AMES, Iowa — Manichanh Naonady is a mother, journalist, non-traditional student and so much more. She’ll soon have another identity: college graduate.
Naonady graduates from Iowa State University this weekend with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. The 30-year-old’s life wasn’t always heading in this direction, however.
“I ended up having kids at a much younger age than expected,” she said. “I was one of those teen parents, not with one, but two kids.”
She had her daughter when she was 14 years old, and her son when she was 15. Naonady dropped out of high school during her senior year and started working full-time to support her family. She returned to Des Moines Area Community College to get her GED – which she completed in less than six months.
After working for a while, “I realized at some point that I’m way much more than what I’m giving myself credit for.” Naonady started going to DMACC part-time, at first to become a nurse. She soon figured out that wasn’t the career for her, and took some time to figure out where her passions lie.
She had always loved writing and getting to know people, but DMACC does not have a journalism program. Naonady decided to get an associate degree in marketing, which she completed after several years while working full-time.
“I knew closer to my graduation date that I was going to have to eventually choose school full-time or work full-time,” she said. “At that moment in my life I was OK with the fact of needing to step back and letting my partner take care of home life.”
Finding her passion
Naonady’s boyfriend describes her as the type of person who, when someone asks how hot the fire is, she will jump right in. Although going to college in Des Moines seemed logical, Naonady says her tour of Iowa State lit a fire inside of her.
“I’m the type of person that likes to take a challenge and see how things go,” she said. “I took coming to Iowa State as a challenge, because I’m a non-traditional student in every aspect: being in my late 20s coming in, having two children and not really fitting in with the culture of what is typically a college student.”
In fall 2017, Naonady started classes at Iowa State.
Her passion for journalism became even more focused as she became involved in campus media.
Over the past two years, Naonady has been a food science reporter, recipe developer and podcaster for the Iowa State Daily and a writer for Ethos magazine. She also brought back to life an archived magazine, Cardinal Eats, serving as editor-in-chief. Within a few months, Naonady had formed a small team to revive the publication. Last week, Cardinal Eats’ first publication under Naonady’s leadership was released.
“I just love how no matter what culture you are, food is the one thing that we can all agree on,” she said. “It’s amazing how we’re feeding ourselves, but we’re also feeding our souls, in a sense. That’s why I’m so passionate about it.”
In addition to her schoolwork and extracurriculars, Naonady landed an internship with the World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines.
“I wasn’t planning on working for a nonprofit, but being there has opened my eyes to how I can focus on my passion for food journalism in another light with world food hunger issues,” she said. “It’s opened my eyes to how I can take what I’m passionate about and shine a light on a situation that a lot of people don’t discuss.”
Naonady is looking for a position at a food publication after graduating.
‘A better future for you and your kids’
Naonady says she did go through an adjustment period at Iowa State, particularly because of the age and life experience difference between herself and her peers.
“It is a weird dynamic because it is difficult to relate with college students and some of their issues, because some of their issues do not correlate with my issues at home,” she said. “They don’t have to worry about a sick kid, picking up the phone for calls from school.”
One of her professors, Sherry Berghefer, associate teaching professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, gave her advice that pushed her to keep going: “At the end of the day, you’re here for your degree, your life, your reason. You’re doing this so you can have a better future for you and your kids.”
Naonady encourages other non-traditional students to follow their passion as she did.
“I know that there are going to be things that probably play into their lives of why they can’t come, but I think if time allows it, if their life allows it, they should definitely get their degree,” she said. “I believe that if you’re really passionate about something you should try your best to get to where you need to be.
“If you would have told teen-parent me that I was going to be in this situation today, I’d say, ‘You’re lying.’ Not a lot of teen parents end up getting their bachelor’s degrees because they’re so focused on trying to make an income for their family – which I completely understand because that was the route I was going to take. But at the end of the day I thought, I need more than just being someone who’s working and not having a real passion.”