JONESBORO — Although the three women did not start their college careers at the same time, they graduated just months apart.
Deborah Eberwein said her daughter Heather Eberwein began college first.
“Heather wanted to go into clinical science, but changed her major,” she said.
As she started classes, Heather decided she wanted to choose a career where she made a difference.
“I wanted to help people with things in their life, and help them realize they could do more than what they thought they could,” she said.
Illnesses she had as a child were the driving force behind her change of career path.
“I had a lot of medical problems growing up, and seeing those social workers who helped me just made me want to be able to help others,” she said.
As Heather began to find her path and changed her initial major from science to social work, Deborah said she began classes, also choosing a career in social work.
“It was walking on that journey with (Heather), that inspired me. I could see how change was possible, and I wanted to better life – a healthy more fulfilling life,” she said. “It really is possible.”
When she walked onto the Arkansas State University campus in 2013, Deborah said it was the first time she had ever signed up to take a college course.
“It was my first time going to college; I did not get the opportunity when I was younger,” she said. “It was really funny when I met with the social work advisor. She looked at me and said, ‘I have your high school transcript, but I don’t have any of your college transcripts.’”
Deborah said when she told the advisor she didn’t have any college hours, she was pulled out into the hall and it was announced to everyone that she was a first-time college student.
“I was so embarrassed,” she said.
Deborah said not long after she started college, a third Eberwein began college.
“My youngest daughter Sarah also started college,” she said.
Sarah said she thought it was exciting to start college with her mother.
“We had the same elective classes,” she said.
Sarah said one of the funniest anecdotes was in a class she was in with her mother.
“The teacher said if there were any mothers in the room to raise their hands. My mom just sat there,” she said. “I tapped her on the shoulder and said, ‘Mom, raise your hand.’”
Deborah said she didn’t think the question applied to her.
“I was sitting in a class where my professor was younger than me,” she said with a laugh. “I thought the question didn’t apply to me.”
Sarah said everyone really liked her mother.
“They all called her Momma Debbie,” she said.
As the three women embarked on the same career paths, and all three said they found strength from one another.
Deborah said she and her daughters helped one another study.
“We discussed things daily, had several classes together, and even gave several presentations together,” she said.
Heather said she’s not sure if she could have made it through college without her mother.
“Just being able to see her (going to college), and seeing that she could pursue her degree; she really was a role model for us.”
Deborah said she enjoyed every minute.
“It was a joy to be there with them. They were an inspiration to me, too,” she said.
All three got to attend the traditional “hooding” ceremony on Thursday night, which is a customary part of the master’s in the social work graduation ceremony.
Although Sarah was the first one to graduate, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was unable to attend the hooding ceremony.
Deborah said she asked Dr. Cheryl Knight, department chair and director of the master’s of the social work program, if she could attend the ceremony.
“She said sure. It was really special for all three of us to be able to attend the ceremony together,” she said.
Now that all three have graduated, they are busy helping the community.
Heather said she is studying to pass her licensure test and is volunteering at the A-State Beck Center for Veterans in access and accommodations services.
Deborah also works at the Beck Center for Veterans in civil psychological services and has plans to work in private practice when she gets her license.
Sarah works as a medical social worker at NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital.
Heather said she looks forward to making an impact in her community.
“When you have gone through some trying times, you can relate to your clients better,” she said.