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UWRF faces retention challenge, including one student seeking Hollywood fame

Falcon News Service

May 2, 2018

Desiring to get away from his home in Oshkosh, African-American student Armanni Lardydell came to UW-River Falls in 2016 as a freshman majoring in social work, and he loved everything about being a student on campus.

However, after less than three semesters of college, Lardydell decided he wanted to move even farther away from home – to Los Angeles –  and not to continue studying but to pursue his lifelong dream career of acting.

For Lardydell, this decision is the reason he chose to drop out of school at UWRF at the end of last fall semester. However, because Lardydell had already returned as a sophomore, he is not among the 27.2 percent of UWRF students who, on average, drop out of college prior to their second year, according to retention data from the UWRF Office of Institutional Research. For African-American students, the dropout rate at UWRF is significantly higher, with 53.9 percent of them not returning to campus for their second year.

Click on image to see or save it at full-screen size. Graphic by Nathan Lukasavitz

Not long after making the return to campus as a sophomore is when Lardydell began feeling like something was not quite right.

“Within the first month, I could tell that this year feels different,” he said. “I wasn’t as happy this year, and I don’t think it had anything to do with the school. I think it was just because I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do, which was pursue acting.”

Despite a lack of satisfaction, Lardydell decided he would persevere for the remainder of the semester and waited until Thanksgiving to tell his parents about his decision not to continue in the spring.

“I would have found fulfillment had I stayed in social work,” he said, “but something always would have been missing. My thing is I want to help people. That’s my goal. What I realized this year is that social work isn’t the only way I can help people. I had to realize acting helps people every day by telling stories, inspiring people and starting conversations about things we need to talk about, whether politically or socially.”

This realization is what persuaded Lardydell to contract with an acting agency and make plans to move to L.A. in a little over a year from now, on June 1, 2019. It is also the kind of decision that Ogden Rogers, the UWRF social work program director, finds somewhat typical of UWRF dropouts.

“In many ways we’re a comfortable place to put one’s toe in,” Rogers said. “The real issue in retention is where are people going after they leave here?”

Though many choose to drop out due to financial reasons or because of dissatisfaction with the campus overall, according to Rogers, it is not at all unusual for students to dropout for reasons such as Lardydell’s.

“They use that first year to learn some things about themselves and then make decisions to go do other things,” Rogers said. “They’ve used the time here at college to discover some things about themselves, and they’re going to follow a different path for a while. I don’t view that as a failure. That’s the purpose of coming to a university – to learn something about yourself and the society that you live in.”

With Lardydell’s new path being that of pursuing a future as an entertainer, Lardydell says many have questioned his decision not to continue school and why he chooses not to change his major to one involving acting.

“People ask why I don’t just go to school for acting here, but I also think I just don’t really want to be in school right now,” he said. “I just wasn’t as happy in school as I was last year, and I didn’t feel as determined.”

Mainly, though, people have questioned Lardydell’s choice to pursue acting, wondering if he has considered the risks and challenges that are involved with that type of career path.

“Life is already a struggle as it is,” he said, “so if I’m going to struggle anyways, I’d rather struggle doing something I love rather than doing something that doesn’t fulfill me in the same way.”

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