Ruona Uwusiaba was running a bit late for the interview.
At the time a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga civil engineering senior, Uwusiaba was on overload. Carrying a GPA of nearly 3.8, she was balancing a course load of 19 credit hours (15 is a full load), including two evening classes, plus working 18 hours each week in an engineering internship at TVA.
Before injuries prematurely derailed her playing career, Uwusiaba—who appeared in 38 games for the Mocs women’s basketball team the previous two years—also would have been dealing with the rigorous time demands of athletics.
But it wasn’t classwork or the internship or basketball that had her scrambling. She was late because she needed to pick up Doro, her 3-year-old son.
“I wanted to bring him with me,” she explained. “He just woke up from a nap, and I haven’t seen him all afternoon.”
Such is the life of a multi-tasking single mom/college student.
Uwusiaba’s journey to Chattanooga is intriguing on its own merits. She came to the U.S. from Nigeria as a 10th grader and moved in with relatives in New York. Pursuing her dream of playing basketball in this country meant then having to move in with relatives in Decatur, Georgia.
Standing 6-foot-3, she turned herself into a basketball standout, receiving numerous Division I scholarship offers before landing at the University of Central Florida. It wasn’t a good fit, though, and she decided to transfer after her freshman year.
She then became pregnant with Doro, who was born in 2018.
Uwusiaba, at the time 19 years old, looked for places to continue her education and her basketball career while raising a newborn son. UTC became a place of intrigue.
“I just felt this family atmosphere,” she said of her initial visit. “Plus, Doro’s dad is from Georgia, and he would be close.”
UTC had an engineering program, which was of utmost importance to Uwusiaba, but what would Katie Burrows, at the time the head women’s basketball coach, think of having a single mom on the roster?
“I remember visiting and telling Coach Katie (Burrows) that I had a child,” Uwusiaba said. “For some coaches, they might not say it, but it’s hard for them to accept a player that has a child. For her, she said it would be fine. She’s a mom and she understood right away.”
Still, the coach couldn’t help but wonder how Uwusiaba would handle the three-pronged pressure of being a single mom, going to school and playing basketball.
On top of that, Uwusiaba knew no one in Chattanooga except for her coaches and teammates.
Things picked up for Uwusiaba when Burrows learned of a group created with UTC and Chattanooga State Community College students in mind.
“She told me she heard about this single mom’s community. There would be other people there just like me,” Uwusiaba recalled. “I wanted this family type of environment, so I looked into it. There are a lot of single moms there and they encourage us to stay focused on school.”
She befriended others facing similar challenges. Now they cook together. They watch each other’s children.
“And my son, he never really had a friend his age. It was just always my teammates before I moved over there,” she said, “but my friend next door has a son, and he and Doro are like brothers. It just makes me happy to have this community.
“Between the village and my basketball teammates, I have this support system that I really needed.”
Through it all, Uwusiaba made the dean’s list every semester after arriving on campus. She received a bachelor’s degree in May, graduating magna cum laude.
Uwusiaba has made the most of the opportunities presented to her to make a better life for her and Doro and admitted it hasn’t been easy. Being a student/athlete/mom is tough, and her parents and siblings are 6,000-plus miles away.
Alone with Doro in an apartment, “There were nights that I would cry,” she said. “At times, I would get sad about different situations, but there’s a family back home that I have to make proud. I just kept pushing.
“Having a kid is not the end of the world. I could tell you it is overwhelming, but if you put your mind to it, trust the process and have a dream and a goal of where you want to get to, then you can do anything.”
This is an updated version of a story that first appeared in the spring 2022 issue of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Magazine.