Fred, 37, graduated in May with a doctorate in veterinary medicine. Trish, 32, will graduate next spring near the top of her class with a degree in pharmacy.
When their journey began on their Terre Haute, Ind., family farm, attending college seemed like a far-fetched idea. With 200 Jersey cattle and 300 acres of crops -- not to mention four daughters -- life was already plenty busy. There were twice-daily milkings, at 4:30 each morning and evening, 365 days of the year. There was hay to cut, corn to plant, and always a hundred chores in between. But after 10 years of hard work, they decided to improve their lives by improving their educations. "We saw it as something that had to be done," Trish says.
Fred enrolled at Indiana State University in 1991, hoping to be accepted to Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine. He was accepted two years later, against stiff competition (in 1996 the school accepted 63 of 925 applicants). Rather than commute, Fred and Trish decided to sell their stake in the farm and move themselves and their daughters -- Bonnie, Sadie, Cassie and Jessie, now 6, 8, 13 and 14 years old -- to West Lafayette to enter Purdue as full-time, resident students.
While Fred and Trish are not your typical students, they also were not alone on the West Lafayette campus. At the start of this academic year, there were 964 undergraduate students and 1,990 graduate students over the age of 30, together comprising about 8 percent of the student body.
The Frodermans thought they were ready for the change, but they found it more difficult than expected. They both say that the most trying times of the past four years were during their first weeks on campus.
"Everything was new, there were no classmates to ask questions of, and we really struggled with grades," Fred says. "The first exam I took in vet school, which was in biochemistry, I flunked. The first exam Trish took, which was in Math 151, she flunked. That wasn't a good way to start."
Trish says that although she laughs about it now, "It was overwhelming and traumatic at the time."
Trish remembers more difficulties during that first semester "I missed a class session in biology one day because my watch stopped, and I missed the first quiz. The quiz was worth 10 points, and I had a zero. I was upset and crying; I thought it was the end of the world."
Trish may have gotten off to a rocky start, but she received an A in her math class, and she went on to be the top student in her freshman biology class.
Even though those early days were difficult, neither of them considered quitting. "You have to force yourself to do two things," Fred says. "You can never look back, and you can never think about quitting. You can't entertain a thought about quitting for even a moment. Determination will prevail."
Although that attitude may seem like hopeless idealism, Fred tempered it with a healthy dose of pragmatism: "Being older and having a family and more responsibilities, I do think you have to accept lower academic goals for yourself," he says. "With both of us going to school full-time, I didn't have as high of a standard for myself in vet school as I did when I was an undergraduate."
At least they didn't have to work, too: They financed almost all of their educations with the proceeds from the sale of their farm and with student loans.
As 30-somethings they were somewhat out of synch with their younger classmates -- Fred was the oldest person in his class in vet school -- but they found that to be more amusing than difficult. For his part, Fred gets a kick out of the vet school students who rub his bald head for good luck before exams.
Although it wasn't obvious at first, they soon found that they weren't the only full-time adult students with families. "We're not unique," Trish says. "A close friend of mine is a single mother with two kids who is going to school full-time. You'll find that a lot of adult students have families, and they all have the same determination that we have."
Trish also found support through Purdue's Horizons Program. Because she qualified for the program, Trish was able to get special tutors, studying tips and other assistance that she says helped her to turn the corner toward success. (The Horizons Program is a federally sponsored program that provides assistance to students from low-income families, first-generation college students, and others.)
Another way the family found support was through the Purdue community. Trish places such value on the aid of professors, fellow students, friends and family that she insists that their successful college careers be labeled a team effort.
"One of the big reasons we've made it is the support of other people," she says. "Professors, for example, have been sensitive to my schedule, my classmates avoided conducting study sessions in the evenings, and parents of other children have offered to pick up our kids after school functions. Plus, we've received quite a bit of support from our family and friends, and our older daughters have been a tremendous help.
"We had no idea we would get that outpouring of support when we started," she says, "but that's what really made it possible."
Fred now will be joining a veterinary practice in Angola, Ind., where he will specialize in dairy cattle. He and the girls are living in northeastern Indiana while Trish remains in West Lafayette to finish her degree.
Source: Fred and Trish Froderman, (765) 743-7210 until June 1.
Writer: Steve Tally, (765) 494-9809; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, email@example.com
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