(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON - It takes determination, time management and lots of oatmeal.
The latter, explains Ann Heuiser, is just some food for thought.
The 43-year-old mother of four has discovered many tricks along the way since becoming a first-time college student several weeks ago.
"I try to get as much sleep as I can the night before a test and I eat oatmeal the morning of the test," she said with a broad smile. "I read a research study that said oatmeal is the best breakfast for your mind and it seems to really work."
It's not that she hadn't thought about attending college before now, she's dreamed of becoming a nurse for as long as she can remember. But raising her two sons and two daughters were a priority and now that the last one has left home to attend college himself, she knew it was time.
"I really felt God was leading me into nursing, I had this peace about it. And with all the kids gone, which is bittersweet, I thought this would be a good time to attempt it and see if I could get into the program."
She knew it wasn't going to be easy. "I've been out of school for 25 years," she pointed out.
But with help from the Adult Basic Education Center she passed the test, with 20 minutes to spare. About five weeks later the letter she had been waiting on arrived. She had made it into the program. "I thought, 'oh cool, I'm going to be a nurse!'"
Rick Justice was an entomologist for USDA when he made the decision to return to school to complete his master's degree after having graduated 13 years prior.
"I wanted to become a teacher because I feel my experience of working at different locations and with different people could be used to inspire the youth of the community to become the best that they can be," he said.
Both knew their ventures would entail a lot of studying, very little sleep and some stressful moments but it was something they were determined to do.
Heuiser's eyes widened as she recalled how tough day one of college was. "Oh my goodness, that first day that I went to class I was thinking I'm too old, nobody's going to talk to me, all these kids are going to be young and they're going to think I'm old and old-fashioned and am I really going to be able to do this," she said. "And then when I got in class and looked around there were kids I knew in there who just graduated from high school with my youngest son. I was so stressed that first day that I was physically sick."
The scenario sounds all too familiar to Diane Eberhard. She went back to college after having been out for about 10 years. She remembers thinking how young everyone in her classes looked.
"Some of my courses didn't transfer so I had to pick up some freshman requirements. I had lots of opportunities to take classes with 19-year-olds," Eberhard laughed. "The whole reason why I went back was that I had to do it for me and for my children. How could I tell my children that college is important when I didn't bother to go or didn't finish myself," reasoned Eberhard who for a year attended a junior college where she received a certificate in secretarial practice.
"I was considered the old man in the class," chimed in Justice.
Eberhard can relate to some of the obstacles Heuiser has had to overcome, such as realizing the importance of attending class, taking good notes and thinking positively.
"I feel like now I have a pattern established, what works for me," said Heuiser. "I know I have to read it before I go to class, I have to come home and go over it and outline the chapter, and study, study, study. It's something that you have to be organized with and have the right kind of attitude about. But you know what one of the coolest things is? Everybody in there has a common goal, we all want to be nurses."
Justice, who is now a science teacher for Sikeston Public Schools, faced some challenges trying to balance family time and study time.
"For the past year I have been taking classes to get back into the swing of studying and I will be applying at SEMO for the master's program. What's kept me going is that I figured the more education that I receive the better I can provide for my family," he said. "Because of that I feel that my family gives me some much needed support."
Eberhard, who's been in deposit and loan operations at First National Bank since 1984, noticed the difference in her attitude and those of the traditional students.
"We'd do projects with other students so I'd drive to Cape to meet my group at the library so we could work on the project and I'd be the only one there. The others just decided not to show up, that was real frustrating. Non-traditional students have a different mind set than traditional students."
There are other differences. "I think being a non-traditional student makes a big difference on how serious you are, your whole attitude is different," Eberhard said. "Traditional students often don't like non-traditional students in class because a lot of times they're the curve busters," she noted.
Heuiser has discovered being a college student has affected the whole family. "The kids will call me at night and I'm like yea, yea yea, hurry up, I've got to study," she said joked.
"If you're thinking about going back to college after being out for a long time or you've never been just do it," advised Justice. "And for the family members, give them support when you know that they are stressed out and give them a helping hand when they need it."
It's a challenge, Heuiser said, but one that is well worth it. "I have really been able to tell since I've really gotten back into studying, the more you work your mind the easier it is. It's kind of like physical exercise, the more you do it the better it works. When you build your confidence that helps your attitude. If you go in thinking I can't do this, you're not going to do it. You have to keep saying you can and keep chugging along."