Senior family studies major Khiara Sumone Loera didn’t come to class with a just notebook and a pen, but also with her 2-year-old daughter Illiana.
Loera will be graduating this spring after taking her daughter to most of her classes as an undergrad.
Loera had to face many challenges while simultaneously having to combat a full class load schedule and taking care of her daughter. She would often juggle multiple jobs or take notes during lecture while looking after Illiana.
“The hardest times that I could think of was just being a single parent,” she said. “That extra help would have been nice and made things a lot smoother. But in life you don’t always get that and it was a bit frustrating.”
After her pregnancy, Loera also worked a graveyard shift while completing her degree. Originally from Clovis, New Mexico, she decided to move her sister to Albuquerque to give her an extra hand.
“Looking back at my childhood, I knew I wanted more for (Illiana), although I knew raising her as a single mom, I was going to have to work twice as hard to get where I needed to be. I had motivation before she was born but when she came into my life my motivation came on a whole other level,” she said.
Once Illiana was born Loera said she was a little worried going back into the classroom. She just wanted to be treated as a normal student, even if that meant she had to breast feed or take a moment away from class to check in with her daughter.
“That first day going back to school, my mentality was for them not to treat me any different. I wanted the teachers to know I was up for the challenge. I was paying attention and I was here to learn just like everyone else,” Loera said.
UNM’s Women’s Resource Center offers on-campus aid to help mothers that have to commute to class with their children.
Counseling sessions, scholarships for single mothers and private breastfeeding rooms are a few of the many resources that are offered. There are 17 lactation stations between main and north campus, 14 of which have hospital-grade breastfeeding pumps available.
The amount of support and positivity that Loera experienced on the UNM campus stood out to her in a big way. She said students and professors didn’t treat her negatively and she never heard any complaints about having Illiana with her.
One of her biggest supporters was Virginia Shipman, one of her instructors.
“Like most of my teachers that made an impact in my life, she did much more,” Loera said.
Shipman showed her how to take a step back and look at her goals more slowly. She said while a person can never go back and redo motherhood, they can always find time to go back to school.
Loera will take a year off from school after graduation before she starts her master’s program in social work at Norfolk State University in Virginia. She plans to finish her master’s degree and begin working for the Children, Youth and Families Department before aiming for a federal position in her field.
“I am truly blessed. I hope to see more single parents — not just mothers — further their education (at UNM) and I hope to see more teaching staff accept it as well,” Loera said.
Nick Fojud is the photo editor at the Daily Lobo. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NFojud.