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More women seek challenges after 40

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Female baby boomers plan on exploring new career opportunities, getting more involved in the community and spending more time on personal growth, according to a recent survey by Harris Interactive.

Patricia Podolec is the oldest member of her second-year law class at Oklahoma City University. She was 53 when she enrolled full-time last year.

``I'm energized to do something just for me,'' said Podolec, who has had a 32-year career in human resources. Most recently, she worked five years for Delta Faucet in Chickasha.

``Law school has always been in the back of my mind, and I knew if I waited any longer to go, it really would be too late.''

When Podolec graduates, she plans to practice employment law.

More women are taking on challenges later in life, studies show. Fifty is becoming the new 40, observers say.

Conversely, their male counterparts look forward to working less, relaxing more and increasing time spent with their spouse.

Oklahoma City career coach Kay Stout of PS Consulting isn't surprised by the findings. By age 45, women typically have decided not to have children or their families are complete, Stout said.

``Either way, they're more in control of their lives and have the freedom to do what they want,'' she said.

Nikki Sells, vice president of franchising for Express Personnel Services, could be a poster child for women workers as change-agents.

Sells worked eight years as an elementary music teacher in rural Arkansas before joining Express, where she has held several jobs. Those include placement consultant, branch manager, franchise owner, regional developer and, finally, her corporate job at Express' international headquarters in Oklahoma City. She accepted that position last year at age 50.

``Age never crossed my mind,'' said Sells, who relocated from Springfield, Mo. ``My decision was based more on the challenge and the youth of my energy.''

Her energy shows. Last year, Sells added 58 Express franchises, up from 31 in 2003. The International Franchise Association also recently awarded her the Bonnie Levine Award for helping advance women in franchising.

Some women are leaving corporate positions to find their dream jobs.

At 56 and with no classroom teaching experience, Judy Steele left her corporate communications job at Express Personnel for a position in academia. As an assistant English professor at Mid-America Christian University, she teaches English composition and creative writing, among other topics.

Steele, who had earned a master's in English at Southern Nazarene University, believes the timing for her career change was ideal.

``I felt I'd gone as far as I could in the corporate world, which sometimes looks at older workers as passe,'' she said. ``But it's amazing how my varied business background has helped me in the classroom.''

Steele worked 20 years at different advertising agencies, nine years at Express and nine years at Sonic Corp. It was her work with college interns at Express that motivated her teaching aspirations.

For Karen Fraser, 59, of Tulsa, necessity dictated many of her career changes. She worked most of her life as a full-time mother and community volunteer.

Her extensive volunteer service for the Junior League and elsewhere led to a seven-year marketing and management job of The Ice at Williams Center. She later owned and managed a gift shop for eight years. But then Fraser's husband died of cancer.

Since his death, Fraser has turned her talents back to what she knows best -- nonprofit work. As Tulsa area manager for the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, she helps nonprofit groups become better at what they do, from working with boards to budgeting to fund raising.

``In my heart, I still believe it's best to be home when your children are growing up,'' Fraser said. ``But maybe it's best to always work, at least part-time. I've had too many friends go through death or divorce and have to pick up and start over.''
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