Danielle Mendez wasn't quite sure what to do with the abundance of time she suddenly had after receiving her Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering degree on May 10.
It was a radical change from the previous three years, during which she balanced the demands of pursuing her degree at the age of 31 with those of being a single mother of three children, ages 11, 8 and 5.
"It was tricky," Mendez said. "I figured out the other day that I spent an hour and a half in the car every day, just getting everybody where we needed to go. There wasn't enough time in the day."
Trina Lancaster certainly could relate. Although she said pursuing her degree in industrial engineering as a 38-year-old mother of three teens was a bit less taxing, it was not by any stretch the easiest route to a college education.
"It was always busy," she said. "There was always something I needed to do, but I think it was easier having my kids be a little bit older. They were very supportive, too."
All six children were on hand to see their mothers graduate, and all benefited from the examples of two role models committed to life-long learning.
"Obviously, they are motivated to help support their kids and to show their kids that you can do difficult things, even a bit later in life," said Jodi Prosise, PhD, an associate professor of engineering. "I think our younger students can learn from a different perspective as well."
Mendez learned from her own father's example, choosing engineering as a way to both emulate and honor the man she called "my best friend and my biggest cheerleader."
There were days she could have used a babysitter, rather than a cheerleader. At those times, the faculty made accommodations.
"My daughter Myriam went to class every once in a while," Mendez said. "She says she is going to be an engineer and wants to go to St. Ambrose. Mostly so she can pick on Dr. (Michael) Opar."