’s persistence about getting focused made a big difference.

“If she hadn’t pushed me to be academically focused, I wouldn’t be ready,” she said. “She’s probably the only reason why I am succeeding.”

Making the decision to go to college might have been easy for her, but choosing where to go was a little more difficult. Schlagle is a predominately black high school, and Black said the counselors encouraged those who graduated to attend historically black colleges.

“I was the black sheep who went to the white college,” she said.

A big adjustment

Since Black arrived at MU and settled into her studies, she hasn’t looked back. She is taking a break from dancing this year so she can balance her many activities. Those include working at Ellis Library, doing lab research, participating in Chi Alpha ministries and going to Bible study at Campus Christian House.

“I’m a workaholic,” she said. “I have to be occupied and busy.”

Part of the reason Black is so busy is that she has to pay for her schooling. Three of her siblings also are enrolled in college. Her sister Frances Rogers, 23, attends Baker University in Topeka, Kan.; another sister, Jessica Rogers, 21, attends Wichita State University in Wichita, Kan.; and her brother, Randolph Rogers, 18, is at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Additionally, her mother attends Kansas City Community College, working toward an associate’s degree in supervising.

“She gave us an option: ‘You’re going to go to college or the Army, but you can’t stay here,’” Black said.

Most of Black’s siblings chose the first option. But having five college students in the family and an income of about $38,000 per year is difficult.

“It’s been a big adjustment,” Darleen Black said. “When you have everyone under one roof, you have shampoo and toothpaste and everybody shares. We still have the same needs, they’re just in four different locations.”

Black has received some financial help. She receives a diversity scholarship, which covers the difference between in- and out-of-state tuition. She also gets a federal Pell Grant that doesn’t have to be repaid. She covers the rest with campus jobs and loans.

Because Black is interested in nursing, she considers the lab research more of a benefit than a job. She has been working for Miriam Golomb, a molecular microbiologist, for a year and a half. Golomb said that in addition to being talented and organized, Black has a personality that stands out.

“She’s extremely upbeat about life in general,” Golomb said. “It’s always fun to have people like that in the lab.”

Black has applied for the McNair Scholars program at MU, an advanced research program dominated by pre-med students. She also is juggling her summer plans. She has been offered a paid research internship at the University of Iowa. However, she also would like to go to South Africa with a nursing program.

“I want my life to be purposeful,” she said. “I think everybody should step outside their comfort zone.”

That step would cost more than $4,500, though. Black’s family can only cover about one-third of the cost. She has written letters and appeared on radio shows to spur fund-raising, but she still does not have enough money to go.

“If the money comes through, I’ll go,” she said. “If not, I’ll go next summer.”

In the meantime, Black is trying to save for a new car. It's possible, however, that she won't ever have time to drive it.


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