Nontraditional, with a side of bling
Ola Louisa Watson is a model of moxie, shattering stereotypes wherever she goes. Lucky for us, she’s entered the campus of Coastal Carolina University.
Armed with an associate’s degree, an open mind, and a specific plan, Watson enrolled in CCU’s interdisciplinary studies major in Summer 2021. An array of scholarly awards and seven decades of life experiences preceded her first walk across campus, and she’ll bring every bit of it to task in her drive to earn an undergraduate degree.
Many would believe Watson, 74, showed uncommon fortitude simply by embarking on a degree-seeking college journey at Horry-Georgetown Technical College two years ago, amidst technological intimidation in a classroom environment of digital natives.
“I felt like I entered a different world,” said Watson. “My stumbling wasn’t usually in content, but technology. I had to learn PowerPoint, use e-books, make and submit videos for assignments, and learn about Wi-Fi. And that was before Zoom.”
However, Watson’s engine kept picking up steam. After adventures that included her husband’s building a makeshift biology lab in her garage, she earned not only an associate’s degree, a 4.0 grade point average, and the 2021 Student Award of Service and Leadership at the HGTC commencement ceremony; she was also named Glamour Community College Woman of the Year.
“My husband keeps telling people ‘I’m married to a Glamour cover girl,’” Watson quipped. “But, I think my grandsons are embarrassed.”
Watson’s lighthearted attitude belies a deep-seated dedication to bettering the lives of those in her community. In addition to her perfect grades, Watson’s national recognition was rooted in her commitment to local public service projects through Phi Theta Kappa, an international college honor society. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Watson was a leader in the organization’s efforts to combat student food insecurity by keeping campus food pantries open and stocked, providing families with Thanksgiving feasts, and lobbying for increased mental health support for HGTC students.
“I’m so proud of what we did,” said Watson, who lives in Pawleys Island. “There are so many students with families out there who are trying to get their education and struggling with so many challenges.”
Watson’s benevolent streak is nothing new; in her native Fayetteville, N.C., she spent 40 years working with at-risk mothers and their children at Florence Crittenton Services, now Crittenton of North Carolina.
Watson’s philanthropic aspirations will accelerate through CCU’s interdisciplinary studies program — which moved into the Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts in 2021 — where she will build a customized curriculum that fits her specific goal: to become a liaison between small nonprofit agencies and state legislators, helping organizations build relationships with political leaders to influence legislative decisions. In order to do that, Watson says, she needs a major dose of humanities.
“I need classes in political science, history, and communication,” said Watson. “If I want to work in South Carolina, I need to learn South Carolina history. If you don’t understand the history, it’s a lot harder to understand and make relationships.”
Watson wasted no time in her transition to CCU. She began classes as well as an internship in Summer 2021. This semester, she’s carrying a full load, including a graduate course in CCU’s MBA program: Grant Writing for Nonprofit Organizations.
“They gave me special permission to take this class from whoever the gods are,” said Watson. “I thought, ‘I’m going to take a graduate level class?’ I was scared to death, but I did it anyway.”
Watson headed into her first traditional semester at CCU with a characteristic mixture of pluck, grit, and grace befitting a Glamour cover girl.
“I think I can do it. I don’t want to miss this chance.”