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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

MATC Student Stories: Liana Howard was inspired by grandmother as she juggled school, work and kids

Linda Tolbert and granddaughter Liana Howard recorded a conversation about Liana's education experience in the WUWM Lake Effect studio.
Emily Files
Linda Tolbert and granddaughter Liana Howard recorded a conversation about Liana's education experience in the WUWM Lake Effect studio.

We're continuing our Storycorps-inspired series featuring MATC students talking about how they’ve persevered in their pursuit of a degree.

Liana Howard, 29, is a hospital critical care technician, college student and mother. She took classes at MATC over the past couple years with the goal of enrolling in the nursing program.

She spoke with her grandmother, Linda Tolbert, who helped Liana take care of her kids while she was attending classes and they were in virtual school.

Their conversation, which has been edited for clarity and length, is transcribed below.

Liana Howard: It was kinda tricky for me — I went to beauty school first, and then I had my son and was like, well I need some money. So I had to pay back student loans, get on a payment plan. I did that. And you have to be consistent with that, like pay back a certain amount each month.

So after that, I was able to enroll. But in between all of that, I had two more kids and I got married. So it's like life moves fast and it's just like having the strength, having my grandmother. I want a better life for my kids.

Linda Tolbert: And that's what I respect so much about you — that you want that for the kids and you take the time to make that happen. That means a lot to everybody.

Howard: I've always wanted to be a nurse or something in the health care field. My grandma's a nurse. She worked for Milwaukee [Behavioral] Health, and that's where she retired from.

So I remember when I was little, she'd work all the time so we'd go visit her at work. It was like, OK this is an interesting place. But it was like, OK you help people, and I always liked helping people.

And I started at Froedtert Menomonee Falls. I was working on a med/surg unit, so medical surgical. Couple years later, this thing called COVID happened. So then it turned into the COVID floor, which was pretty scary. And then in the middle of that also I was starting college courses.

So I went from being a fresh college student, having three kids at home, two of them were in school — a first grader and a K4 student online, and then me online.

I was like oh my goodness, what are we doing?

An extended conversation between Liana Howard and her grandmother Linda Tolbert.

Tolbert: That was difficult for me because I'm not computer savvy, and it was hard for me to understand how to even get them logged in to get started in the morning.

Lo and behold, here comes little Shaquille, and he says this is how you do it granny. And he helped log in his sister for class. So I'm learning from my grandkids, can you believe it? It's really been quite a ride.

Howard: Yeah, it was hard for me too. Learning science online is hard. Chemistry, biochem, anatomy 1 and 2, microbiology — online. Online and hybrid.

It was a lot of memorizing, a lot of reading, a lot of back-and-forth, a lot of emailing — learning everything by yourself.

So sometimes I would get sad, especially if Shaquille wasn't getting something. Like reading has been difficult for him. I would get down on myself because I'm like I can't dedicate my everything to my child because here I am in school also.

Tolbert: That was a difficult time for you. And I think looking back on it, I think a lot of times the reason teachers did help you is because you're always so determined. You want to do better and you never give up. And that's one of the things I'm so proud of you for — hanging in there when times are tough. And you've been through some tough times.

Howard: I can say I learned that from her [Tolbert]. She's the oldest of 13. She's the only who graduated high school and college. So she always told me, you always make sure you take care of yourself first, because the rug can be pulled from underneath your feet at any time.

Tolbert: And my father's the one who inspired me because my dad always told me, he said, I want the best for my kids because he loved his kids more than life itself. And he always said make sure you go to school and go to college so you can get a good job and support yourself.

But Liana's always been really strong I've been so proud of her because she is always happy. She tries to make the best out of a bad situation and she always moves forward. And it shows up in her children too.

Howard: Thank you. Yeah, I don't know, it's hard for me to stay down. Like, I think about things, you know? My mind is so busy all the time. And I always remind myself, this is temporary, this stress is temporary, this feeling I'm having is temporary, you know. And then it's like OK, well we're on to the next.

I just get my fight from her [Tolbert]. She doesn't stop moving. She taught me everything — just little things you'll never forget, like taking care of what's yours and being proud of who you are.

Tolbert: Exactly. And when you can be proud of who you are, and what you've accomplished, and what you've been through, and the goodness you've put out for other people — it comes back to you.

Our series featuring personal stories from MATC students will air each Thursday in May. The series was produced with help from the MATC FAST Fund.

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Emily is an editor and project leader for WUWM.
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