As an alumna who raised six children while attending Camden County College, Eileen Radetich reaches out to the students she sees struggling in her English classes there, sharing her story and offering encouragement.
For her work inside and outside the classroom, Radetich received the school's highest teaching honor, the 2014 Lindback Award, the school announced this week.
"I frequently tell my students that I was there, especially if it's a nontraditional student . . . especially when they're overwhelmed and they have kids," Radetich said from the Shore, where she was on vacation. "I go, 'Believe me, you can do it. I did it.' "
Radetich was chosen for her influence on students, the college's academic affairs vice president said.
"Her students overwhelmingly describe her teaching as inspirational and charismatic," Margaret Hamilton said in a news release.
Radetich was 37 and enjoying being a stay-at-home mom while her husband worked - "my forte," she said - when she decided she had to have a career for when her children were grown.
She spent three years at Camden County College, receiving her associate's degree and transferring 60 credits to the University of Pennsylvania, where she spent an additional three years, receiving her bachelor's degree in English in 1998.
"I was at Penn with 20-year-olds who were headed to medical schools, prestigious law firms. . . . It was extremely humbling," Radetich said. "Imagine that situation: I'm headed home to kids."
After a short break after graduation, Radetich went to Rutgers-Camden, earning a master's degree in English in 2001.
Being a teaching assistant at Rutgers drew her to the profession, said Radetich, now 58.
"I never, ever was nervous walking into the classroom, from Day One. It seemed very, very natural, and very, very exciting," she said. "Days that I'm tired, there's something that happens when you walk into a classroom, and you're sort of the captain of the ship."
Radetich, of Haddonfield, continued teaching at Rutgers-Camden while becoming an adjunct professor at Camden County College. Then, she said, a county college position opened up and, though she had not expected to become a professor, she went for it.
She joined the college as a full-time faculty member in 2003.
"Oh, my God, it felt like I had hit the jackpot, because that was a little beyond what I had gone back to college for," she said.
Having a mother who was a student meant coming home from school to find books "all over the place," said son Daniel, now 24.
"Everyone would come home, and she'd be studying," he said. Then she would make dinner, help the children with their homework, and put them to bed.
She would then stay up, typing on the computer in the room next to his bedroom, Daniel Radetich said.
"And then she would have to wake up in the morning to go to class. . . . There were a couple nights where she would only get five or six hours of sleep," he said. "10 p.m. until 2 in the morning, she'd be typing away."
He later went to Camden County College himself, and then returned for the police academy to train for his current job as an officer in the Camden County Police Department.
Radetich described the support of teachers along the way as critical in keeping her from quitting. A note on a paper or simply being told she had done well was sometimes enough to keep her on track, she said.
The work in the classroom, she said, came naturally.
"It's payback," she said. "I should be paying students back and helping them. People did help me; I did not do this solo."