Maquela Noel’s journey has not taken the path she anticipated. While she grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Noel’s family is largely from South Louisiana. At one time, she expected to join many of them in New Orleans after high school.
When college became a possibility, Noel was sure Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge would be her destination. When LSU offered Noel, a track and field standout at Legacy High School, a scholarship, it seemed to be a done deal.
However, Baylor was also on her radar. Noel’s mother was also a track star in high school and was heavily recruited by Baylor. While college ended up not being her path, Noel’s mother encouraged her daughter to consider being a Bear.
”When I visited Baylor, I knew this was where I needed to be.”
“When I visited Baylor, I knew this was where I needed to be,” Noel says. “The dorms, the coaches, everything. I wanted to come to Baylor.”
Before beginning Baylor, Noel was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid. This brought an end to her athletic career, but she still knew Baylor was the right place for her.
“After my visit, I didn’t care if track was part of my future or not,” she says. “I wanted to attend Baylor because it was a good fit for me. It’s challenging, and I definitely like hard work.”
Noel says her drive to attend college came from her mother, who always encouraged her to pursue academics.
“She said I had to get out—that if I didn’t, I would be stuck there,” Noel says. “I wanted to show my little cousins that you can make a change in your own family.”
Noel admits fear upon her arrival at Baylor and remembers being struck by how routine everything seemed for everyone else.
“It was more than I expected and eye-opening,” she says. “But it was a joyous time. No one in my family had the opportunity that I do. I get calls all the time: ‘We’re so proud of you.’ That’s motivation for me to keep going regardless of how hard it is for me.”
Noel also was struck by how the Baylor community welcomed her and how easily she made connections.
“The hard part for me is being able to stay at it,” she says. “Studying when you don’t want to is hard. I want automatic results, and college is not automatic. You have to be patient.”
She credits First in Line with helping her navigate the unfamiliar waters of college life. This spring, she was faced with a financial shortfall that would prevent her from returning to Baylor. First in Line stepped in and helped her secure necessary funds.
“Things like that go a long way,” Noel says, adding that First in Line coordinator Mito Diaz-Espinoza, a former first-generation college student, is a source of inspiration. “Learning that he has a PhD made me realize this is possible.”