Student of the Month

February Student of the Month: Barb Neal

What is your background?: I grew up in Mount Vernon, the second oldest of five children. When I was in third grade, my family moved to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. We lived there for four years before returning to Mt Vernon.

I graduated from Mt Vernon High School in 1968. I attended Cornell College for one year. Rather than continue with my education, I decided to get married when my fiancé returned from Vietnam. We have been married for 51+ years. We have three sons, one daughter and nine grandchildren.

I was primarily a stay at home mom. Once the kids were grown, I worked in banking for 25 years.

What brought you to Kirkwood and why?: Upon graduation from high school, it was assumed I would go to college. I was one of the top students in my class. However, as often happens, life got in the way. I got married, had a family and spent the next years just trying to do my best as a mom.

Periodically, I picked up classes at Cornell and Kirkwood. I never gave up on my goal of earning a degree. I always thought it had to be a four year degree, but the financial and time commitment was hard to achieve. It occurred to me recently that a two year degree would also count. So here I am! I am going to achieve the ONLY thing I have ever regretted about my life and the path I chose.

What is your program of study and what interests you about it?: For expediency, I have decided to get a Liberal Arts degree. In the past my emphasis was on math and accounting. I need to fulfill some requirements to earn my degree. I am waiting for my transcript review, so I know exactly what I will need to take. It doesn’t really matter to me what the course of study. It’s about completing the one thing I haven’t finished. I raised my children to NEVER be quitters. I have to do this.

Tell us a little more about what getting a college education means to you: I consider myself a lifelong learner. I took classes to become a Master Gardener, not because I wanted to be a master of anything, but to learn about many aspects of gardening. I have attended many seminars and mini classes throughout my life, because expanding my mind has always been important.

I form strong opinions about many issues, but they are just that… opinions, based on some facts. Nothing makes me happier than being challenged, having a debate and having my opinion changed. Being proved wrong is the only way to broaden your mind and actually learn.

I put a very high value on education. Three of my children are teachers (high school industrial tech, seventh grade math and college science methods). One is working on his Masters. One has her Masters plus 24 and one has his PhD. My fourth son has been a dedicated employee with the same company for 18 years. I am extremely proud of all of them.

Are you involved in anything off of campus?: My husband and I are retired, so our main focus is on our children and grandchildren. Prior to Covid, we spent more time with them, going to their events and taking care of the younger ones. We are looking forward to getting back to “normal”.

I do some volunteering. I am a Master Gardener, so that involves a fair amount of time. I also am becoming a SHIIP counselor for Mercy Hospital and I volunteer at the local care center in Mt Vernon.

What do you do for fun?: During the winter months I love to read. I enjoy a vast array of books. During the Covid time, I have been making masks for family and friends. I go for walks and keep in touch with the important people in my life. My favorite activity in the warm weather is being outside and working in the yard. Playing in the dirt is cathartic. I love being with people, so volunteering helps fill that need.

Where do you see yourself in five years?: I hope to still be a healthy, active person. My husband and I would like to do some traveling, but mostly I want to be involved with my family and their activities. Who knows, I might still be taking classes.