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August 19, 2003

Melissa Cross remembers how scary it was when she first walked into the college classroom 12 years ago to start work on a business administration degree.

"Some of the students were younger than my son," she says.

Cross and FKI Logistics co-worker Carmen Hampton decided to attend college despite the fact it had been years since either one had set foot in a classroom. a

Cross, now 48, recently graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with a bachelor of business administration degree in accounting. She started college when she was 36 by taking classes on nights and weekends. Hampton, 42, started 16 years ago at Lindsey Wilson College and will graduate from EKU in December with a bachelor of arts degree in public relations.

Both women have had to juggle attending night and weekend classes with their families and their current jobs at FKI Logistics, formerly Mathews Conveyor. "I have learned to survive on four hours sleep," says Hampton of the 18 hours she spends most days working, going to class, and studying.


Cross echoes that. "Some nights I probably only got three to four hours sleep. But that's what it took to keep my grades up and get my degree," she says.

Cross said her son, Matt, made a comment to her after the graduation ceremony that he didn't ever remember her not attending college. "This comment let me know that I have set a good example for my son. He is fully aware of the importance of a college education and the sacrifices we have all made," she says.

The two woman carpooled to Eastern's campus in Richmond. "I could tell you every curve on (Ky.) 1295," Cross says of the curvy and hilly shortcut between Ky. 52 in Garrard and Madison counties. "I've been so tired some nights I didn't remember driving home."

Both say college life and structure have changed quite a bit over the years. When Cross started college in 1991, most of the classes were offered to traditional students, but now many of the students are non-traditional, like her, and much more flexibility exists as to when classes are offered.

But she says the biggest change is the Internet in that it is much easier to do research. Some of her assignments were e-mailed in. "Teachers encouraged that," she says.

Another big change is the cost of tuition. "When I started, it cost $150 to take a course. Now it's $399," says Cross.

Hampton says the way professors treated her changed throughout the years. "They are (now) much more customer oriented," she says. "They are more accommodating" and understanding that she doesn't fit the mold of the traditional college student. "When it snowed or the weather was bad, they would call me and tell me not to even try to come in. They told me 'we will work with you to get your assignments done.'"

Cross is the first one in her family to graduate with a four-year degree. And it may not end there. Both she and Hampton plan to work toward a master's degree.

Cross encourages others to follow her path. "Just remember, no matter how old you are or discouraged you may become, never, ever give up!"|8/18/03***

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