After graduating from high school, Mary received a scholarship to attend TSU. Although Mary left for TSU with dreams of earning a degree in music, she soon realized that her passion was in education: “I took piano lessons growing up and I do love music, but I hated practicing. I wanted to be with people. With a music major, everyone spends their time locked up in little private practice rooms all over campus, but everyone is alone. I couldn’t do that” (Interview).
Mary changed her major to education, subsequently losing her full-ride scholarship to TSU. Her parents still supported her choice, and they all worked together to come up with the extra money needed to pay for Mary’s tuition. She recalls, “I just realized it was the right thing to do. And as long as I had a way of paying for college, I didn’t let that bother me … I started working in the residence hall office typing the old-fashioned way. When guys called on the girls, I would get on the PA system to announce visitors” (Interview). Even with this setback, Mary did not give up her dreams of graduating college.
With her parents’ support and blessing, Mary majored in Elementary Education. Shortly after graduation, Mary moved back home to Atlanta. She taught seventh grade for two years and decided to pursue her master’s degree part-time while teaching. In 1958, the United States government enacted the National Defense of Education Act, which provided scholarships to college students attending both public and private institutions. Because of this federal grant, Mary was able to attend college full-time at Atlanta University.
Mary worked hard to finish her graduate coursework, and she only had a thesis left to complete by the end of the 1964–65 school year. With very little work left, Mary received a job offer that would change her life.
Wellcome Bryant, a very well-known educator in the Omaha Public Schools system and an activist working for the Burroughs Corporation, visited Atlanta University. Burroughs Corp. had received a federal grant to open the Women’s Job Corp. Center in Omaha, Nebraska. The Center was a vocational program geared toward young women, ages 16–21, to prepare them for future careers. Bryant was working with the Center and Omaha Public Schools to recruit minorities from southern Black institutions to work for either the public schools or the Women’s Job Corp.