Lara Buchanan ’04, M’23 Knows Perseverance Pays Off

A female student in a cap and gown looking off into the distance while smiling. A brick building is in the background.

Lara Arehart Buchanan ’04, M’23 graduated from Bridgewater College twice—with 19 years in between. The first time around, Buchanan, who grew up in nearby Middlebrook, Va., was a traditional undergraduate student, double majoring in art and family and consumer sciences. She wanted to pursue a career in interior design.

But life always has a lot of twists and turns in store. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in 2004, Buchanan traveled around the Southeast and held a variety of jobs. Once the recession of 2008 hit, she moved back to Augusta County. She worked for a bank for four years, got married and had two children.

When her younger son was only 8 months old, Buchanan ended up on her own, needing to take care of two boys. She decided to look for another job in banking and soon started at the U.S. Senate Federal Credit Union (USSFCU), which has a satellite office in Augusta County.

After a few years as a consumer lending officer with the USSFCU, Buchanan started looking into master’s degrees, hoping to move up within her company. She was happy to discover that Bridgewater offered a master of science in human resource management (MSHRM), with classes available both online and in person.

“It’s such a blessing,” Buchanan says of the option to take classes online from her home. She was able to keep an eye on her children and fully participate in class at the same time as her classmates, whether the other students were also online or in the classroom on campus. Classes in the MSHRM program are offered during the evening on weeknights, which enables working professionals to participate after a typical work day. Buchanan discovered that the format also makes it possible for those with young children to participate.

She credits her classmates for keeping her going throughout the challenges of balancing work, school and family. The cohort of 16 was a multi-generational “breath of fresh air,” with a mix of older working professionals and younger students who had just finished their bachelor’s degree prior to starting the program. She says they taught one another so much and supported each other through the ups and downs.

At Commencement on April 29, Buchanan spoke on behalf of the graduate program candidates, giving a short message about perseverance and being a single mother of two who worked full-time while earning her master’s degree.

With her master’s degree, Buchanan hopes to move up in her company, possibly into a training and development role, in which she could help train, mentor and develop other employees. She also wants to inspire her sons and anyone else she meets to keep going past the obstacles in their path to achieve their goals.

“You can do great things if you have the drive to do it, and success can come in many different ways,” Buchanan says.

By Olivia Shifflett