The traditional college student has quite a bit of momentum by the time they finish high school and go on to college. Usually that momentum is enough to push them through college and into their future careers.
For some students, however, that momentum is lost, and they must later go back to school to finish a task that has been left behind years ago.
For BethAnn Decker, a senior majoring in forensic anthology, her goal has been in sight since she was 16 years old, but she has worked through some setbacks along the way.
“Honestly, I always wanted to go back to school after leaving ETSU when I was 19 thinking I couldn’t ‘hack it,’” Decker said. “I went into retail, got married and realized you can’t do anything on a retail salary.”
Decker said she was supported largely by her husband, but after 14 years of marriage, Decker and her then-husband separated.
“I realized I had nothing,” Decker said. “I was 38, moving home to aged parents, and I couldn’t live like this financially for the rest of my life. I wanted more, and I deserved more! A degree was the only way, and why not do something you love?”
Decker said her choice of program was not readily accepted by her family.
“As I said, my parents are older, so in their minds women are teachers, nurses or secretaries,” Decker said. “When I announced my plans to go dig up bones, they were horrified.”
“I transferred to ETSU because, after being out of education for nearly 20 years, I needed some ‘hand holding’ and reassuring. I found that at Northeast State. Once I graduated, I knew I had to come to ETSU. Dad passed away in the summer of 2013, leaving mom alone, and I just couldn’t move away. Even though there are a few more schools with forensic anthropology programs, I’m so thankful ETSU offers such a top-notch program,” Decker said.
Taking care of her father, who was ailing with Lewy-Body Dementia, was not all Decker had on her plate.
“On top of [taking care of dad], I had to give mom some sense of normalcy so she would be okay, and I tried to make sure my brother was fine also,” Decker said. “He may be a big, tough Johnson City firefighter, but he’s my baby brother, and it’s my job to look after everyone.”
“I had to work and had a demanding schedule at a local florist,” she added. “Sometimes finding even time to breathe was difficult. I have a problem with telling people at work ‘no’ when they ask if I can come in early, stay late or work my days off. At one point, I went about three weeks with having only Sundays off. Even then, I worked a few of those. Thankfully my grades did not suffer, because somehow I found an hour here an hour there to do homework.”
“I may not be on the Dean’s List, and I may not have a 4.0, but I’m doing what I want and need to do and doing it in my time,” she said.
She is also preparing to get married next year and will gain two step-sons — one of whom just got married last year.
“My motivation is looking back at my life before school,” she said. “I had nothing, and now I have something. I’m thankful to now have a wonderful man with a beautiful family in my life who encourages me on a daily basis.”
“I’ve brought my mother around to my way of thinking after she started watching ‘NCIS’ and became a huge fan of [the character] Abby. Sadly, mom still can’t watch ‘Bones’ to fully understand what I want to do. It’s a bit gory for her.”
Decker’s inspiring story is one that she continues to live out in order to encourage others.
“I’m sometimes the oldest in class, and [I] feel scared or stupid or so far behind,” she said. “But I then I think, ‘What if someone is watching me, what if they see what I’m doing and realize they can do it too?,’ and I take a deep breath and soldier on.”