CORVALLIS, Ore. - Homeless and malnourished as a child, Sarah Price set her sights on the one thing she knew would reverse her fortune - an education.

Pregnancy and more poverty awaited her as a teenager, but Price never abandoned hope, enrolling at Oregon State University in 2005 before earning her degree online through OSU Ecampus last June.

Nine months later, Price is still reaping the rewards of her perseverance and academic success. This month she was named the nation's Outstanding Continuing Education Student by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), which serves more than 350 institutions in North America.

"I definitely wasn't expecting them to pick me, so it was a big surprise," said Price, 27. "It was unexpected, but it was also motivational because it reminded me of what I've accomplished and that there are people who recognize me for what I've overcome."

Price's childhood was beset by poverty and food insecurity, but she always saw a college education as her ticket to a better future. She graduated from West Albany High School in Oregon in 2003, one year ahead of schedule while she was five months pregnant and living on her own at age 17.

She had some difficulties as a campus-based student, but her grades soared at Ecampus. Her determination impressed the OSU community - so much so that she was one of five students who were selected to meet Michelle Obama when the first lady gave OSU's commencement address last spring.

"Sarah's story is an inspirational reminder of the obstacles many of our adult learners face on their way to earning their degrees," said Ecampus executive director Lisa L. Templeton. "Getting to know Sarah has been a very meaningful experience, and it reinforces why we're here and why we do what we do."

"I don't think my story will affect a lot of people," Price said, "but even if one person, one teen mom reads about it and feels inspired, then it's made a difference. All you need is one example that it can be done. That's what got me here today."

Price lives in San Diego with her husband, Andrew, who is a Marine, and their three children. She will travel to Boston in April to receive the award at UPCEA's annual national conference.

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Lisa L. Templeton, 541-737-1279