News & Features

A domestic abuse survivor who pursued her OPTIONS

Fontbonne MBA program offers escape

By Anne Shaw Heinrich for the St. Louis American

October 12, 2006 


"To so many people who put off going back to school to get an advanced degree, I want to encourage them. It's the best decision you can possibly make. As I look back on it now, for me, it's a no-brainer. I'm so glad I did it!"

That's how strongly Lorraine Howard feels about her choice to go back to school. Howard enrolled in Fontbonne University OPTIONS MBA program in1997 and finished up in 1999. For Howard, getting the degree opened the floodgatesof change for her life in all aspects. This is her story.

To the casualobserver, Lorraine Howard already had her act together. She had an establishedcareer in education administration and liked what she did. And she was goodenough at what she did to be a college instructor for future administrators.She was married and had one son. Things looked pretty good. But she wanted anadvanced degree. It had been fifteen years since she'd been a student herself,so she chose carefully. The OPTIONS convenient and accelerated format reallyappealed to her. She got started on her coursework and forged ahead withstraight A's, despite the turmoil that was boiling over in her personal life.Howard finally worked up the nerve to divorce, something she never thought she'dbe able to do because she just wanted to keep her family together.

"I am adomestic violence survivor," she says. "I don't like to use the word victim. Ilived that life in secret for many years. The effect it had on me mentally wascrushing. I knew I had to get back to who I knew I was. I had to rebuild mylife."

Just like many women in her position, Howard was embarrassed about theabuse that was taking place in her home. It was just so unlikely. They were professionals,a very social couple. Nobody would suspect the violence that was taking placebehind their upper middleclass doors.

"It's the deepest, darkest secret that somany women keep and live with," says Howard.

After she earned the MBA throughOPTIONS, Howard continued her work in education, but began volunteering at adomestic violence center. She began to feel the pull toward a career in a fieldthat would serve women she felt she could really help.

"I just really hadcompassion for women who were trying to take that first step away from theabuse," Howard recalls. "They think it's going to get better, but eventually,there's always going to be another flare-up."

Howard's colleagues at the centernoticed how intuitively she responded to frantic telephone calls for help.

"Theysaw how I would answer the phone," she says. "You can't put a woman who hasfinally worked up the courage to reach out for help on hold!"

As her passionfor the volunteer work grew, Howard began to realize a career was in order.After 23 years in the field of education, she decided to retire and focus herenergies on social services work. Her first official job in the field was atthe same domestic violence shelter in which she'd clocked so many volunteerhours.

As a women and children's advocate, she's now doing what she considerspart of her calling. The safe house serves about 50 families in the St. Louis area and itslocation is confidential.

When she reflects upon her time at Fontbonne University,Howard says, "It was the start of everything that satisfied all of my dreamsand desires. I'm so glad I made the decision to start a second career, too. Forpeople who are at a crossroads in their lives, I want them to know that it'sokay to go into a different area."

Howard still hasn't stopped dreaming. Nowshe's pursuing a degree in pastoral studies at Eden Theological Seminary. Shefinds herself called to street evangelism.

"I just like to ask people, 'How areyou doing?' and letting them know that life can be better."

Most OPTIONScourses are five to eight weeks in length. All degree programs have beensequenced to be completed in two years or less. OPTIONS classes meet on thesame evening each week.

OPTIONS undergraduate and graduate degree programs areaccelerated and begin throughout the year at several convenient locations:Clayton, South County, North County, Chesterfield and downtown St. Louis.

Fontbonne Universityhas been a provider of high-quality educational programs for more than 80years. For more information about your OPTIONS, call 314-863-2220 or visit thewebsite at

with permission, copyright (2006) St. Louis American / Choices & Careers