- Cheryl Jones knew adjusting to her new life would be hard when
her two grown children left home together to attend The University
of Southern Mississippi three years ago. She just didn't know how
the kids left, I got really sad. I cried all the time," said
Jones, a Pascagoula resident whose children are now both juniors
at the Hattiesburg campus. "It's really embarrassing, I know."
So, with her
children gone and her future wide open, Jones made a bold decision
last year. She quit her high-paying job as a chemical lab technician
and returned to the scholarly life herself.
instead of shuffling around an empty nest or washing dishes in a
quiet kitchen, Jones tools around the Southern Miss Gulf Coast Research
Laboratory, washing test tubes in an empty classroom.
after spending the last 12 years in the work-a-day world, Jones,
43, returned to college as a graduate assistant to acquire a master's
degree in coastal sciences at GCRL. With an emphasis in environmental
chemistry, Jones is studying bioremediation under Dr. Julia Lytle,
a scientist at GCRL for the last 30 years.
More so than
the science itself, Jones was attracted to the way in which Lytle
and her husband, Dr. Tom Lytle, approached their research.
really impressed with Dr. (Julia) Lytle," Jones said. "I
made up my mind to study with her regardless, no matter what the
area. She's not only brilliant, but she is really emotional
not reserved, like a lot of scientists. She's very passionate."
Jones's soft-spoken persona too is a passion for science, which
she views as a tool for helping future generations. She said bioremediation
the use of microbial life to degrade pollutants is
of concern to us all.
want to give something back," she said. "I asked myself,
What can I do to help your children and my children?'"
has been out of the classroom for more than a decade, she's finding
that academic research and the accompanying benefits to society
is more rewarding than the daily grind of her old job at
the chemical plant.
chemical plant) is kind of like a high-tech McDonald's, where you're
doing 15 different things at once," she said. "You're
under a lot of pressure not to make mistakes. One wrong calculation
could cost the company a lot of money.
in the classroom, you can take your time, without some engineer
standing over you. I just wanted to do more. There's more to life
than just making money. I want to contribute to saving the environment,
so I went into environmental chemistry."
Lytle speaks of her newest graduate assistant, she mirrors Jones's
mutual admiration. She said that it's not easy to leave the life
you're accustomed to, but that Jones has tackled it with energy,
enthusiasm and courage.
hard to be a graduate student and still have the responsibilities
of kids," Lytle said. And although graduate stipends have risen
from about $200 per month in the 1970s, when Lytle was a graduate
assistant, to about $1,150 today, "losing the financial support
of a job means you have to give up a lot," she said.
may have given up some financial support in the short term, she's
getting lots of emotional support at home. Her two children, Lori
Beth DeHertogh, 22, and Mark DeHertogh, 20, think their mother's
return to the classroom is inspiring.
Mark, a successful
jazz saxophonist who's already cut two CDs while studying at Southern
Miss, said he's been willing to pay his own way through school so
his mother could focus on her new academic career.
I thought her going back to school was a good thing because she
had been working 12-hour shifts at her job, and she had to work
when the kids were in the house. But when we moved out, she saw
it as an opportunity for early retirement and a chance to go back
to school," he said.
an accomplished musician who plays bassoon in different symphonies,
said it was strange to compare grades last semester with her own
mother, rather than just report them.
thing I did was ask her what she got, and she had all A's, and I
had all A's and one C," Lori Beth said. "So she edged
me out. She can be pretty intimidating."
From time to
time, however, Jones' children do give her a good-natured ribbing
about her new life as a scientific researcher.
very supportive, but they joke and say I'm a total nerd, the way
I dress," said Jones, bearing a striking resemblance to actress
Sissy Spacek as she relaxed in a smart ensemble a casual
black sweater and jeans in Lytle's laboratory.
should hold their barbs about mom's attire until after they compare
grades this semester. "Who knows, I might get the last laugh!"