Donor Spotlight: An Interview with Kayla Hale

Portrait of Kayla Hale

Tell me about your time at USAO.

I came to the college in the Fall of 1983. The only reason that I did was because my father had grown up in Chickasha, my grandmother lived there, and I heard it was a great school. I was the first woman in my family to go to college and honestly it sounded like an interesting place. It wasn’t too big, and I knew my grandma was in town so if I got scared I could call her. There was not a history of anyone from my town at USAO. I was the only person from my high school graduating class to go to college. I grew up in a tiny little small town in Arkansas with 300 people in the whole town and 24 in my graduating class.

When I got to Chickasha, I didn’t want to drive because I was afraid to drive in such a big city. It was nerve-racking to me.

I knew I wanted to be a communications major. Rose Marie Smith was my adviser. She was wonderful. She not only got me registered for all my classes but she was a strong woman, one whom I considered one of my most important mentors. Her confidence inspired me and she encouraged me. I felt like I could do anything. Of course, USAO itself did that. It was not by any means easy to be critical thinkers. Our professors demanded that we share through essay format that we were understanding all that they were teaching us in class. So, it was exhilarating. I never felt more of a challenge. And I felt part of a community. I lived in Willard Hall. I was a resident assistant in Willard Hall my last year there. I loved everything about it. I would go to the basketball games. Back then some of the buildings had been shuttered. It was shortly after the oil market crashed. There were a couple of years where those buildings that were unoccupied were turned into Halloween horror houses.

There wasn’t a lot of money back in those days. There wasn’t a lot wealth. But there was a great sense of community. I made a lot of friends, and I got my start there. I will be forever grateful.


How did you pay for college? What was your financial situation like when you arrived?

I didn’t have any concept of the cost. I was an out-of-state student. I got a little bit of Pell grant money but not a lot. I had waited too late and didn’t even know I could apply for scholarships. So, I started school. My father was a special education teacher and mother an LPN, two siblings at home, no extra money. I quickly found myself trying to find ways to cut my cost of living. I was down to about $25 per week. I got a job cleaning the apartment of the dorm parents in one of the dorms just so I could make a little extra money.

It got to the point very quickly after my second trimester that I had ran out of money. I had a bill. There was a hold put on my account and I couldn’t enroll for my third trimester and I thought I was going to have to go home. Someone encouraged me to go see the financial aid office. I can’t remember the name of the lady, but I still have a very vivid image of her in my head. I remember being scared and desperate. We had a conversation and it turns out she knew my grandparents. I don’t know if it’s because she felt sorry for me or saw that I was a good bet but either way, she found financial resources for me to enroll for the next semester. She, in my life, is an unexpected angel. An extension of the other angels who contributed to an annual fund or scholarship fund that benefited me in my greatest hour of need.


Is this why you feel it is important to give back to USAO?

In my profession, I am carrying on the work of those who remain anonymous to me that gave to the USAO Foundation all those years ago. I know that a $300 gift from one person or many people can absolutely make a difference in the life of a young adult. From that point, even though I didn’t graduate from USAO, that is the school I identify with the most. It was from there that my education pathway let me to getting a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma in 2007.

I got to the point in my life where I had a little extra money and I have everything that I need. And I always wanted to pay back in some small way the institution that launched me. It is really easy to give up a few things to give to others – I don’t need to get manicures or pedicures if I can give $500 or $1000 a year to the institution that changed my life. It seems like a small price to pay. I don’t have any need or expectations to hear from anybody with regard to my gift. I just want it to go to help students who were like me in 1983, who didn’t have a lot of resources but a lot of dreams and a lot of hope, and now I have a lot of gratitude.


What is your profession and how does your history help in your day-to-day career?

I am the Vice President for University Advancement at the University of Tulsa. My day-to-day job, my purpose, is to open pathways to higher education for students, and I do that through raising funds for financial aid, for faculty support, etc. But I’ve never forgotten purpose because when I share the story about why we need this, I can say I know it makes a difference because I was here and I was the beneficiary of somebody’s generosity. That I have also given back gives me a platform that allows me to speak passionately, without hesitation, and with great conviction that one gift can make the difference in the world of one student because I am standing before them. I am evidence the difference that generosity makes. I don’t feel like what I am doing right now is a job—I am an evangelist for higher ed. I am enthusiastic about it. Unapologetic. And that’s why I love it so much.


What would you say to those who think that their $10 gift won’t make a difference?

Here’s what I know is a fact: I know that back in the Spring of 1984 I had nothing and I went to the financial aid office. The director of Financial Aid found money from those donors who gave gifts of $5, $10, $20 or $100 and put them together for an award for me that was $300. Which was all the money in the world to me. I never knew who it was that gave that $10 or that $20 or that $100 but they did make a difference. They made a difference in my life, in my career, and what I’m able to do to advance higher education opportunities for kids from small-town Arkansas or small-town Oklahoma. That should be enough to compel anyone to make a gift and make a difference.


Any last words you want to say about USAO?

I remember some things about my professors. I loved Dr. Feaver’s lecture style. He would pace back in forth at the front of the amphitheater in Davis Hall. I loved Rose Marie Smith and the encouragement that she gave me. I remember Dr. Joe so fondly because he made poetry come alive for me. I remember Dr. Ingrid Shafer. She was so different in terms of anything I had been exposed to. It was exciting and scary to be in her class because I knew I was learning something new that I would never get anywhere else. Mostly, I just remember how kind everyone was. It didn’t matter where I came from. It didn’t matter how much money I had or didn’t have. What mattered was that I embrace this opportunity to learn and be creative and to think. It was the best gift that I ever received.

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