Student overcomes challenges to complete degree, fulfill lifelong dream
Published May 10, 2012
Earning her college degree has been a long time coming for Amy Stroud, a military spouse, mother of four and grandmother who finished high school 30 years ago.
Amy graduates from NDSU on May 12 with degrees in elementary education and human development, which will allow her to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a teacher. She completed her degree in three years, maintaining a 3.95 grade-point average, under challenging personal circumstances, including her husband’s deployment to Afghanistan, their son’s serious knee injury and her father’s death.
“NDSU has been incredible since day one,” said Amy who credits the university’s student-focused culture, programs, faculty and staff for her academic success.
Leaving her comfort zone
As a young wife and mother, Amy put attending college on hold while her husband, Lt. Col. Shawn Stroud, former professor of military science for NDSU’s Army ROTC program, pursued his education. “I wanted to support Shawn and be a good mom,” she said.
While the Stroud children were growing up, Amy taught Sunday school and homeschooled them for a period of time. It was clear that teaching was her calling.
Because of Shawn’s military career, the family moved every 18 months, which made it difficult for Amy to pursue her education. “You get comfortable where you are,” she said. “Fear can stop you from doing what you need to do.”
With careful planning, Shawn’s three-year appointment at NDSU provided an opportunity for Amy to start and finish her degree in one place. But Amy had her doubts about whether she was up for rigorous academic work and whether she would fit in with students the same age as her children. “I’m going to be the old person,” she fretted.
Amy met with her academic adviser who helped her figure out how to complete her studies in three years and encouraged her to pursue her dream. Amy needed the confidence boost. “It was so overwhelming,” she said. “Everything has changed since I graduated from high school.”
The first time Amy went to the library, she wondered where the card catalog was. “I left right away because I felt foolish that I didn’t know what to do,” she said. An employee at the ROTC office encouraged Amy to go back and ask a librarian for help, which she did.
“It’s not just the help; it’s how they help you,” Amy said of faculty and staff at NDSU. Everyone she encountered genuinely wanted to help her and treated her with respect. “It so refreshing and encouraging,” she said.
Balancing family and school
As Amy adjusted to life as a college student, she found herself getting advice and encouragement from her two older sons who were recent college graduates and her daughter who was in college. “The things I had told them, I was hearing back,” she said.
They also razzed her about studying notecards between sets when she was lifting weights and preparing for tests well in advance. “The joke was, ‘Mom is studying, so she must have a test in three weeks,’ ” she said.
In June 2010, Shawn learned he would be deployed to Afghanistan in July. His six-month deployment turned into more than 15 months.
That fall, the Stroud’s youngest son suffered a serious knee injury playing football. He needed extensive knee surgery and full-time help from Amy to recover.
Then in December, Amy’s father died, and she had to work through her grief without her husband. “Her father always told her she would be a great teacher and was a constant source of inspiration and encouragement for her, even as a young girl,” Shawn said.
In March 2011, Amy headed to the Twin Cities for the birth of their first grandchild. Prenatal tests indicated the baby had health problems, and doctors didn’t know whether she would survive birth. At that point, Amy didn’t know if she could go on with her studies.
But Amy did go on and recently completed student teaching at Cheney Middle School in West Fargo. The Stroud’s granddaughter also celebrated her first birthday in March.
Amy said her professors supported her during difficult times by understanding when she had to miss class, allowing her to make up work and urging her to continue her studies.
During Shawn’s deployment, Amy also appreciated the support NDSU’s ROTC program provided. Someone was always checking in to see if she needed help. “As a military spouse, you don’t want to ask for help even though you need it,” Amy said.
Cadets and staff cleared the snow out of the driveway during the winter and helped load heavy items when their daughter moved. “Once I left, I knew the NDSU family would take care of her,” Shawn said. “As long as I know my family is taken care of, I can do my job.”
Amy plans to apply for teaching jobs after the Strouds relocate for the 17th time during their 29-year marriage. Shawn’s new assignment is in Monterey, Calif. “Fargo-Moorhead is a great community,” Amy said. “We’re sad to be leaving.”
Amy’s advice to students is to develop a relationship with their academic adviser and professors, to study early and often for tests and to take advantage of NDSU’s academic resources, such as the Center for Writers and tutoring services. “I used every service available,” she said.
NDSU’s graduate/professional commencement ceremony is scheduled for Friday, May 11, at 4 p.m. in the Fargodome. The undergraduate ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, May 12, at 10 a.m. in the Fargodome.