Profile: Terri and Jeff Leffler
How can two generations of the same family both be first generation college students? Terri Leffler, an undergraduate student who used to think college was for other people, and her son Jeff Leffler, an MSU doctoral student in curriculum and instruction, are a unique example.
As a high school student, Terri said going to college didn't seem like a realistic option for her. But when she had children, both she and her husband knew that college would be a priority for their family. "We knew the struggles of not having a college education," she said.
Jeff, who now works fulltime for the University of Southern Mississippi as executive director of the Center for Child Development, earned his bachelor's in child and family studies and a master's in early intervention, both at the University of Southern Mississippi.
After taking a position as project coordinator with MSU's Early Childhood Institute in 2008, Jeff said the benefit of employee tuition remission was too good to pass up. While his work was based in South Mississippi, he drove to MSU's Meridian campus to earn his specialist degree in 2010. He immediately entered the doctoral program, with semester schedules typically requiring him to drive to Starkville once a week, while still juggling his work and family responsibilities.
The current president of the Mississippi Early Childhood Association, Jeff is a teacher at heart who loves interacting with children. The father of three (9-year-old twins and a 7-year-old) also works behind the scenes to equip early childhood educators with training and resources. He oversees two lab schools at USM's Hattiesburg and Gulf Coast campuses. He and his family also began a preschool in Hattiesburg in 2008 that strongly focuses on preparing young children for kindergarten.
Balancing all his responsibilities with graduate school has been no easy task, but he has kept his eye on the prize. "You realize that some things you do for a season to have opportunities in the future," Jeff said. The example he is setting for his own children is valuable too, he said. "My children see me doing my homework."
For Terri, the example from her own children, Jeff and his sister Lisa, provided the encouragement she needed to take college on for herself.
"I surprised myself," Terri said. "I had no idea where to begin."
With help and encouragement from her family, she enrolled in Jones County Junior College and now is completing her final year as a distance education student in MSU's elementary education program. She plans to teach in the Hattiesburg area after graduation next May.
Terri said she wants to encourage young people that it's a good idea to go on to college directly after high school so they don't have to put off the benefits of a college education until later in life. "That's the best way to do it, but also, I'm proof that it's never too late for an education," Terri said.Writer: Allisson Matthews | Photo: Megan Bean
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