Family, classes, country

How one student finds time for pre-K classmates, late-night study sessions and pumping jet fuel

The sound of scantrons shuffling reverberated through the room for Test 3 in Marco Atzori’s Cellular Neuroscience class. A young boy, just four years old, sat quietly in the corner with headphones adorning his ears as he colored away.

His mother sat next to him filling out the scantron while papers were passed out. It was early Monday morning after fall break and school was back in full swing. 

Yet the young boy sat quietly playing away in a room full of college students who were hurried and nervous while rushing through a last-minute cram session of slides containing pictures of metabotropic receptors and glutamate re-uptake pathways. 

The mother of 4-year-old Adrian, neuroscience senior Marsya Almeida, also works as re-fueler of jet planes for the U.S. Air Force and juggles a marriage and two children, all while pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor.

For Almeida, finding motivation is not an issue. An Air Force officer once told her becoming a doctor while raising two young children is a lofty goal. However, she said she could do anything she sets her mind to, citing the Air Force core values: “integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do.”

“I am spread pretty thin, but my children see everything,” she said. “I work this hard to show my children that you cannot give up because it is hard. Everyday decisions are not only for my benefit but for theirs as well.”

After losing her job in 2009, Almeida joined the Air Force Reserve. She chose UTD specifically for its renowned neuroscience program and her interest in Lucien Thompson, an associate professor whose research on aging and memory formation is well known in neuroscience circles for his research. Hectic schedules with a very little room for flexibility has cost her 20 school days this semester on account of active duty and her children being sick. In times like these, she gets help from a friend who lends her notes.

She brings Adrian, who is in pre-K, to class now after a sitter once let him walk alone to school by mistake. Almeida said she is exploring on-campus daycare options, but due to the near disaster involving Adrian, she would rather stay with him during the day.

Finally, as the day comes to an end, Adrian and 6-year-old Anne fast asleep, it is time to hit the books and focus on her daily homework. Almeida often ends up studying with her peers. She said she believes that everything she does, even if it is just walking, should be done with purpose.

“Being in the military taught me to look beyond my limitations and keep pushing for excellence,” she said.

She met Austin, her husband of seven years in Winfield, Kan., while he was studying for his degree in education. She said he plays a central role in taking care of the kids when she leaves for her reserve duty with USAF. She said she is blessed to be truly in love with a man who supports her in everything she wants to do, no matter how difficult.

Although her first choice of a degree plan earlier was in youth ministry, she was thoroughly enthralled by science after performing well at her general chemistry course at Southwestern College in Winfield. She looked into studying pharmacy and teaching, but after seeing the condition of public schools in the area decided to devote her time in getting an education in neuroscience.

“I applaud younger students on knowing exactly what they want at a young age,” she said. “I am, however, a work in progress.”

Despite all her commitments, she finds time to take part in the Neuroscience Student’s Association, the Veteran’s Affairs Association and the Health Professions Group on campus.

Loyalty to her country, the closeness of her family and her academic goals drive her to succeed in a schedule that can bring many to buckle under the sheer pressure, but as a true soldier, loving wife and mother and dedicated student, she marches on.

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