Tisha Arther has had an eventful life. From a challenging childhood to military service to earning three degrees from Saint Leo University, the 41-year-old is turning to her passion for writing to share her experiences with the world.

Arther was born in Milwaukee, WI. She and her family now reside in Newport News, VA. Her husband, Rozell, also graduated from Saint Leo with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. They have a blended family with four sons - Casie, Cassidy, Marion, and Nehemiah. They also have a Bichon Frisé named Chase.

Pursuing a Career in the U.S. Army

Arther proudly served in the U.S. Army for just over a decade. She enlisted at age 25 and shares what inspired her to don the uniform.

“My kids inspired me to enlist,” Arther explains. “I had two kids when I joined, and I knew I wanted to travel and see the world. I also wanted to get an education. I was trying to find myself, and I learned that the military is a good profession for those who don’t know what they want to do, but they know they want to improve themselves.”

She never forgets the date on which she became a soldier: March 1, 2007. She served as a human resources specialist and retired as a sergeant.

“I handled personnel matters, military awards, evaluations, promotions, and some finance projects.”

Stateside, she was stationed at Fort Hood in Texas and Fort Eustis in Virginia. During her service, she was deployed four times. This included three stints in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Her third deployment to Iraq had a major influence on her outlook.

“I learned that life is precious,” she says. “We had a close encounter where our base was mortared several times. It put everything into perspective for me, and it humbled me and made me more appreciative for what I have. I really became a different person after that experience.”

She medically retired from the Army in March of 2018. After her service, she now lives by a specific saying.

“You never know how strong you are until you have to be strong.”

Arther earned a number of awards while serving, including the Iraqi Campaign Medal with three stars, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, National Defensive service Medal, and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. She was also named the 2015 Volunteer of the Year at Fort Eustis.

Discovering Saint Leo University

While stationed at Fort Eustis, Arther learned about Saint Leo University and the courses offered at its education center right on the base at the time.

“The education center was right across the street from where I was working,” she recalls. “The No. 1 thing that drew me in was how military friendly they are. I told my husband about it, and he enrolled as well.”

She began her educational journey by pursuing a BA in sociology.

“I chose sociology because in high school, sociology was the class I did the best in. It’s also cool that Martin Luther King Jr. had a sociology degree.”

In the sociology program, Dr. Eileen O’Brien made a big impact on her as a student.

“She goes above and beyond for her students,” Arther says. “She not only shows you how to get an ‘A’ but also what you can do to consistently get that ‘A’ in all of your classes.”

She finished this undergraduate program in 2017.

Advancing to the Graduate Criminal Justice Degree Program

Arther then went on for graduate school with Saint Leo, opting for the MS in criminal justice in behavioral studies online program.

“I did criminal justice because it ties in closely with sociology, especially in the areas of deviancy and law. I love learning about why people think and behave the way they do. For a while, I was interested in working for the FBI.”

In addition to finding the coursework valuable, she thoroughly enjoyed the thesis project.

“I got to write about sentencing disparities for minorities,” she says.

She wrapped up this graduate degree program in 2020.

Embarking on a Second Master’s Degree

While some might be satisfied with two college degrees, Arther was not done with her education upon earning her first master’s degree. In the fall of 2020, she began Saint Leo’s MA in creative writing degree program. She selected the nonfiction track.

“The only real background I had in long-form writing was the dissertation I wrote for my master’s in criminal justice degree program. I used this to get accepted into the creative writing program.”

She admits the courses in the graduate program were challenging.

“I was at the brink of giving up in the program at one point because I felt so overwhelmed with everything going on,” she confides.

However, upon attending the graduate degree program’s summer residency held at University Campus, she was reinvigorated. She can’t say enough about all of the professors who were there and taught her in the program, including Drs. Anne Barngrover and Vedran Husic, along with Profs. Gianna Russo, John David Harding, and Brooke king.

“It really changed my life.,” she says. “The faculty were so supportive and encouraging, and it was amazing meeting other students in person. We have so many talented writers in this creative writing program. I was really blessed to be among them.”

During the residency, she also got to meet and have lunch with Benjamin Busch, an actor who played Officer Anthony Colicchio on The Wire, a hit HBO series which ran from 2002 to 2008. Busch is also known for his Marine Corps service and memoir about his wartime experiences.

“It was the first time we really got to focus on veteran writing,” she says. “He let me know that there’s more to us than being known for being in the military because we are people first.”

Meeting Busch meant even more to her than others.

“My dad’s favorite show was The Wire. So, I know he would have been shocked to know that I had met him.”

An Abundance of Support

In summing up her experience attending Saint Leo, she has some words of encouragement for anyone considering the university for higher education.

“You’re going to get professors who genuinely care about you and your well-being,” she says. “They want u to succeed because it’s a reflection back on them. Plus, the professors are not just teaching courses in their respective programs. They also have great backgrounds and experience. As a student at Saint Leo, you get to see success right in front of you, and you will be learning from the best.”

Along with her supportive instructors, she is incredibly grateful to have such a strong support system at home. This help allowed her to balance all of her obligations while pursuing her three degrees.

“I could not have done all of this without my family,” she says. “They have all been so helpful. My mom helped take care of my sons. My husband was my accountability partner. I helped edit a lot of his term papers, and he helped me with ideas on what to write about from the perspective of a male veteran and person of color.”

Acknowledging Saint Leo’s Core Values

Arther says all six of the Saint Leo University core values are equally important. However, one of them does mean a lot to her.

“Personal development is the most impactful for me,” she says. “At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves what we have done to become a better person and how we are contributing to this world.”

Penning a Career as a Nonfiction Author

A photo of one of the crocheted dolls made by Tisha Arther, a triple alumna of Saint Leo University

Currently, Arther has one self-published work to her name titled Hyperopia Justice. The text is based on the dissertation she wrote for her graduate criminal justice degree program.

She is now in the process of publishing her memoir, a work she produced in the creative writing program. The working title she has for it is Pop Smoke.

“It’s about my military service and my journey in finding my family because my mom was adopted. It also goes into why I medically retired from the military and the grief of losing my father. My dad died of lung cancer. He smoked a lot, so it’s kind of a reference to him and also saying goodbye to him and to my military career, past childhood trauma, and other things I’ve experienced in my life. I’m on a new journey now.”

Even though she has completed the coursework in the creative writing program, she says Dr. Barngrover is still helping her navigate the publishing process for her memoir.

She also has some other ideas for writing brewing in her mind.

“I would love to write a whole collection on natural beauty, acceptance, and loving oneself,” she says.

In her spare time, she enjoys other creative outlets aside from writing. She likes braiding hair and crocheting. She has crocheted several stuffed animals, dolls, and scarves.

Excerpt from Her Memoir

Below is a short excerpt from Arther’s forthcoming memoir, Pop Smoke:

“...I never learned the tricks and trades of jumping inside of the rope, but I loved to watch the neighborhood pros. I was happy with my ability to jump until the count of twenty before I fell out of the rope. There was a different freedom inside of the ropes. It was more than how my hair defied gravity as I jumped; it was the tingling sensation I felt from the soles of my sandals up through my spine. I felt like I didn't need anyone's permission to be free. I could be unapologetically me. The clouds were always limitless. The memories of jumping rope felt warm and safe. They reminded me of a sense of security from a community of extended family, neighbors, and friends who I trusted. Jumping rope reminded me of the cool savory taste of freshly cut watermelon awaiting us on the picnic table out back and the buzzing coming from my grandpa's lawn mower when he observed us playing as he cut the lawn...”

Photo credit: The photographs included in this blog article were provided by Tisha Arther and are used with permission.