BALTIMORE – Friends, family, faith and a planner. That’s how Mylaika Stephenson ’22 says she was able to get through her four years at Notre Dame of Maryland University balancing typical college responsibilities while simultaneously raising her four-year old daughter, Leilah.
Leilah was born after Stephenson graduated from high school, which led her to take a gap year before beginning her college experience in the fall of 2018. NDMU’s flexibility with Stephenson during her pregnancy, including a willingness to defer her scholarship, was a key factor in her enrolling at the university after initially considering other local options.
Dr. Pam O’Brien, dean of the School of Arts, Sciences and Business, was another source of inspiration for Stephenson in her early days at Notre Dame.
“She was very honest with me coming in,” Stephenson said. “She told me it was going to be hard, but that after seeing me and getting to know me that she knew I could do it, and that she would do everything in her power to help. There was a lot of pressure, because even without kids some people struggle to finish college in four years. But Dr. O’Brien’s words really gave me confidence to be like, yes, I am supposed to be here and yes, I can do this.”
That confidence has been on display for Stephenson, the Sister Sharon Dei Award in Communication Arts honoree in 2020, throughout her college career. She is set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in communication arts and a minor in business on May 22.
Learn more about Stephenson’s NDMU experience below in today’s Class of 2022 spotlight:
How did you first hear about Notre Dame?
I played basketball in high school, and my basketball coach had a connection to the former coach at Notre Dame. He wanted me to apply there so I could possibly play basketball, but by the time I started I was focusing on school and being a mother. I’m really grateful that he inspired me to apply, though, because this was before I knew I would need to defer. NDMU really supported me during that process. If there are other young moms out there, I would hope they’d consider Notre Dame because if any school is going to support you, the best bet would be a Women’s College.
Being a college student requires strong time management skills on its own. How are you able to balance those responsibilities and raise your daughter at the same time?
First of all, I was blessed with a really strong support system. My parents are there for me, I have siblings, and my daughter’s father is really hands-on. We co-parent like militants. I try to get everything scheduled and always use a planner. That was a big thing – I realized that it will just not work without some sort of organization. You can’t keep it all in your head. So that’s really how I make it work: friends, family, faith and a planner.
Did you know from the beginning that you wanted to work in communications? What was it that drew you to that field?
I’ve veered away from it a bit since, but I was into broadcasting growing up. A lot of people also said that I would be good at advertising. When I came to Notre Dame, there was some freshmen day where you meet the dean, they look at your courses and help you decide which would be the best fit for you. I think that was the first time that I met Dr. O’Brien, and after that I was like, well I have to be a part of the Comm Arts department if she’s running it!
What are some clubs or organizations that you were a part of during your time at NDMU?
I joined the NDMU radio station during my freshman year. I also did my Federal Work Study through the station, so I was in there quite a lot. I remember the first thing that I did was to create this radio ad. I had to learn how to clip a sound to my voice, and then end it with the sound. At the time it seemed so daunting, but now I can do that easily. The radio station definitely helped me gain confidence with my voice. That was my home at NDMU, that was my safe place. As a commuter student it’s hard sometimes to connect with what’s going on around campus, but working for the radio station and seeing all that’s going on and engaging with other clubs really helped.
I also was part of the African-Caribbean Students Association during my sophomore year, and I was a writer for Columns. I wrote some other articles here or there, but I mostly focused on profile pieces. It was a nice way to get to know other students and staff through those profiles.
Did you have a favorite professor at Notre Dame?
My adviser, Britt Christensen, helped keep me sane when it came to planning, going through course catalogs and figuring out which classes fit where, what I needed, what I didn’t need and what’s going to benefit me in the long run. I had a really good adviser to help with all that.
I also had a professor in the business department, Professor (Larry) Beyer, who was very helpful. With business, there are a lot of numbers involved. I wasn’t good at math growing up, so I was intimidated at first having business as my minor, but having a teacher who was willing to help and explain things when needed made it seem more manageable. I actually ended up doing well in all of my business classes, and his reassurances helped me a lot.
How about a favorite class?
I feel like I enjoyed too many to focus on one. I don’t want to say one was better than the others. But as an example, I took this economics class as a freshman. It wasn’t easy for me to say the least, but I got through it, I got a good grade in the class, and that’s what propelled me to believe that I was going to finish on time. That really solidified that I could do this and I was meant to be here.
This doesn’t refer to a specific class, but I feel like at NDMU I learned to love learning. I think that’s a big thing in college, learning how to learn. My mind has just opened up and taken in so much during these four years.
Outside of the classroom experiences, what are some other top Notre Dame memories?
There was an event earlier this semester, some kind of open house for clubs. I wasn’t joining any at the time, but I took my daughter with me and it was just really wholesome walking around the campus with her. She knows that I go to school, and that allowed her to see where class was.
The things I enjoyed most were the small, everyday things. If you stand in the bathroom of Caroline, you can see the side of Meletia Hall, and the sunset over there is unmatched. Walking on campus in the fall, taking the bridge to the library and seeing the water stream, small, simple things like that are what I enjoy.
What are your current plans for after graduation?
I want to do something in marketing. I’m looking for fellowships so I can get more experience. Currently I’m an intern in the communications department at Maryland Auto Insurance, and that might run into the summer but I’m looking for other fellowships as well.
What is a long-term career goal for you?
I want to build bridges between consumers and businesses. Specifically, consumers that don’t get their voices heard like people of color. I want to amplify underrepresented groups and show how important they are to business. Helping entrepreneurs launch their business, doing PR for them, that’s where my heart is right now.
Is there any message that you’d like to give to NDMU students who are still working their way through college?
Create relationships. The community at NDMU is unmatched, so create relationships and believe in yourself. Whatever you think you can’t do, you probably can.
Established in 1895, Notre Dame of Maryland University (NDMU) is a private, Catholic institution in Baltimore, Maryland, with the mission to educate leaders to transform the world. Notre Dame has been named one of the best "Regional Universities North" by U.S. News & World Report.