By TYLER ELLYSON
GRAND ISLAND – Lindsay Stryker knows what you’re thinking.
At roughly twice the age of most of her classmates, she stands out on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus.
“Sometimes it’s awkward. Sometimes I feel like I get looked at differently,” said Stryker, who turns 37 next week.
Many people wonder – and some of them ask – what motivated her to return to school now?
That’s a question she’s happy to answer.
“It’s important for me,” the Norfolk native said. “It’s important for me to actually have a degree. It’s important for me to do well in school because I didn’t do well in high school.”
Her mindset is much different these days. She’s focused on academics instead of her social life and grateful for the opportunity to attend UNK, where she’s studying secondary education with an emphasis in health and psychology.
“I’m here for a reason,” Stryker said. “I’m not here because my parents are paying for it. I’m not here because somebody told me to go. I’m here for myself.”
Stryker’s life is a balancing act.
At UNK, she’s a dean’s list student who doesn’t waste an opportunity to study. She arrives early to prepare for exams and works on assignments while eating lunch.
At home in Grand Island, she’s a wife and mother to four children, ages 4 to 15.
“Our house can be very chaotic,” said Stryker, who also works as a substitute teacher for Grand Island Public Schools.
A typical day starts between 5:30 and 6 a.m. – leaving about two hours to get herself and the kids ready – and usually ends around midnight, after she prepares dinner, tackles the household chores and completes her homework, which is always a priority.
She makes the 50-minute drive to Kearney twice a week for classes, with next semester’s schedule doubling that number. Luckily, she has a bit of an expert by her side for support.
Stryker’s husband Trevor commuted from Grand Island to Kearney while working on a bachelor’s degree in social work he received in May 2017.
The Strykers both took nontraditional routes to UNK.
Trevor also struggled academically in high school and never felt like college was an option for him.
The Grand Island native enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2002 and spent four years as a heavy equipment operator, including two deployments to Iraq. Following his military service, he battled post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse while transitioning back to civilian life.
“You’re just kind of lost,” said Trevor, who was living with his parents when he met Lindsay in 2008. “You almost have to relearn everything.”
After overcoming his own demons, Trevor earned an associate degree in human services with a specialty in drug and alcohol counseling from Central Community College and landed a job with the Grand Island Veterans Affairs Medical Center. When that position ended, his family provided the motivation to pursue a bachelor’s degree at UNK.
“They’re part of my purpose now,” the 34-year-old said.
For the past 2 1/2 years, Trevor has worked as a peer support specialist for Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska’s At Ease Program, which provides assistance for veterans and their families.
He’s also enrolled in a Master of Social Work program through the University of Nebraska at Omaha. That program combines online courses with Friday-Saturday classes that meet four times a semester at UNK.
“It opens more doors and more opportunities,” Trevor said of the master’s degree. “There’s a little bit more money that comes with it, too.”
Lindsay didn’t know what she wanted to do after high school. She earned a diploma in medical coding from Northeast Community College and took additional classes through Central Community College, but never found a satisfying career.
“I didn’t feel like my education was complete, and I didn’t feel like the jobs I had were fulfilling,” she said.
The latter changed when she started substitute teaching, but her plans had to sit on the back burner until Trevor finished his bachelor’s degree. As soon as he graduated, she was ready to take her own leap.
Like her husband, Lindsay is eyeing a career with a personal connection. Her own struggles with depression and anxiety and other issues the family has experienced pulled her toward health and psychology education.
Lindsay wants to help others while improving her own life, a goal many UNK students share, regardless of their age.
She hopes to complete her degree in May 2021, when her oldest child Aidan will graduate from high school. A joint celebration would be kind of fun, Lindsay said.
“But I don’t know how much he would like it,” she added with a smile.