Patricia Burrow, a mom to four, is experiencing what only a few moms have been able to do: return to school alongside one of their children. Burrow, 55, and her youngest daughter, Dominique WestBurrow, 24, have been classmates at Virginia State University [VSU] in the career track of Sports Management. This Mother’s Day, May 13, she will be sitting in the stands at VCU’s Siegal Center beaming with happiness. She will be watching her youngest daughter receive her degree in Sports Management; knowing that this time next year, she will be accepting her degree. Overcoming struggles and awkwardness as a student, Burrow feels her life is just beginning.
“It’s been a struggle - at first - but it is getting better,” said Burrow. Dominique will be her third child to earn a degree and becoming independent, and said she couldn’t ask for a better Mother’s Day present. Recently divorced and working towards her own independence, Burrow has one more mission: to see her 19-year-old son, who is autistic, become independent. With her degree she hopes to start her own business where her son can work and earn a living, “even if it is folding towels,” she said.
Burrow first attended VSU in 1977 but had a change of plans with marriage followed by children.
“I didn’t even think about wanting to go back to school,” she said. “I just wanted my girls to get an education and be independent.”
In 2010, Burrow was at a turning point in her life when she found herself laid-off from a job she had been in for 16 years. Dominique was returning home from Norfolk State University to finish her degree at VSU. While on campus with Dominique, Burrow felt this is where she needed to be, too. She enrolled and became a classmate of her daughter in VSU’s Sports Management track.
“The first year we had three classes together,” said Dominique. Burrow added, “At first it was awkward. It is a totally different world, all the young people. They would say, ‘Why are you in school?’ Sometimes they were disrespectful. I had to get into their world.”
“I didn’t like it [Mom attending the university] at first,” Dominique said. “She was always on my back. But over the last two years, I grew up.” They have studied together but mostly each has been on their own. On campus, Dominique has been known to ignore her mother. “I have crossed over to the other side of the street when I see her [Mom] coming towards me,” laughed Dominique. “Only because of how she looks, old tennis shoes, baggy jeans.” Dominique said her mom dresses down where she dresses up. “I am more relaxed in my dress where Dominique likes to dress up for school. I am there to study,” said Burrow.
Burrow and her daughter give many shout-outs to the university and their professors. “Every professor reaches out to you to help you do your best,” said Burrow. “They are all very nice, and give a lot of career building opportunities.”
“Patricia and Dominique have both been excellent students, and just all the around wonderful people,” said Rodney Gaines, VSU associate professor in HPERD/Sports Management. “They both have high academic marks, and it is very special that they both are at VSU.”
Burrow had a 4.0 grade point average (GPA) until she failed a math class that dropped her GPA. “Failing a class upset me a lot at first,” she said. “I have always been afraid of math. But I am going to pass it.” As a freshman, Burrow started with taking only nine credit hours and now takes 18 to 19 credit hours a semester and will take nine this summer. Burrow said her daughter has been a big help with giving tips for study habits and lessons on how to write papers. “I know you have got to do this yourself and I have grown so much. Now I can do it,” she said. “I have a plan. I can see where God has me headed to. I am not there just to get a degree - I want to do my best.”
“I know she is going to do it,” said Dominique.
Along with going to school together, both women work part-time at the Petersburg Y.M.C.A. and Burrow teaches spinning classes five-days a week.
After graduation Dominique will head for Baltimore for an internship in her major that she hopes will turn into a full-time job.
Burrow will continue what she feels is her next most important mission, earning her degree to build a business so her son may have an independent life.