October 16, 2020
Story by Brandon Steinert
Courtesy photo submitted
Most students who take classes at Barton Community College at Fort Riley learn about the institution’s unique offerings tailored to Soldiers’ lifestyles after transferring to the post. Melissa and Justin Johnson, however, chose Fort Riley in 2018 out of three options specifically because of Barton’s day and night classes, which are offered on scholarship to Soldiers, their spouses and dependents in seven six-week cycles.
Funds from the GI Bill offset almost all the costs of attending at the Fort Riley campus, where Melissa recently finished an associate degree and said she is grateful for the opportunity.
“Other couples look at us funny, like ‘you came here just for these classes?’ Yes. We came here JUST for this; just for Barton,” she said. “This was a huge opportunity for me to be able to get a funded degree like that. Others think colleges like this are on every post, but they aren’t.”
At 30 years old, she said the idea of starting college was daunting, but that Barton’s small class sizes and one-on-one attention from instructors made education feel within reach.
“It’s great. It’s different than going to a university where you might feel more like a number,” she said. “I felt down on myself for doing this so late, but I’ve loved every minute of it.”
She even learned to enjoy classes like math that seemed scary to her at first. After a handful of classes, and some crying through some challenging parts, she willingly took statistics as an elective because she knew the instructor would stick with her until she understood the concepts.
“Barton has built my confidence up to the point where I could feel confident enough to go into a university setting and do well,” she said.
And, that’s exactly what she plans to do next. The Johnsons are transferring to Fort Campbell in Kentucky and Melissa is considering enrolling in the veterinary technology program at Austin Peay State University.
“I really want to do something with animals,” she said. “I have a hard time staying consistent. I get interested for a minute and then distracted, but animals have always been a long-term interest. It feels like I’m enough for them. With people sometimes you feel like you can’t measure up, but it’s not like that with a dog or a cat. I even love cleaning up after them; there is no dirty job when it comes to caring for an animal.”
As Melissa moves forward with her education and eventually a career, she said she will look back on her time at Barton as priceless.
“I have loved every single minute of it,” Melissa said. “All the instructors have been very patient, and I don’t know how they are so patient. They get 15- and 70-year-olds, and they meet us where we are. That’s important. They help us not get overwhelmed.”
Melissa said her husband, Justin, also took advantage of Barton’s night classes, and ended up changing his Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) to acquisitions and contracting, as he is pursuing an education in business.
“I’m their biggest advocate,” Melissa said. “I tell everyone about Barton.”