Women’s History Month: Tinker woman strives, achieves something better for self, family

  • Published
  • By Brandice J. O'Brien
  • Staff Writer
Olivia Collins has been there and done that. She has accomplished several feats, but she is not impressed by her own story. She said it's just another finished chapter.

Despite what the buy manager for the 430th Supply Chain Management Squadron International Business Office thinks, her colleagues and supervisors are impressed. They said she is a true success story.

"She has had to overcome many obstacles to reach her goals," said April Anderson, 430th SCMS Propulsion Contract Subject Matter expert and friend. "She is a wonderful example to her children, showing them on a daily basis that if one chooses to work hard, stay focus and persevere, all things are possible."

Six years ago, Ms. Collins worked in a call center. At 25 years old, she was a single mother; her children were 6 and 2 years old. She had hit rock bottom. Her weight hit an all-time high of 313 pounds. She had no college education and her dreams of becoming a dental hygienist had faded into the background. Three years had already passed since she started the job and she couldn't see beyond her shift, let alone into retirement. Ms. Collins was frustrated and tired. Something needed to change.

Right then and there, Ms. Collins quit her job.
The former wild child, who stayed out late and partied until the wee hours of the morning, enrolled in Oklahoma State University at the Oklahoma City campus. Already on welfare, she paid for her education with student loans and government grants. Fully aware of what was at stake, she put her high school 2.4 grade point-average reputation behind her and strived for something more.

She soon realized a career in dental hygiene wasn't for her, but that was OK; she knew once she obtained a college education she didn't have to go back to a call center. Soon thereafter, Ms. Collins married her second husband, but there would be a reoccurrence of strain in the relationship due to financial hardship and her constant battle with depression.

Ms. Collins put a lot of emphasis on her studies, eventually earning a 4.0 GPA. She was accepted into the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society - Alpha Pi Nu chapter and served as president for one year.

Her mind grew and strengthened, and she was soon employed again. Ms. Collins had found a job working full-time at an out-source center. Despite her accomplishments, they didn't address her weight issue, until one day.

"I had a science class on the third floor and the elevator broke, so I had to walk the stairs. I could barely make it to the second floor," Ms. Collins said. "I was huffing and puffing and I had to sit down on the steps. I saw all these young kids walking up and down the stairs and not having any problems. I was like 28 years old and struggling to get up a flight of stairs."

Ms. Collins' doctor recommended she meet with a psychiatrist. While Ms. Collins appreciated the advice, she couldn't accept a "bipolar disorder" diagnosis. Instead, she joined a gym and hired a personal trainer. They worked out together for a year and a half. She learned the importance of balancing diet and exercise. Without drastic surgeries, the weight came off. Ms. Collins lost 120 pounds.

As divorce loomed in April 2010, Ms. Collins eventually gained half of the weight back, but she hadn't given up on achieving a healthy weight.

"I had gone back to my old habits. When you're overweight and depend on food for comfort, and you stress out like that and have a family crisis like that, even the strongest people go back to old habits," Ms. Collins said. "It took all the knowledge that I got from my personal trainer and I got back on a strict diet. I lost all that weight and 10 pounds more."

Her divorce was finalized in September 2010; Ms. Collins has since lost 70 pounds. She claims she has 30 more pounds to go.

While she was trying to grasp her weight issues, she came across another challenge. The University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond offered a two-year scholarship. Ms. Collins wanted it. She applied and was granted the award to support her education during her junior and senior years of college. Shortly thereafter, she learned Tinker offered an internship program for UCO students.

Even though Ms. Collins was already working full time, taking care of her children and going to college, she decided she wanted in the Tinker Internship Program. Within the program, she'd work up to 39 hours at Tinker and maintain her college credits. Once hired, she'd receive similar pay, benefits, and training. Ms. Collins wasn't accepted in right away, but on her second attempt, she got in.

"Olivia is dynamic and detail-oriented. She notices whether things make sense. She notices when numbers aren't synched. She's very good at what she does," said Barbara Tourville, 430th SCMS director and Ms. Collins' second-level supervisor and first boss at Tinker. "I admire her tremendous weight loss and physical fitness. I have no doubt she'll be successful. She's definitely able to follow through and do what it takes to reach success."

In August 2011, Ms. Collins graduated from UCO with a 3.61 GPA and a bachelor's degree in Operations Management and Analysis. This fall, she'll start on her next goal, acquiring a Masters of Business Administration from Oklahoma City University.

Despite what others may think, Ms. Collins is not impressed with her achievements.

"I don't find anything awe-inspiring about it. I did what I set out to do and accomplished it," Ms. Collins said. "If you work hard enough for the things you want and you're really determined, you can pretty much do anything.

"If you want it bad enough, you'll eventually let go of the other stuff," Ms. Collins said. "If I can let go of my ranch dressing, Dr. Pepper and ice-cream, you can let it go, too."

Beyond a master's degree, Ms. Collins said she knows she wants to continue working for the government, buy a house and possibly take a vacation to Alaska; all of which she will surely accomplish.