Coming to Fruition

Cleveland Native Persists 40 Years to Earn Notre Dame Degree

Arlene Jenkins

One of Notre Dame College’s newest alumni, Arlene Jenkins ’15, started her college career in 1976 at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. She first enrolled at Notre Dame four years later.

Now, after persevering for a total of four decades, she has graduated with a bachelor’s degree in human resources from the College.

“I always said I was going to finish my degree, to get my business degree,” Jenkins said.

Four years after Jenkins—at that time her name was Arlene Laney— first started taking classes part-time at Notre Dame, she met and married her husband, Rufus. It was 1984.

While Jenkins was working for a Cleveland engineering construction firm, the couple had two children and eventually bought a house.

“The worst thing was that I stopped,” she said. “If I had a do-over, I would have finished school and gotten the degree, then gotten back into the work world.”

At the engineering firm, Jenkins started with a job in planning and scheduling and moved into marketing. She coped with four changes in ownership, and names, at the company in what has amounted to her now 30-year tenure there.

During the last transition, Jenkins said she was to be displaced. But she refused to give in.

She showed her superiors she had performed, while she was in the marketing department, all of the responsibilities for a lower—but open—position as a human resources administrator at the company

After six months in that “step down” position, Jenkins said she received a performance evaluation. Management told her, while she was performing at the highest levels, she would not receive a pay raise.

“That was the first time in all my years there that I did not receive a raise. I said, ‘This isn’t going to work for me.’ That was my motivation,” she said.

From 2008 to 2009, Jenkins earned an online associate’s degree with the University of Phoenix. But after that first graduation, Jenkins—and her supervisor at the time—said she still needed the “door opener” of a bachelor’s degree to advance at the company.

So, the next year Jenkins started taking classes part-time on campus at Notre Dame again, 30 years after she first began as a Weekend College student.

Fast forward four more years to 2014: Jenkins had one year of classes left to her commencement at Notre Dame when she received a promotion at work. Then her financial aid eligibility expired, but she would not be deterred.

“I couldn’t afford it, but I told my husband we had to bite the bullet. I have got to finish,” she said.

Jenkins and her husband paid out of pocket for her final year of tuition. She had to use her personal time off from work in order to attend classes.

But the work, both in and out of school, has been worth it for her. Jenkins, now 58, said with God’s help, not only has she persisted, but she also has inspired her son and daughter to pursue college degrees.

Now that she has finished her bachelor’s degree, Jenkins is considering a change in employment—to entrepreneur. She said she might start an event planning business one day.

“It’s really been a journey,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade it.”

E.g., 06/23/19
E.g., 06/23/19