My Biggest Challenge

woman and little girl
Being a first-generation student and single mom to daughter Ellie was challenging, but Abigail Fry found a supportive community at UW. (Courtesy photo)

Students share their college challenges and how they overcame them. 

By Micaela Myers 

Many people describe college as the greatest time in their lives — a place they made lifelong friends, had a ton of fun and new experiences, and found out who they were and who they wanted to be. But just like any other phase in your life, college also comes with challenges. Luckily, the University of Wyoming is here to help you with any difficulties you face. We interviewed current students about their challenges and the resources that helped them overcome. 

Single Mom and First-Gen Student

Cowboy Coach Abigail Fry of Afton, Wyo., is about to become a pharmacist, but her path hasn’t been easy. “My biggest college challenge is navigating being a successful first-generation student as well as a single mom,” she says. “I had my daughter one month before I started my freshman year here at UW. As you might imagine, I was not financially capable of attending school full time and putting my daughter in child care. Due to this, there were many classes I missed, many late nights studying to catch up and quite a few times where I sat in the back of the class because my daughter had to attend class with me.”

Luckily, the UW community rallied around Fry to help her make it through. “Before coming to UW, I heard many statements like ‘The sense of community is unmatched’ or ‘Laramie is a tight-knit community,’ and I didn’t understand the full extent of those statements until I tried to balance being a mom and a student,” she says. “I had wonderful teaching assistants who would let me bring her to tutoring sessions, and I formed relationships with new friends who offered a lot of help in my times of need.”

The pharmacy faculty also provided support. “For example, one of my professors helped me get connected to a preschool that my daughter is now enrolled in; my daughter is invited to many of the events put on by the program; and my professors offer Zoom links or extra tutoring if I need to stay home to take care of her,” Fry says.

Student success means different things to different people, and UW is dedicated to a personalized approach. Fry says, “Balancing being a successful first-generation student as well as a single mom is not easy and is one of the greatest challenges of my whole life so far, but thanks to the relationships and connections I have formed along with the support of a university that is dedicated to student success, I am overcoming one day at a time.” 

Healthy Mental Health

According to the Healthy Minds study, more than 60 percent of college students during the 2020–21 school year met the criteria for one or more mental health problems. These struggles are common, and it’s OK to ask for help. The University of Wyoming offers many resources to assist, including the University Counseling Center, the Psychology Center, Student Health Service, Disability Support Services and the Wellness Center.

“My biggest college challenge thus far has been battling my mental illnesses,” says transfer student and psychology major (honors minor) Perlene Keller of Worland, Wyo. “Before I started at Central Wyoming College, I never received mental health care. Thanks to the resources on campus, I began my journey of healing. Once I got to UW, I found a really great doctor in Student Health, who has also advocated for my best health interests. Thanks to her, and the Psychology Center on campus, I’m receiving the treatment and care that I’ve needed for so long, and I’m getting better day by day.”

The COVID-19 pandemic also heightened stress, anxiety and feelings of isolation for all ages and levels of students around the world.

woman talking to someone else
Aleah Bierzer leads a mindfulness class for students at the Wellness Center. (Courtesy photo)

“I believe that my biggest college challenge was maintaining my mental health during the fall of 2020 upon our hybrid return to campus during COVID-19,” says senior Cowboy Coach Peyton O’Dougherty, an elementary education and special education major (Spanish minor) from Littleton, Colo. “I lived in my sorority house and was struggling to stay focused and motivated with school and to interact with my peers.”

Social distancing and frequent testing were trying. “Additionally, returning to in-person classes and reconnecting with friends seemed increasingly difficult after being away from Laramie for the latter half of my freshman year,” O’Dougherty says. “My anxiety spiked, and I sought help from the University Counseling Center after a recommendation from a close friend. With this free inclusive resource, I was able to see some serious recovery and find effective tools for my anxiety in a helpful, effective and unbiased way. The minute that I began to surround myself with healthy habits, positive people and a whole lot of grace, my life began to change for the better!”

