Francisca Morales shares her story with the Mid-Plains Community College Board of Governors in June. Morales went back to school in her 40s and achieved her dream of earning an associate degree thanks to the MPCC Imperial Campus.
The sky's the limit for Francisca Morales.
The Imperial woman has a new degree and a newfound confidence thanks to the outreach efforts of Mid-Plains Community College.
"I am extremely proud of my success and the dedication that I put into securing my future by continuing my education through MPCC," said Morales. "The college is a huge asset to our community. It makes Imperial an attractive town to relocate to, and it saves high school parents so much money when their kids take dual credit classes."
MPCC created the Imperial Campus in 2003, making it the college's fourth outreach location. It serves Chase, Dundy and Perkins counties as well as the Holyoke, Colo. area.
It was difficult for Morales to come up with an excuse not to take classes when the college was practically on her doorstep. Still, it took the encouragement of Brenda Ledall, Imperial Campus coordinator, to get her in the door.
"Brenda is one of the best people that I have ever crossed paths with," said Morales. "She always gave me the impression that I was capable of accomplishing my dreams - even though I told her many, many times that I was deathly afraid of enrolling in College Algebra and English Composition II. I had been out of school for so long, that I felt those two classes would cause me to have heart palpitations."
Morales had set out to earn a college degree more than 20 years earlier, but life got in the way. She began her postsecondary education by taking a semester of classes at Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington, Wyo. in 1988.
Morales then transferred to Western Nebraska Community College in Scottsbluff, but never finished her studies, opting instead to enter the workforce.
By 1992, she had two young sons. Knowing she would need a secure occupation to support them, Morales applied for and was accepted into WNCC's practical nursing program in Alliance.
She took a job as a licensed practical nurse for the Chase County Community Hospital in May of 1999. Morales worked her way up the career ladder, and by the time she decided to go back to school in 2010, she was also the administrative assistant to the hospital's CEO.
Although happy with her professional life, Morales couldn't shake the feeling that there was something missing – something left undone.
"I didn't know what the future held," said Morales. "But, I did know having an associate's degree would open the door to my dream of obtaining a bachelor's degree in social work. I knew I had to get over my anxiety and go back to school. I needed it for me."
That's where Ledall came in. Through many visits, Ledall helped Morales believe in herself. Ledall also promised that tutors would be available, should Morales need them.
"I felt like Brenda and [Carla Colton, Imperial Campus administrative assistant] were there to support me – to be my cheerleaders per say," said Morales. "Just seeing them when I entered the building gave me a great deal of confidence. Those ladies are two of the most positive people I have ever met."
Morales started gradually. Initially, she just took art classes and was only interested in on-site options.
"I was from the old school and was not really thinking I could do well online or through distance learning," said Morales. "There's an old Chinese proverb, 'The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.' I focused on that. It has provided me with strength throughout the many chapters of my life."
The speed didn't matter. The perseverance did. Eventually, Morales gained confidence in her studies - enough so, that she took Algebra via distance learning and Philosophy online.
The hospital accommodated her academic schedule, allowing her to continue to work full-time while also furthering her education. It paid off. Morales graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in May and finally feels fulfilled.
She continues to work at the hospital as an administrative assistant and as an LPN responsible for Employee Health, Employee Education and Workers Compensation.
When not serving in those roles, Morales can be found directing activities at the hospital for skilled nursing patients, and on the second Saturday of every month, working at the Chase County Immunization Clinic.
The fact that she doesn't have much spare time, hasn't stopped her from setting her sights on the next goal.
"Now, I want to get that bachelor's degree," said Morales. "And, I plan to continue to encourage my friends and family to go to college. If I can go back to school in my 40s, they can, too. I do warn them that learning can become addictive. Education is power. It's something no one can take away from you."