Medical School Is Next Adventure for Non-Traditional Rockstar Student

Carroll Bentley
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Carroll Bentley

For many young adults, 19 is an age with many transitions they're no longer in high school, possibly in college, and determining what comes next.

When Carroll Bentley was 19, he, too, was in a moment of transition. In Bentley's case, the passage into adulthood involved getting married before graduating from West Campus Technical Center, having a child and then a divorce soon after.

For Bentley, by age 19 he was a single father raising a daughter, and college was the last thing on his mind.

But now his daughter Madison is 19 herself, and Bentley, now 37, is at the beginning of another great transition this one involving graduating from the college he never thought he'd attend.

And that's not all. In addition to being the first person in his family to complete college, Bentley is also heading to medical school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

"It's definitely been a journey," Bentley said. "I'm a non-traditional student and single parent, and before I started [at the U of A] I was out of school for 14 years. Going back brought up a lot of emotions, but I needed to do something different to provide a better life for Maddie and I."

When the Lincoln, Arkansas, native first thought about going to the U of A as a full-time student to get his bachelor's degree, it seemed like a nearly impossible goal.

"The biggest issue of breaking that barrier is believing you can do it," he said. "With the background I come from, you don't think about the future. You think about today and trying to make it through the day."

On top of that, before enrolling, Bentley first went through a series of dramatic changes he quit a full-time job that was stable but made him unhappy, worked on improving his mental health, faced financial difficulties and gained full custody of Madison.

Once he'd submitted his U of A application materials and was told he would likely be accepted, Bentley said he "went outside and had a couple tears because I knew that I was starting a new path."

"Neither one of my parents finished high school, [and] growing up in the kind of poverty I did forced me to start working fairly young," Bentley said.

He helped on farms, walked for miles picking up aluminum cans for a little extra money and started working for regular paychecks by age 15.

"So, I know the other end; I know that spectrum of poverty," Bentley said. "Sometimes I've dropped the ball for sure, but there's always been an intrinsic motivation to know what has to be done, and it has to get done no matter what."

"And when I started college, I knew failure wasn't an option. After I applied here it was all or nothing. There was no room for failure," he said.

Soon after enrolling, Bentley took a job in the U of A's David W. Mullins Library and applied for grants, loans and scholarships to stay afloat. One of the most meaningful awards he received was from the Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Northwest Arkansas because the group recognizes how hard it can be to go to college while raising children.

Bentley said his daughter Madison was 13 when he started classes, and that first year went by in a blur. It was also his most difficult year because he didn't have health insurance or a vehicle.

Things got easier as time went by, and Bentley's stress lessened as he was able to get insurance through the Affordable Care Act and find a rhythm to his and Madison's hectic days.

"We would get up in the morning; she'd go to school, I'd go to campus, and I'd work, research, volunteer and then have class on campus and fit everything in between 8 and 6 or so, and literally run from building to building," Bentley said.

Madison Bentley agreed and said, "Pursuing studies at the same time as my dad was definitely very interesting."

There were times when Madison felt like they were too busy, but then "my dad noticed so we went to go do something fun together. Then after that, we would always try and plan dinner or a fun activity every week, even if it was just sitting home and watching a movie or going on a walk."

"I was just happy to be spending time together," she said. "And my dad always had my back with my schoolwork even if he was super busy with class. He tried his hardest. I know raising a teenager and being in college is definitely hard."

Madison said one of her happiest memories was the day her dad got full custody of her.

"I loved being at my dad's house every weekend. Eventually I decided that it was time to live with him full time, so I told him, and he made it happen," she said. "I'm so glad to have my dad, and I'm just so proud of him and all his accomplishments. He's taken really good care of me, and looking back makes me appreciate him even more."

For Bentley, the moment he knew it would all work out in the end was when he needed a minor medical procedure that required anesthesia. That same night, Madison had a choir concert, so Bentley asked friends to take them. The very next morning, while still recovering from the anesthesia fog, he took an algebra final and passed with flying colors.

"At that point I knew I would succeed," he said. "I've just tried to keep pushing forward, so my education has really changed my entire life, and I feel like I was a better father because of it, a better person because of it."

Read the rest of the story and see more photos of Bentley in the Fulbright REVIEW.


Andra Parrish Liwag, director of communications
Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences


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