At the beginning of his sophomore year, junior Cowboy Coach Grant Dillivan, a psychology and criminal justice major (honors and sociology minors) from Powell, Wyo., experienced a major health crisis. “I had to go back to my hometown for a period of time, and I had to change all of my in-person classes to online ones very suddenly,” he says. “This situation was very stressful and took a major toll on my mental health. I was able to get through it with the support of my friends and family, as well as with the help of campus resources. The Dean of Students Office did so much in helping me change my classes, and the UW Counseling Center gave me a nonjudgmental space in which to talk about and come to terms with what I was going through.” 

Academic-Life Balance

College is much more rigorous than high school and requires different study habits. For Cowboy Coach Sarah Griner, a senior from Casper, Wyo., majoring in physiology and Spanish, the biggest challenge was finding balance between her academic and personal life. “In high school I was able to maintain a 4.0 while taking honors and AP classes with minimal effort and made the assumption that this would continue to be the case in college,” she says. “I was not prepared for or expecting the intensity of the courses I would take, and it became very disheartening when I would study for hours and still not earn the exact grade I wanted. I had to reassess and change my study habits and techniques, so I began to attend supplemental instruction sessions and started going to tutoring. UW offers many great resources that are meant to be used. By figuring out what works for me personally when it comes to studying and getting my work done, I was able to better manage my schedule and maintain a personal life while still being successful in my studies.”

woman standing outside
Karissa Kiser navigated her college challenges by taking care of her health, getting involved on campus and surrounding herself with supportive friends. (Courtesy photo)


“The biggest challenge I have faced in college is the feeling of defeat and self-doubt,” says Cowboy Coach Karissa Kiser, a junior from Littleton, Colo., studying physiology (professional writing minor). “This can come in so many ways, such as getting a bad score on an exam, seeing your peers having an easier time than you, or just feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted from everything that is going on in multiple difficult classes. The feeling of defeat used to weigh down on me so much, and I would start to let it deplete my confidence in myself and began to doubt my ability to achieve my goals or be as good as my peers.”

Taking care of her physical and mental health and getting more involved on campus helped Kiser work through her self-doubt. “I overcame this challenge by making sure that I was devoting time and energy to taking care of myself, exercising regularly — thanks, Half Acre! — reassuring myself that I am capable of anything I put my mind to, and getting involved in extracurriculars like Greek life. I started cultivating and fostering the relationships with people that made me feel good about who I am. That gave me another area of my life where I was succeeding and doing well so that I could feel satisfied in more areas than just school alone.”

It also helped Kiser to stop comparing herself to others and to realize that her self-esteem wasn’t tied to her academic performance. “The best way to overcome these feelings is by having grace with yourself, understanding that sometimes the success is in how you overcome the obstacle, not losing faith in yourself, and surrounding yourself with people who are as invested in your success and happiness as you are,” she says. “College is an extremely difficult nonlinear journey, and it takes a lot of patience and resilience. I think the hardest lesson we learn from the time we graduate high school to the time we graduate college is understanding that we are human, and it is OK to get knocked down. The true lesson is in how you pick yourself back up and continue to fight on for your dreams and your future.” 

First-Year Homesickness

Believe it or not, most freshmen experience homesickness. While you may be an adult ready to experience college life, leaving behind your hometown, friends, family and pets is difficult. It’s natural to feel homesick from time to time.

“When I first came to UW, I was extremely homesick,” says freshman Trinity Nesser, an elementary education major from North Powder, Ore. “I’d cry almost every night because of how much I missed home.”

Making connections helps, Nesser says: “I don’t have much trouble talking to people and building different relationships with people, which has led me to find the closest thing to a second family I can have. I still call my mom, sister, brother and grandma very often and fill them in on my college life.”

Nesser’s advice is to stay active and involved: “I think the most important thing to keep me from getting depressed and homesick is going to classes, getting my homework done and participating in different activities like floor and dorm hall activities, late-night events at the Union and also doing things off campus.”

Nesser says, “Going to college is such a privilege, and even though it has its major challenges, there are so many ways to overcome the hard times and stay focused on all of the good memories you are making.”

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