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When you look at Nakia Morrow, you see an empathetic peer mentor, a capable sorority president, and a compassionate community leader, but the Eastern Kentucky University senior didn’t become all that overnight.

Surrounded by examples of strong women and the support of the University’s NOVA program, Morrow rose from life in a single-mother household to become a leader and advocate, determined to help others.

Morrow’s parents divorced when she was young, leaving her mother as a single parent who often struggled financially. Still, Morrow remembers her childhood fondly. “We didn’t have a lot of money, but Mom always made sure we had what we needed.”

One trait Morrow admires most about her mother is her compassion. “She always wants to help others, even when she doesn’t have a lot to give.” Morrow hopes to follow her example by helping others whenever she can.

To truly make a difference in others’ lives, Morrow felt she needed to go to college but, given her family’s finances, wasn’t sure her dream was within reach. Her mother, however, wanted nothing but the best for her daughter.

“She always believed in me and encouraged me and I think that’s a big reason I’m here today.”

So, with her mother’s support, Morrow began looking at colleges and was immediately drawn to Eastern’s criminal justice program.

Approaching graduation in May, Morrow looks back on her time here as life-changing, especially her involvement in NOVA, a federally funded program that offers academic support, advising, and scholarship opportunities for first-generation and low-income students.

Morrow, of Louisville, admits that she was rather shy when she came to college, but NOVA offered her a community where she felt comfortable. “They’re like a family. Anytime I need something, I know I can go to them. You’re never alone if you’re in NOVA.”

NOVA adviser Sierrah Anderson had equally positive things to say about Morrow, calling her a “confident, ambitious, awe-inspiring leader.” In fact, at Morrow’s freshman orientation, she asked Anderson about becoming a peer mentor for the program, a position she still holds.

Anderson said Morrow’s biggest strength is empathy. “Nakia is especially gifted with sensitivity. She connects with others easily because she is able to empathize with them so well.”

“I just know what it’s like to be put on the back burner,” Morrow said. “Everyone needs to know that they matter, and that someone is there for them.”

Along with her work as a NOVA peer mentor, Morrow has previously served as a resident hall assistant, and is currently an EKU Guru, president of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority, and has served on the National Panhellenic Council for two terms.

Shante Hearst, associate director of student life, whom Morrow considers one of her biggest role models at EKU, is sad to see her go.

“Nakia is a strong leader who allows her compassion and empathy to guide her decision making,” Hearst said. “Always putting the needs of the greater good ahead of her own, Nakia is often looked to as a confidante and voice of reason. I’m proud to work with her.”

After Morrow graduates in May with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, she hopes to work as an advocate for women or children or to help people transition from prison back into society. “My biggest goal in life is just to help people. I just want to make someone’s life better.”

With a hopeful future ahead of her, Morrow reflected on all of the people who have influenced her. “I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t my mom and granny showing me examples of strong women, Sierrah Anderson always being there for me and knowing the right thing to say, and Shante Hearst always motivating me.”

Now, Morrow wants other children from single-parent and low-income families to know they can achieve their dreams, just as she did.

“Never give up,” she said. “It may be hard, and you may need to ask for help, but you can always accomplish your goals.”

— by Yasmin White, Student Writer, EKU Communications and Brand Management