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News and information from Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas.

Friday, December 07, 2007

PSU grad overcomes obstacles to finish degree

(At right: Education degree candidate Jody Henegar, center, pictured with her daughters.)

Six years ago, Jody Henegar was viewing life from a much different vantage point.

Facing a dissolving marriage, the reality of going back to work after more than a decade as a stay-at-home mom, and an unexpected medical diagnosis that all four of her children had a rare form of cystic fibrosis, Henegar understandably felt like she didn’t know where to take her next step.

With one year of college in her past, however, she had a lingering feeling she had started something back then that was worth finishing now.

It has taken six years of attending part-time due to her work schedule and children’s illnesses, but on Friday, Dec. 14, Henegar will finally graduate from Pittsburg State University with a bachelor of science degree in education.

“I feel like a great burden is being lifted off me,” said Henegar, 40, who lives in Liberal, Mo., and is completing her student teaching at the Bronaugh (Mo.) School District. “I did a lot of praying. I think it was God that got me through it.”

Although she struggled with motivation at times, she credits curriculum and instruction faculty Dr. Julie Samuels, Dr. June Taylor, and Mrs. Kathy Spillman for encouraging her to become the first person in her family to earn a college degree – not an easy task when, due to life’s struggles, she was forced to drop out three different times.

Much of what needed her attention was the persistent respiratory problems of her youngest daughter, Michaela. After discovering she had cystic fibrosis, the other children were checked. All tested positive for the rare form, which is caused by a gene mutation.

“My kids were essentially guinea pigs. Everyone wanted to do testing, and doctors were networking and doing this as a case study,” said Henegar, who had to take her youngest to multiple medical appointments and administer medication to her when Michaela was at home. Later, when her son had a serious four-wheeler accident that required surgery, Heneger had to drop out and then restart the next semester once again.

The encouragement her family and PSU instructors gave her to stay in school was bolstered by her co-workers at the elementary school in Liberal, where she had taken a job as a paraprofessional, transcribing schoolwork into Braille for a blind student. The teachers offered her books and help with lesson plans to keep her on track.

“That made it easier,” Henegar said. “I don’t think a lot of people have those kinds of resources and support.”

Then there was the issue of finances. With four children to support, Henegar tried to earn extra money and groceries by giving rides to members of the nearby Amish community who needed to travel to town, and by cleaning her church each week. When she neared the end of her coursework and needed to leave her job to make time to student teach, she sold her house in order to live off the home’s equity while she finished school. Each semester, she made it a priority to pay her tuition in full so as not to accrue loan debt.

“Life just slaps you in the face sometimes and you learn what hardship is,” she said. “I would hear other students in my classes talk about how non-traditional students are overachievers and I would think ‘If you only knew the things I’m going through’,” she said.

With graduation on the horizon and opportunities in sight, it all seems worth it now. Henegar’s children, now ages 19, 17, 14, and 11, are in good health, and she will soon begin work as a Title 1 Aid at the Liberal School District while she waits for a teaching position to become available. Achieving the goal of earning her bachelor’s degree has motivated her to do more: Heneger says she would like to work on a master’s degree that would prepare her to teach children with vision problems.

“I knew I had to do this for my children so I could better their lives,” she said. “I just encourage everyone to hang in there and take it a day at a time.”

---Pitt State---