Putting the pieces back together

Domini Maddox had always been a good student. She earned a 3.95 grade-point average at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio before she transferred to The University of Texas at Austin to study biochemistry. Then she learned she was expecting a baby.

As her due date approached, Maddox took the semester off at the university but kept three part-time jobs up until she gave birth, believing she could count on her husband for support. When Maddox went back to school the next semester, the couple began to quarrel.

"He just wanted to go party. We had a kid and I didn't think it was right to do that all the time," Maddox said.

They attended counseling to try to fix their marriage, but the fighting got worse. One day he left.

"He pulled everything out of the bank," Maddox said. "He took all of my savings. I had nothing."

Maddox said that's when Heather Davies in Counseling and Mental Health Services suggested she visit the Office of the Dean of Students for Student Emergency Services (SES).

"It was apparent that the situation was having an emotional strain on her," said Dr. LaToya Hill, assistant dean of students in charge of SES. "In spite of everything that she was dealing with, she managed to make good grades."

Student Emergency Services and Voices Against Violence helped Maddox pay for one month of rent, provided her with gift cards to HEB and Target, and connected her with other resources on campus and in the Austin community.

One of the most important things Hill did was contact the head of Maddox's department for assistance in communicating with professors.

"It helped me get caught back up in school because I had gotten so far behind," Maddox said. "My son was sick a lot and it was causing me to miss so many days of class."

Maddox finally became self-sufficient when she landed two part-time jobs through Hire a Longhorn. Her first job was at Mad Science, a company that sends her to elementary schools where she performs fun experiments that inspire children to get excited about science. Maddox's second job was as a laboratory research assistant at UTEX on campus, where she grows and maintains algae cultures, conducts DNA extraction and prepares samples for sequencing, among a host of other duties.

When asked what it is like to balance motherhood with academic study and two jobs, Maddox said, "Being a parent is a lot of hard work, but it's rewarding." However, she also said it's nearly impossible to attend evening discussion groups if she wants to push harder to improve her grades.

"I have to find a babysitter and that's not always easy," Maddox said. "Sometimes [the discussions last] two hours and $20 per meeting is a lot for me right now, especially if I need to go to discussion groups for four different classes. If you think about it, that's $80 per week and that's not including daycare."

The Office of the Dean of Students established SES to help students in times of crisis. Hill said during the 2007-2008 academic year SES helped 42 students and disbursed $6,700 in funding, mostly generated through donations from Party on the Plaza, funds from Texas Parents Association and the Hearts of Texas Campaign.

"I never would have expected [this], and it got me through a lot," Maddox said. "I probably would have lived like my mother did, working at some hotel or being a waitress, hardly seeing my son and having a really rough life. I don't want that for my son."

On May 23, 2009, Maddox donned her cap and gown for commencement and walked across the stage in the College of Natural Sciences ceremony at the Frank Erwin Center.

"Despite all the circumstances that have been thrown Domini's way, she continued, forged ahead and completed her degree," Hill said. "I think that completing the degree will not only inspire her to continue reaching her goals, but is now setting a precedent for her child."