Bates uses experience to help students

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 2, 2008

PROCTORVILLE — In her heart T.J. Bates always knew she would get an education. However, her belief in herself wasn’t shared by everyone around her.

That was especially true when Bates became a teenage mother marrying while she was still a student at Ironton High School.

“Getting married early in high school, the assumption is that this is a throwaway student,” she said. “I had a really strong work ethic. I had a really strong education ethic. There was never a thought of dropping out of school.”

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Now as she encourages and guides students and future students at the Ohio University Proctorville Center, Bates shares her own struggles to get a college degree with those she counsels.

“I really hadn’t had anyone talk to me about going to college,” she said. “That was one of the disappointments. I wasn’t someone anyone ever approached about going to college. Sometimes I look at it that there were certain groups of students who were never informed about the opportunities of college. I was one of those students.”

What was one of the major boosts for Bates was an offer from her in-laws to care for her two children as she tackled an undergraduate regimen.

“That changed my life. I am indebted to them. I would have been stuck with very limited opportunities,” Bates said.

As a non-traditional freshman at Ohio University’s Athens campus, Bates discovered many life lessons that she now shares with her advisees.

“If you don’t ask, no one will tell you,” she said. “I learned on the Athens campus, no one is going to come up and say, ‘Hey, this is what you do.’ I found out the hard way.”

Developing a strong sense of self-reliance and a flexibility to change strategies that were not effective, Bates realized her dream of earning her undergraduate degree. But it took a great deal of strength of spirit for the young woman to push herself to success.

“Two things got me through college. First, my grandmother had a vision that education was important. And my faith in God,” she said. “I remember sitting at home thinking I don’t think I can do this. This is four years.”

Then Bates discovered that changing how she looked at a situation gave her an added impetus to go forward.

“I thought in four years you can still be sitting on the same spot or you can have an education,” she said. “I knew what I had to do. ‘You have X amount of time you have to do this. You can go back and be on welfare or get an education.’ ”

Now as a member of the OU Proctorville staff, Bates sees her work as the chance to give back to the institution that guided her life into a new direction.

“I had always said if I could work for OU I would love to. I truly enjoyed my experience with OU. I am always a Bobcat. I am always green and white.”