As if going back to college after more than a decade away wasn't nerve-wracking enough, Jessica Leech found those already frayed nerves being grated upon by a fuzzy-faced Fairmont State freshman who asked if she were their English professor.
She quickly bit tongue, edited her thoughts and opted to tell the kid that no, she was a student just like the rest of those sitting at the desks. But she soon learned that she and the professor were both 32 years old.
"All my other professors are older than me, thank goodness," she said.
Leech is among a growing number of what is considered non-traditional college students, those who have experienced a high school class reunion or two before going back to either finish a degree or obtain another one.
Leech, like most high school graduates, enrolled in college but soon found herself struggling.
"My grades were slipping because I was paying too much attention to my social life and not enough to my grades," she said. "I was more concerned where the next party was instead of studying."
After two years of struggles, she decided to sit out a year to re-evaluate her future. But a year turned into 10, as she got married and dealt with life's other issues. She thought about going back to school about two years ago, but finally got the nerve to do so this spring.
"It was scary at first, with all these young kids around," Leech said. "I had to teach myself how to study all over again. I had forgotten how to study."
Working during those interim years as a child care provider helped her decide that she wanted to pursue a career in elementary education. She is taking 12 hours of credits during this semester, and she has plans to continue through summer school. Leech said she hopes to gradually increase her course load to 18 hours per semester so that she can graduate in three years.
"I'm older now and more mature," she said. "I know what I want to do. I can handle school and stress better than when I was 18."
But the maturity still doesn't mean there won't have to be a delicate balancing act between school and home. She teaches Sunday School and is her church's youth group leader, and she still works and runs the household.
"Finding time for school, work and spending time with (husband) Garth is hard," she said. "But when I'm home, I try to be home. It's really hard. I need six more hours in the day.
"Garth's been very supportive," she added. "He's been a huge help."
Leech said she also has noticed that, other than the technological advances and the online offerings, not much has changed on campus. "I see these kids, and I'm thinking, 'Oh my gosh, they have no idea,"' she said. "They're concerned about going to the next party. That was my problem the first time around, and now I'm thinking about when my next paper is due."