Lindlay Howell will never forget how much her grandfather, William Pharr, influenced her passion for learning, or the promise she made him before he passed away.
"He always encouraged me and told me that education is the most important thing," she said. "He told me, 'You make sure you go back and get your master's degree.' It's a promise I intend to keep, so I am doing it for him."
Howell enrolled in the MBA in Health Care Administration Program Online at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in January 2019 after transferring from the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
"My mom, Rhonda Howell, instilled the importance of education in me, too," she said. "She also has her master's degree. I always wanted my master's degree, and it was something I felt the need to go back and do. I love education. If I could be a professional student, I would."
It hasn't been an easy road for Howell, though. She had major knee surgery seven months into the online MBA program.
"The professors have been great to work with me," she said. "I am about a week-and-a-half behind in some of my classes, but they are letting me work from where I am now and catch up from behind.
"It's allowed me to be able to recover and stay on track and not put off graduation any further. I can sit here with a laptop, which is all I need."
The online format also helps Howell balance a full plate, which includes her full-time job as marketing liaison for Winn Parish Medical Center.
"Doing the program online allows me to fit school into my schedule," she said. "I absolutely love it. It has been incredible."
Teach Me How to Dug-ie
Howell was born and raised in Winnfield, Louisiana, near the Dugdemona River, where she still lives. She initially set her sights on a career in a different area of health care.
"I would sit and watch Rescue 911, ER and then Grey's Anatomy," she said. "I was dead set on becoming a doctor. When I got to work in a hospital and saw some blood, I passed out on the first day. I realized very quickly that was not for me."
After switching to physical therapy, Howell realized she would have to work with a cadaver, which ended that pursuit, as well. Luckily, she had a back-up plan. She was a state officer in Future Business Leaders of America while in high school.
"I was very business-minded," Howell said. "My grandpa was the district supervisor for Louisiana Pacific. I remember going into his office and I wanted a big desk like his. It impressed me."
After graduating from ULM with a bachelor's degree in health marketing and management in 2015, Howell began her career in health care administration.
"I love health care and helping people, but I longed for the business part, where I could pitch ideas and make them come to life," she said. "My grandpa told me health care is the way to go — it's not going anywhere."
Howell loves her hometown so much that she founded a nonprofit organization, Dugdemona Fest, there in May 2016. The organization puts on several events each year, including a Mardi Gras dance, a summer cookout, a haunted house at Halloween and numerous holiday activities.
"All of the money goes back into the community," she said. "We have Dug Fest Gives Back, which is used if houses flood. We do scholarships and Dugdemona Dolls, which is a consignment closet of formalwear that is donated. If someone can't afford a dress for homecoming or prom, they come to us and get it for free."
Heart of a Cajun
Howell plans to graduate from the online MBA in Health Care Administration program by the end of 2020. But that doesn't mean she will be finished with college.
"I want to go back and complete a master's degree in tourism at UL Lafayette," she said. "Then, I want to have my own marketing firm that specializes in health care and tourism. Tourism is such a big thing in Louisiana. I want to do that and run the nonprofit because I enjoy those things so much."
Even though Howell has several courses left to complete for her MBA, she is thrilled with the knowledge she has already gained from the program and the support she has received from the university.
"From the first call I made to UL Lafayette, they were so helpful and willing to go the extra mile," she said. "They have called every two weeks or every month to see if there is anything I need or if they can help.
"It has been absolutely incredible. The things I have learned have been a step above anywhere else. The attentiveness they give to their students is a step above the rest. The classes have all been great, and I have learned a lot."
Howell believes the degree will help create opportunities and lay the foundation so she can achieve her goal of owning her own marketing firm.
"I have already seen a difference when people know I am working on the degree," she said, "It opens doors. If you're going to do online and work, time management is important. Make sure you are able to do it. It's a lot, but it is worth it."
Enhancing her own efforts is the support she is receiving from her family and friends as she fulfills the promise she made.
"My mom is very supportive and helps me any way she can," Howell said. "Everybody is very supportive and encourages me. I believe I am going to walk at graduation. I'll do it for my grandpa."
Learn more about the UL Lafayette online MBA in Health Care Administration program.
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