Every once in a while, it’s nice to get acknowledgment for one’s hard work. Renee Kesterson-Klein’s turn in the spotlight is long overdue. She’s a mother of two and a full-time student who’s proven it is never too late to go back to school.

Renee grew up in West Virginia and made a bold move after high school to join the Air Force because she couldn’t afford the high cost of a college education. When her four years were up, Renee bounced around from job to job and tested out various business and dietetic courses, but just could not seem to find her niche. It was not until her first-born son entered kindergarten that she realized she wanted to be a teacher.

“I kept praying to God, ‘What should I do?’ And suddenly I found myself loving the time spent at the elementary school. I felt such a need to help the children and I felt a strong pull toward education,” Renee says.

At 41 years old, Renee enrolled in Gateway Community and Technical College to receive her associate’s degree in social and behavioral science, which is a teacher preparation degree. Renee has shown extreme discipline in the classroom, already planning to graduate Gateway in May and move on to Thomas More in the fall to pursue her bachelor’s in elementary education. Down the line, Renee hopes to receive her master’s in either special education or English as a second language. Her oldest son has some physical limitations, only further motivating her to help those who encounter challenges in the classroom.

“My heart is drawn to the students that have it harder than others and I’ve seen a big need for help while observing at my children’s school. They just need a little more individualized attention. There aren’t enough people to focus on their particular needs. The reward of seeing a child’s face light up when [he/she has] figured something out is irreplaceable,” she says.

Being a nontraditional student on top of being a wife and mother of two busy boys has given Renee a different mindset than some of her younger colleagues. Fortunately, Gateway has a large demographic of students from a variety of backgrounds, and with different personal and professional goals. The flexibility of Gateway with daytime, evening and weekend classes taught by experienced, caring professors makes it the ideal learning environment for Renee.

Regardless, many students don’t have the same obligations as Renee.

“If I quit, my kids are going to see it. I can’t lose sight of my goals. When my children complain about their homework I tell them, ‘Don’t give up on it—look at mommy!’ You never have to stop learning and stop pursuing, no matter what age. You’re never too old to learn.”