Forward, Together Forward: Tara Lenardi overcomes, accomplishes

Tara Lenardi studies at her dining room table while her children read Dr. Suess, work on the computer and play video games.
Tara Lenardi studies at her dining room table while her children
read Dr. Suess, work on the computer and play video games.

Being a college student is just one of Tara Lenardi’s many roles.

The senior from Lisle, Ill., is a busy mom, campus employee and community volunteer, all while maintaining a 3.92 cumulative grade point average.

“Tara is an inspiration to a lot of women around her,” said Lee Ann Johnson, who worked with Lenardi at the North Suburban YMCA. “People look up to her and see her accomplishing goals and overcoming obstacles. Her children are inspired by her. I am inspired by her driving force. It is a great feeling when you see a woman that has the can-do attitude and does not let excuses get in her way.”

Pursuing a college degree hasn’t been an easy journey for Lenardi, but she remained steadfast, crediting her NIU “family” for her success.

“Being a part of the Huskie community has been essential to my desire to return to school and finish my degree,” Lenardi said. “I am a non-traditional student with four kids who went back to school to get her associate degree during two pregnancies. I have gone through a divorce, recently remarried and decided it was time.”

With the timing right for Lenardi to return to college, she settled into a course of study with the intention of earning a degree in nursing. However, after taking public health classes at NIU and working for the North Suburban YMCA, she found her true passion and changed her major.

“The NIU community is invested in their students – not for statistics – but because they truly want their graduates to go out there, succeed and change the world,” Lenardi said. “For me, that meant giving me the tools to realize that my dream job isn’t working with individuals as a nurse, but working with and for a community.”

She plans to graduate in 2016 with a degree in public health and a minor in community leadership and civic engagement.

“My dream job is to be a community program liaison or to work as a strategic planner for nonprofit organizations,” she said. “I want to work with hospitals, local government, nonprofits, schools and local businesses to address community health care programs. My experience at NIU has already helped me. I am learning the tools I will need. I am listening to community members as they speak to classes. I am continuously growing as a person.”

NIU instructor Mary Shumaker has taught Lenardi in several classes, and describes her as “a natural leader” who inspires fellow students to do their best.

“She has persevered through incredible personal difficulties to provide for herself and her family,” Shumaker said. “Tara has distinguished herself by producing consistently superior work throughout her student career at NIU. She is one of the best students I have met at the university.”

by Jane Donahue

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