ECC adult student finds new appreciation for College
Felicia Ledbetter never intended to go back to college after dropping out at age 20. Years later however, when the business she worked for was sold and her livelihood gone, she reconsidered. That decision has led her down an educational path she never dreamed possible, and it’s propelling her toward a career of helping others that she can’t wait to begin.
“I only went to school for a year and then quit because it didn’t seem like much of a priority to me,” explains Ledbetter. “I was young and dumb. I wasn’t attending my classes and didn’t hand stuff in. I just decided to drop out and work instead.”
Years later, as a manager at her place of employment, she found out the business was going to be sold. “My job was gone, and I realized I didn’t have much to offer my young daughter. Without a college degree, I wouldn’t be able to give her anything. I wanted to provide more for her than I had growing up. That’s when I decided to go back to school,” she said.
She chose Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls because it was close to home, and because she knew some of the faculty. She says that, as an older (“non-traditional”) student, she was worried about not fitting in with the college-age crowd and not being as smart as other students. “I was worried and self-conscious. Thoughts would cross my mind about whether I could juggle being a mother and a student, about not being able to afford tuition, and about being the oldest student on campus,” Ledbetter said. “I remember my first day of class and being so terrified that I was physically sick to my stomach. I honestly thought people would look at me and wonder what I was doing there.”
To her surprise, everyone treated her like just another student. “It was painless. It felt as if we were all equal. Overall, it was a pleasant experience and I was happy when I left campus at the end of that first day.”
Prior to starting, Ledbetter contemplated how to handle the financial aspects of going to school full time while raising her daughter. “Financial aid was a significant help to me, as well as the grants I received. It was also comforting to meet others on campus like me who shared my circumstances. Other parents dealt with the same issues I faced regarding finances and time with kids. It was reassuring to have that support, and to get to know others my age,” she said.
Ledbetter feels a big difference in her attitude toward education as an adult student compared to when she first attended college. “I think being older gave me a better sense of responsibility and I understood and appreciated the importance of college. It was more important to do well. I wanted to give more, to try harder,” Ledbetter said.
ECC art instructor Glennda Metzen credits Ledbetter with making her own success happen. “She showed up to her classes, studied, read the material, spoke up in class, and asked questions. She was also supportive of her peers, and always made it a point to lend an encouraging word to other students. It was very refreshing to have Felicia in class.”
Metzen said Ledbetter not only took upper level art classes, she did exceptionally well in them. “She had patience for her work. She was well composed and technically spot-on. As a student, she was an ultra-perfectionist; she would repeat, repeat, and refine.” Metzen said. “She will continue to grow, and she will make a difference by touching a lot of lives in positive ways.”
Ledbetter decided to become an art major. She then took a psychology class, Counseling Theories, which was another huge turning point for her. Instructor Tracie Self pulled Ledbetter aside and told her how much potential she had.
“She wanted me to open up my job opportunities. She spoke to me about getting my bachelor’s degree and my master’s, and I told her she was crazy. I never had plans of doing anything like that, but she pushed and gave me confidence; she believed in me and planted that idea in my head. If it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be working a bachelor’s degree now,” Ledbetter said.
They keep in touch, and Self continues to push and motivate Ledbetter. “Everyone needs someone pushing us who has faith in us and who knows that we can conquer more than we ever dreamed possible,” Ledbetter said. After the Counseling Theories class, Ledbetter became interested in a career in Human Services.
Self said, “Felicia’s dedication stood out to me. She has an amazing capacity to overcome obstacles while being a student, and she really flourished at Ellsworth. Her resiliency also stood out. Felicia has an affinity for getting good grades, and she didn’t let circumstances stall her desire to do well. She’s a phenomenal student, and I am not the only person on campus with a high opinion of her.”
Ledbetter earned Associate in Arts (AA) degrees in Art and Human Services from ECC in December 2012. She is currently studying at Buena Vista University, where she expects to graduate in October 2013 with baccalaureate degrees in Psychology and Human Services, plus a minor in Sociology. As for future plans, she is set on earning a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling, and she would like to eventually teach at ECC because the college made such a positive impact on her life.
Her advice to others thinking about college: “Just give it a chance. You can do really well if you understand what it takes and have enough self-discipline. It may seem scary after years of not being in school, but it’s not as hard as you might think. You gain so much. All around, your life can change for the better.”
PHOTO CAPTION: ECC student Felicia Ledbetter, seated center, visits in the Gentle Student Center with Glennda Metzen (standing) and Tracie Self (seated right) about her new part-time position. She says the job is a great starting point to a career in mental health, giving her both the experience she desires and the time to continue her studies at Buena Vista University. (Photo furnished)