UMO Helps Joyner Turn Calling into Career
MOUNT OLIVE- Helping children with disabilities is a calling that University of Mount Olive (UMO) student Ashley Joyner holds close to her heart.
When Joyner’s younger brother, Jeremy, was born, he was diagnosed with the rarest form of spinal bifida and severe autism. Told that he would never walk, talk, or live past the age of two, Joyner watched her brother bravely fight to survive despite his disabilities.
“As my brother grew up, I witnessed his daily struggles,” said Joyner. “I knew I had to choose a career that would not only shed a light on disabilities, but also help disabled children to live better lives.”
After marrying her high school sweetheart and having two children, a son that was diagnosed with autism and a daughter that was diagnosed with dyslexia, Joyner was even more determined to fulfill her lifelong calling of helping children in need. She obtained her CNA and a job in the medical field while working towards her RN. However, at the age of 25, Joyner had a debilitating work-place accident that prevented her from continuing her nursing career. “It crushed me,” said Joyner. “I questioned my purpose for so long, but I knew that tapping out was not an option.”
After a year of thought, research, and prayer, Joyner was introduced to the special education program at UMO. “The special education program allowed me to follow my dream of working with children with disabilities, but in a completely different way than nursing ever could have,” she explained.
Joyner enrolled at UMO in January 2016 as a special education major. As a wife and mother, she struggled to balance her work and family life. “Most traditional students are able to put all of their attention towards college,” said Joyner. “However, many days I would have to get our kids to school before racing to classes myself.”
In addition to the challenges of meeting her family’s needs, Joyner registered for a course load of over 18 traditional credits hours each semester. With her husband working a fulltime job and her children in school, Joyner completed assignments wherever possible – in class, at home, and even next to her daughter’s sick bed when she fell ill. Although she thought about quitting several times, Joyner found God to be her saving grace in and out of the classroom. “It was an uphill climb,” she said. “But I thank God every day for the guidance and strength that He gave me to persevere through it all.”
Despite the challenges, Joyner maintained a 3.39 GPA making the Dean’s List and receiving the Merit scholarship as a result of her hard work. She joined the Student Council for Exceptional Children and served as president of the organization whose motto is “when you give a student the right tools and a chance, they will be able to conquer the world.”
Volunteering to work with EC students during her enrollment also provided Joyner with priceless insight into the need for dedicated special needs educators. “Many people, including teachers, don’t believe that EC students have the ability to succeed,” said Joyner. “As an EC teacher, I want everyone to see these children as I them, capable students that make great strides each day.”
Reflecting on her time at UMO, Joyner is thankful for the faculty that assisted and inspired her throughout her college career. “They are an amazing group of people and I am grateful that I was able to learn from them,” she said. “I like to quote one of my favorite professors, Dr. Harold Griffin, who often said, ‘Teaching special education is not a job, it is a lifestyle and a work of heart.’ Being the sister and mother to children with disabilities, I am passionate about making a positive difference in children’s lives and giving them the voice that they might not have had before. Regardless of the need, I want to be the teacher that shows others that everyone deserves a chance at the same opportunities to have a successful life.”
Joyner graduated in May of 2019 with her bachelor’s degree. The Suttontown native would like to work as a special needs educator in the Sampson County area. She strives to teach her future students, as well as others that “anyone can move mountains if you give them the right set of tools and an equal chance to prove themselves.”
Joyner and her husband, Johnny, have two children Cameron and Cheyanne. She attends St. Paul OFWB in Newton Grove.
The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Research Triangle Park, Washington, Jacksonville, in Smithfield at Johnston Community College, and online. For more information, visit www.umo.edu.