By AUSTIN KOELLER
KEARNEY – Joene Crocker’s first day as a non-traditional student at the University of Nebraska at Kearney was filled with anxiety. As she walked from her home near campus, her heart kept beating faster and faster as she got closer to campus.
“I wanted it so bad. I was ready for change,” said Crocker, 49, a senior public relations major from Kearney.
As she arrived for her first class in Copeland Hall, she was greeted by a familiar face – her son Tim, a junior radiography major. Tim walked his mom to her first class, a gesture Joene said she will always treasure.
“Had he not been there, I honestly wonder if I would have chickened out totally,” she said. “It was just scary.”
Joene first started college in 1982 at Kearney State College with a major in home economics education. However, she quit after just one year of classes. “My freshman year, I just didn’t feel like I fit in.”
After leaving college, she attended a two-year bible college based in Dallas, which offered classes via satellite from her church. She used her certificate from the bible college to volunteer as a Sunday school teacher and teach preschool classes.
After marrying and giving birth to eight children – five boys and three girls – Joene became a stay-at-home mom. But she eventually discovered that she had a special skill – sewing.
“I did some alterations on the side to supplement extra income. … It expanded into a home-based embroidery business,” Joene said of her company, called Crocker Monogramming. “We purchased embroidery machines, and we began sewing for sports shops in town and high school booster clubs in area and local towns.”
Joene and her husband, Steve, sold the business when it became too time consuming and stressful.
“I decided also that I didn’t love what I was doing. I liked it, it was OK, but I didn’t love what I was doing.”
As a result of her dissatisfaction, she began Crocker Painting, a house painting business in Kearney. But she wasn’t satisfied with the painting business either. So Joene went back to sewing and took on a seamstress job.
“It was during this time that I got really unsettled, and I knew that I didn’t want to sew for the rest of my life.”
That’s when Joene decided to go back to school, almost 30 years since her first stint at Kearney State.
She applied to UNK online and got accepted. Her acceptance meant she would be attending UNK at the same time as three of her children. She began taking classes in January 2011.
When she enrolled at UNK, her daughter Elizabeth was a senior in high school and was a bit skeptical about attending college with her mom. But Elizabeth, now a junior family studies major, has come to like the idea of her mom going back to school.
“I love it. I think it’s awesome,” Elizabeth said. “The idea of her being at college with us. I love the idea. It’s fun. I love running into my mom.”
Said Joene: “The first time I saw her on campus, I actually thought she would be embarrassed to see me. But she was like, ‘Mom!’ We were a distance away from each other. I knew then that it was a good thing.”
Joene initially declared art education as her major. “I liked art and I’ve always liked art. I also have liked teaching. So I thought, ‘OK, let’s just do art education.’”
Within weeks of her first semester, Joene became uneasy about entering college at her age. She quickly changed her major to undecided.
“I happened to take a public relations course,” Joene said. “It was in that public relations course, there was something about it that really attracted me to that.”
Joene changed her major to public relations, while declaring art as her minor for her “hobby purpose.”
One of her biggest challenges in going back to school, Joene said, has been technology.
“I would say that my most tears shed have been over technology,” Joene said. “But I have found out that (I need) the other students on campus for their technology savviness. But I also feel like they need me for my life experiences.”
Another challenge, Joene says, is balancing school and family life.
“Sometimes I’m sure I’ve flunked the test, and other times I’ve balanced things,” Joene said. “My husband has definitely stepped up, pitched in and supported me. He’s my biggest supporter in what I’m doing right now. He’s encouraged me to keep at it. He knows that in the end it will be worth it.”
Joene’s three children in college – Tim, Elizabeth and Abigail, a freshman pre-nursing major – said that having their mom in college with them has allowed her to be more understanding of their lives.
“She’s living through it, so she knows exactly what we’re going through,” Elizabeth said.
In all, Joene says that her college experience has been a positive one.
“I am excited to be here. Back when I was 18, I know I didn’t have that attitude. That’s what I love about this part of my going back experience. I feel like a sponge. I want to learn it all and not miss anything.”
Joene must complete one more class before she can graduate. She is not sad that her college journey is almost over.
“I really want to be a lifetime learner. I want to keep learning.”
Writer: Austin Koeller, 308.865.8529, firstname.lastname@example.org