New workshops will focus on ‘under-acknowledged’ single moms in higher ed


Three staff members, who joined the University as single moms years ago and have learned to cope and prosper at work, are preparing workshops focused on single mothers in higher education (and those who want to learn how to better support them) as part of Pitt’s Year of Emotional Well-Being this spring.

They are teaming with the expertise of When She Thrives, a local group that has served them well over the years and on which they are now board members.

“The most impactful thing about this group,” says one of the workshop organizers, Victoria Lancaster, assistant vice chancellor for operational excellence in business operations, “is the sense of camaraderie and support,” and their capacity “to model the path and the ability to succeed.”

There is a lot of data on single mothers attending college but not how many work in higher education, notes Christine McClure, senior research scientist in health policy and management in the School of Public Health and another project organizer. This group is “an under-acknowledged community within higher education,” she says.

Overall, the organizers point out, single mothers have higher rates of stress, anxiety and depression than mothers with partners. They also have greater feelings of loneliness and isolation stemming from their need to make every decision and take every responsibility of child-rearing by themselves. This limits their ability to do much of anything else, let alone take care of their own mental health needs.

“We all really bonded over this (issue),” recalls Lancaster. “One of the most difficult things for me, when my children were little, when I was at another university, it was kind of a lonely place and it was kind of hard for people to understand the need for flexibility.”

The workshops will allow the trio of planners “to pay it forward — to just let other women know we’re here for you and we’re here to support you.” The series is dubbed “Scholarship and Self-care: Strategies to Improve the Well-Being of Single Mothers in Higher Education.”

Like her partners in this endeavor, Tammeka Banks, director of financial operations for the School of Education, is married now but started working here as a single mother. “You need help” navigating the workplace and motherhood alone, she recalls. The pandemic has made most employers understand the greater need for workplace flexibility, but there are still those dealing with the extra stress and strain of childcare duty without a guide to, or an aide for, this ever-changing territory.

Potential workshops will include coping strategies for “when mom doesn’t know best,” McClure says, and “managing summertime stress” when the kids aren’t in school. Each workshop will also feature a self-care element. They are set for March 1, April 5 and May 3 in 5601 Posvar Hall. A registration link will be forthcoming and will be advertised across campus

The trio also are planning to present a workshop on mentoring moms at the provost’s annual Advising and Mentoring Summit in March.

The Year of Emotional Well-Being workshops also will offer strategies for how to navigate being a single mom, McClure says. “It was hard to talk to your boss” when her kid had difficulties and needed to come home from school in the middle of a work day, she says. “It just made you feel awkward. You didn’t want to be the woman at work with a troubled kid.”

“We want to make sure single moms have a community too,” among all the other communities organized at Pitt, Banks says.

“Because you always think you are the only one,” McClure adds. “I think that they’re going to find there is a small army of single moms operating the University.”

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.


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