Ellen Franks, a U.S. Air Force veteran and mother of four children, said one reason she chose East Carolina University is because of its support of veterans.
"Everyone who works with the student veteran services office is very helpful and respectful," said Franks.
Franks, whose final military assignment was at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, decided to go back to school after meeting with an ECU advisor on base. After leaving the Air Force and working for a few years in the private sector, she completed an associate's degree at the University of Mount Olive in 2014 with a plan to transfer to ECU in a science and technology degree program.
"When I got into school, however, I realized that what I wanted from this journey wasn't a job at all. I wanted an education," Franks said. "I had had jobs and I could get other jobs with or without a degree. When I went back to school, I was gaining cultural literacy and that old spark, the love of learning, caught fire."
One of the first classes Franks took at ECU was a great books course, which covered books on revolutionary thought, like feminism.
"I really enjoy reading literature with a critical eye and analyzing its content," Franks said. "I began at ECU studying manufacturing systems, but now I'll complete a BA in great books and English."
Franks worked with munitions for almost a decade in the Air Force, where she met her husband, who is still active duty. They have two girls, ages 17 and 14, and two boys, ages 7 and 5.
"The main reason I left the Air Force was because I didn't like leaving my family every year or so to train in a different state or country, but the transition was still challenging," Franks said. "I had really grown up in the military, and life as a civilian was equal parts bliss and horror."
Franks enlisted after graduating high school, following in the footsteps of her father, brothers and uncles.
"I'm thankful for my work in the Air Force because it made me the person I am today," Franks said. "I met a lot of interesting, diverse people who really expanded my knowledge and understanding of the world. When I enlisted I was really just a kid, so I essentially grew up in that highly structured, teamwork focused, service oriented environment."
Being a mother and a student has not always been easy, and Franks took online and on-campus courses.
"Balancing family and school got tougher when my youngest started kindergarten this year, and my husband is the only non-student in our household," Franks said. "But as busy as we all are, the days we can unwind together are priceless."
Franks also volunteers for the Special Olympics and La Leche League, which she became involved in after her oldest son was born.
"I work in my community to help babies and their mothers who choose to breastfeed them," she said. "Also, my daughter and I volunteer with the Special Olympics. She volunteers as an athlete partner, and we enjoy volunteering together."
Franks also serves on the Wayne Montessori School Board of Directors. "Being a member of the school board allows me to remain active in my kids' world outside of home and serve an active role in shaping that world so that, one day, they can do the same."
Franks said her dream job would involve literary criticism, and she's particularly interested in analyzing graphic novels and other sequential art narratives.
"Most people don't know that there are comic books and other graphic novels that are written for a literary audience, but there are some really intricate and complex texts out there that are great for analysis and critique," said Franks.
Franks is a member of Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society and works for the North Carolina Literary Review as an editorial assistant. She plans on pursuing a master's degree after earning her bachelor's degree in May.
What is something cool about ECU that you wish you knew during your first year?
The visiting speakers, programs, shows and exhibits at ECU and surrounding campus are wonderful.
What advice do you have for other students?
Student tickets for these things are a steal and absolutely worth the time.
Written by: Sophronia Knott
Photography by: Cliff Hollis