ST. PETERSBURG — For most of her married life, though Pamela Calloway worked part-time jobs, her focus was on being a stay-at-home mom.
When her husband died almost five years ago, she had just begun taking college classes to prepare for what she would consider her second career and a chance of earning a decent salary.
The day before her husband's funeral, she had to take an algebra test. She failed it, and had to take the class again. It was one of several challenges Calloway faced before graduating in December with honors from St. Petersburg College and becoming nationally certified as a radiology technologist.
"I excelled in college. I knew this was my only chance, hope for a future," said Calloway, now 52.
Along the way, there were children to take care of, jobs to go to, new ways of learning to master and bills to pay. It's where AARP came in. The AARP Foundation gave Calloway one of 46 scholarships awarded nationwide to low-income women over 50 to help fund their education, training and skill upgrades. This past year, the AARP Women's Scholarship Program awarded a total of $175,000 in increments of $500 to $5,000, depending on need and the cost of the education or training. Calloway was one of three women in Florida to get scholarships.
Without the help, she would not have been able to continue her studies, said Calloway, who received $1,500.
"It meant that I could complete the program, otherwise the financial burden of going to school is tremendous, especially when you are raising two children," she said.
Calloway and her husband, Scott, moved to Florida more than 20 years ago from the Midwest. She has four children. Joshua, 34, lives in Michigan, is married and has two children. Brandy, 22, is getting married this summer and plans to go to law school. Adam, 19, attends Pinellas Technical Education Center and is an electrician's apprentice, and Sara, 18, is a high school senior.
She talked with her mother and best friend before deciding on a major.
"Being in Florida, I figured I couldn't go wrong being in the health field," Calloway said. She began studying part time and has earned two associate's degrees, one in arts and the other in science.
Her mother, Carmon Harris, 77, flew in from Minnesota for her graduation. Her father was unable to travel because of his health.
"She worked so hard for it. We are so proud of her," Harris said of their only daughter.
"She's had a lot of obstacles to overcome, but she just stayed at it. Several times, she's called me and said, 'Mom, I can't do it anymore. I have to quit.' I said, Honey, when I was going to nurse's training, I did the same thing. You never regret it," said Harris, who was in her 40s when she entered nursing school.
"I'm very lucky with my family and friends being so supportive," said Calloway, who is searching for a job in her field.
Were there disadvantages of being an older student?
"I think as an older student, you're more dedicated. You're more motivated. You have to study harder, because you are older and it's harder to remember," she said, laughter in her voice.
"There was never an option that I was going to quit. I knew this was my only route to success. Another challenge that I had was that everything was computer-based. I grew up in a different era, where you didn't have all that technology."
She enjoyed her fellow students, she said.
"I finally got my college years," she said. "Now that I have finished, I wouldn't have missed it for the world."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.