22 Dec Coming full circle
The announcement of the closure hit the city of Morrilton especially hard, as the Arrow Automotive Industries factory across town had announced only a week earlier that it too had plans to close the plant in Morrilton, which employed 460. The town was in turmoil, with nearly half of the working population out of work literally overnight.
Alice, after losing her job at Levi Strauss, didn’t know where to begin, as she had worked in the factory since moving to Morrilton from Shreveport, La., in 1981. She began searching for other options soon after the announcement of the plant’s closure.
Fortunately, she learned about government scholarships and unemployment benefits that covered the cost of re-educating dislocated workers. With Petit Jean College close by, this option made sense. “I had gotten married in high school and never really had the opportunity to continue my education until I lost my job at Levi.”
In August 1999, Alice enrolled at the college in pursuit of an associate’s degree in retail marketing. She immediately excelled and graduated in the spring of 2001 and was named the college’s Academic All Star. As a result, she was awarded a scholarship to continue her studies at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
Initially, she was extremely reluctant to accept. “At first I thought, I can’t just move away from my home of nearly 20 years,” but after serious thought and the urging of one of her UACCM instructors, she did just that, selling her home and moving to the Fayetteville area in the summer of 2001.
In the fall of that year, while working full time, Alice began studying human resource development at the University of Arkansas. She became involved in a church where she met her future husband, Tom Dixon. “He didn’t like me at first,” she says, “but then again, I didn’t like him all that much either.” They married the day after school dismissed in May 2002.
Returning to school in the fall of 2003, she found herself again excelling in her studies, and she completed her bachelor’s degree in human resource development in December 2004, followed by a master’s degree in adult education in the spring of 2006.
Even with a host of degrees, Alice was not finished with education. Soon after receiving her master’s degree, she enrolled in an accounting class at that same local college (now the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton) where her higher education journey had begun eight years earlier. Soon, she was asked to teach a computer applications class at UACCM by a college administrator.
Today, Alice teaches a few classes each semester. “Working at UACCM is both my job and my hobby, and it’s a way to pay back the college for helping me accomplish all that I have. I was always treated with respect, and was never treated as a dislocated worker, but rather as a student and an individual.”
As for her days at Levi, she says, “I hate that so many people had to lose their jobs, but for me it was a blessing when the factory closed. It gave me the chance to go back to school. Earning a degree is about feeling good about yourself and accomplishing something.”
In the future, Alice plans to continue teaching a few classes at UACCM each semester. “My first degree was a stepping stone for my future achievements. To me, it opened the door to my future and helped me show myself I was still capable of accomplishing something.”