WATERLOO | Jodi and Jessica Bergmann have a lot more to celebrate than Mother's Day.

Against a lot of odds, the mother-daughter pair will graduate together from Hawkeye Community College on Friday.

Jodi, 46, will graduate with a business administration degree, and she plans to transfer to the University of Northern Iowa in the fall to study accounting. Jessica, 22, is finishing up a liberal arts degree and will go on to the University of Iowa to pursue a bachelor of science in nursing.

Both women are single moms. Jodi is divorced and has another daughter, 17-year-old Katelynn, and a son, 6-year-old Bryson, at home. Jessica is the mother of 3-year-old Ethan.

Jodi graduated from Dike High School in 1985, attended the executive secretarial program at then-Hawkeye Institute of Technology and went on to work as a secretary for 21 years. After losing her job due to the struggling economy, Jodi decided to go back to school.

"As a secretary looking for a job, the prospects were not very good," she said.

Jessica, a 2010 Dike-New Hartford graduate who started taking nursing classes when she was a junior in high school, has earned her certified nursing assistant, licensed practical nurse and registered nurse certifications.

In fact, Jessica is so dedicated to her studies that when Ethan was born on a Thursday, Jessica was back in class the following Monday after having a Caesarian section.

"She is going to school full-time, working a part-time job and raising her son," Jodi said. "I'm proud of her."

Jessica was a bit skeptical when she found out her mom would be attending HCC with her, Jodi said, but the two have found ways of supporting each other. They even shared a psychology class last year.

"My mom likes to talk during class discussions, but I'm more quiet," Jessica said. "She would nudge me and encourage me to speak up."

That is in stark contrast to the Jodi who returned to the HCC campus a few years ago.

"When I first met Jodi, she lacked confidence. And that is an understatement," said Kathy Flynn, who is vice president of institutional advancement at HCC as well as Jodi's mentor. "And she is leaving this college as one of our top students."

Jodi was named to the All-Iowa Academic Team, an honor presented by Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society based on academic excellence and service to the college and community.

"That was quite the honor," Jodi said.

Mother and daughter also help each other with child care, and both credit younger daughter and sister, Katelynn, with helping in that department.

Katelynn, who graduates from Dike-New Hartford High School on May 25 will follow her mom and sister to HCC to study business administration.

"She wants to own her own bakery," Jessica said.

In addition to her duties as a mother and student, Jodi also is involved with Phi Theta Kappa at HCC, volunteers with the Boys & Girls Club and coaches baseball -- something else she shares with Jessica.

Though Jessica can take most of her U of I classes online in the fall, when she does need to be on campus she will look to her mom for support again.

"I'll be calling '1-800-MOMMY,'" she said with a smile.

Perhaps the most significant help Jodi has given to Jessica -- and her other children -- is the example she has set.

"I wouldn't be this far in college if it weren't for my mom," Jessica said. "She inspires me in a way to better my life for my son, and she's bettering her life for her kids. When I see how determined she is to accomplish her goals, it makes me determined to accomplish mine. If my mom can do it, I can do it."

Jodi has some advice for other nontraditional students.

"I didn't think I could do it, because I had children, but it all levels out somehow," she said. "If you hear negative feedback, disregard it. If you set your mind to it, if you're determined ... you'll survive, you'll make it, and you'll prosper."

General assignment reporter and columnist at The Courier

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