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TWU ME alumnus Kris Soto encourages adults seeking degree “don’t be afraid.”

When Kris Soto started classes at Tennessee Wesleyan, he was 30 years old, taking classes full-time during the day. After spending a full day in class, he would head to work at DENSO, where he worked second shift. Two years into his college experience, Soto got a promotion at work, requiring him to work the day shift and eliminating the possibility of attending classes during the day. Soto turned to TWU’s Management Excellence program to finish his degree.

“At that time, I wanted to continue coming to Wesleyan since I went here two years, so I went to the ME program,” Soto said. “During that same time, my wife, who had just graduated from Cleveland State, also decided to go to the ME program.”

Soto and his wife, Jessica, joined the ME program together, graduating in December 2012. For Soto, the ME program was a big change from attending classes during the day. As a 30-year-old student, he was older than his classmates and had more life experiences.

“Being a full-time day student, I started college back when I was 30 years old, so I was in class with a bunch of 18-year-old kids,” Soto said. “They didn’t have any life experiences. One of the things that stands out to me was when I was in speech class was ‘tell us where you were on 9/11.’ For my speech, I was at work, and at the time I was a police officer. It was catastrophic to me and my job. Everyone else in my class was in fourth grade.”

Joining the ME program allowed Soto to be in class with people closer to his age, who also worked full-time and had families. The ME program functions as a cohort program, meaning the same group of students progresses through each class together.

“I went from being an outcast, or not even so much an outcast but an outsider, to being with someone who understood my life experience up to that point,” Soto said. “I loved the core group. I loved having a group of people that worked and had the same struggles I did. We’d all come to class tired and just weary about school in general, so that kind of helped keep us together and push us through. For that class, everyone was about my age. We all worked 50 or 60 hours a week. We all had the same struggles. We all had to deal with work. We had to deal with kids and sporting events for kids. Our daily lives were so similar, so you know you weren’t alone.”

In addition to taking classes with other working adults, Soto took classes with his wife. Being in the same classes provided a competitive element, with Jessica pushing Kris to work harder.

“I sat next to my wife,” Soto said. “Now, we are completely different people. I have to pay attention. I have to take notes. Jessica, it seemed to me, could play on her phone and not pay attention, and she always got a better grade than me. She was my constant competition. You’d think, you know, we’re here, we’re husband and wife. But it was who’s got the better grade? Who’s going to do better on this test? And she would always beat me. And I swear she never paid attention it seemed like to me. Like I said, we’re both very competitive. So instead of being that person to lean on and to help you, she was a person to push me to always do better and not come in second place. Although I usually ended up in second place.”

The competitive element between the husband and wife team pushed Soto to work hard and finish his degree, while continuing to work full time and balance his family and personal life. When he graduated in 2012, he mostly felt relieved but was also excited at his accomplishment.

“Getting my degree while working was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” he said. “[When I graduated, I felt] total relief, excitement and enjoyment that I was done, that I just completed this huge task.”

Completing a college degree while working full time and having three children wasn’t easy, but Soto believes the time and effort were worthwhile. He encourages other adults wanting to complete a college degree to believe in themselves and know it is possible.

“Don’t be afraid. It is hard, but it is worth it,” he said. “I have three boys, who at the time were all 6th grade and under. It’s one of those things, you’ll be hesitant because of time lost with the kids. It’ll be worth it. It’ll be more beneficial to them, especially as they get to high school, there’ll be a better knowledge base as they get ready for college to tell them what to do and what to expect. Before starting college, [I thought] I was too old. I wouldn’t fit in. It would be too difficult. I’d lose too much time. But that was a bad mindset. You can do it. You can make it. You just have to push yourself with it.”

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