Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Maturity with a Niche

One of the distinguishing characteristics of a nontrad is age. UT defines an "adult student" as someone who is over the age of 25. How many of us remember being 25? To me, that was eons ago! Studentmum tells me that in the UK, nontrads are known as "mature" students.

I am involved in an ongoing dialog on the Yahoo nontrad page regarding age discrimination. It seems that one of the members feels he is being discriminated against because he was asked to move out of student housing due to his age. The consensus from the group is that he needs to fight that discrimination since the information on his school's website says nothing about a student's age with regard to student housing. He is experiencing age discrimination - pure and simple.

Another topic in this discussion was age discrimination on the job. How many nontrads have been passed over at work for a younger person? I believe that many employers have bought into the attitude that "younger is better" - they don't have to pay a younger person as much, they can demand more from a younger person without fear of reprisal, etc. What employers don't get when they hire younger people is the benefit of experience, wisdom and maturity. In my opinion, "older" people are more punctual, they have a stronger work ethic and they understand what's expected in order to get the job done right the first time. All that is something one has to teach a younger person. That can be difficult with this generation's sense of entitlement.

Elizabeth Shepperd asked the Yahoo group if anyone had been the victim of discrimination - age, gender or race? I'm sure there are many stories out there regarding discrimination of all sorts.

My two cents' worth to the discussion was that as nontrads, while we are exploring our education, we should also explore where we fit in, find our niche. Orville Redenbacher said, "Do one thing and do it well." This evening, I had the chance to pass along some information I had garnered during my research on the German POW camps in Tennessee. It was cool to be able to speak from the broad base of knowledge I have accumulated on the subject. I am creating my niche. I want to know all there is to know about the German POW camps in Tennessee - not just one camp, but all four and several branch camps. I'm getting there. I'm creating my niche.

Nontrads have a great deal to offer - on the college campus, in the classroom, and in the boardroom! Things like life experience, wisdom, maturity, knowledge about a subject not many others may know about, etc.

Good luck in finding and/or creating your own niche. Stay tuned . . .

Monday, July 27, 2009

FAFSA, Financial Aid and Frappucino

I am part of a nontrad group on Yahoo. Recently, we had two new members join the group. One is a stay at home mom (SAHM) who is venturing out to return to school. The other new member wants to get her A.S. in Computer Science. Both ladies are asking great questions - things like, What kind of financial aid will I qualify for, if any? How do I return to school and not take out a loan to do so? Is it possible to get my degree when I have to work full time at a job with inflexible hours? What do I do if the classes I need are not available at night? Whew! Heavy stuff. I'll try to address the financial aid questions here and save the other class-related questions for another time.

First of all, the road to good financial aid begins with the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). In order to fill out this form, you will need your previous year's tax return and any information you may have on your personal assets, receipt of government assistance, number of dependents not only in your household but also attending college, etc. In my family, three of us are in college. Next year, there will be four of us. My husband will be the only one not in college. That will have an effect on the amount of financial aid I receive next year.

Second, scour the Internet for financial aid resources. A good place to start is the U.S. Department of Education at Deb Peterson recently posted about the 2010 Labor, Health & Education Appropriations bill. You can read about it at: Do your homework with regard to financial aid. Ask your school's financial aid office for assistance. They may be aware of resources you are not.

Lastly, save your finances by bypassing that frappucino. I love Starbucks, but now, I save it as a treat - like ice cream and chocolate. Saves money!

Good luck with the FAFSA and the financial aid. Get started early on your search! Good luck! Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sharing Resources

I know I've said this before, but there are some very good blogs out there relating to nontraditional students and the challenges we face. There are also some great resources. Elizabeth Sheppard has a great blog. So does Deb Peterson. They are both listed on this site. Another great blog is:

The author says that returning to school as a nontraditional student takes a degree of courage. That is so true. If an 18-year old college freshman feels overwhelmed by the whole experience, how is an older 30-, 40- and 50something supposed to feel about walking into a world that a) they might have never been in, or b) has changed drastically since they were in it last.

It takes courage to forge ahead in a culture one is unfamiliar with. Elizabeth, Deb and a host of others are there help us "bravely go where no man has gone before!" Okay, perhaps not the best words of encouragement, but you get the idea!

There is a large community of nontrads out there who are sharing resources - experiences, financial aid sites, educational programs, etc. I am encouraged that I am not walking in this "brave, new world" alone. Stay tuned . . .

A Journey Starts with a Single Step - the Community College

Deb Peterson recently blogged about President Obama encouraging folks to look into their local community college as a way to get back into school. Deb encouraged her readers that, if they are thinking about returning to school, it is worthwhile to check out the community college.

The community college is a great place to start one's journey back into school. It is cheaper than the university, there are smaller classes, and there are programs geared for the working adult student. If you are considering starting your journey at a community college, here are some things you may want to consider:

1. Make an appointment with an advisor to discuss your educational goals. Do you want to get a program certificate, an Associates Degree or do you want to continue on to a four-year institution? The advisor will help you to determine your best course of action depending on your goals. For example, will the classes you take at the community college transfer to the university?
2. Make an appointment with the Office of Financial Aid. They will help you determine if you qualify for a Pell Grant, student loans and scholarships. Don't let the cost of your education deter you from pursuing your educational goals.
3. Check out the campus. Walk around and see if you think you'd like being on that campus. Talk to some of the students. How far would you have to commute to go to school? How late is the library open? What is the food like in the UC? If you're going to be attending classes on that campus, you need to be comfortable there.
4. Find out what kinds of programs are available for nontraditional students. Is there an Adult Student Association or a similar group? How accessible is the faculty to the nontraditional students? Most faculty are around during the day while a good majority of the community college's nontraditional student population is around at night. How would you get a hold of or meet with your teachers?
5. Attend some campus activities like plays, etc. One of the community colleges here has a Hot Air Balloon Festival in September. Find out how the community college is melding into and contributing to the culture of the surrounding community.
6. Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions. Persevere until you get a satisfactory answer.

It has been my experience that there are many wonderful teachers at the community colleges. I had Professora Burdette for Spanish, Ms. Dagley for Western Civ I and a great Statistics teacher. The classes are smaller, so you not only get to know your teacher but you also get to know your classmates. That's helpful when it comes time to form a study group!

Thinking of going back to school? Check out your local community college! Stay tuned . . .

Discretion and TMPI

After much cajoling by my daughter, I got a Facebook page a couple months ago. At first it was fun and I reasoned that my motivation for getting it was to stay in contact with old classmates from high school. Now it has become a nuisance. I think folks on Facebook tend to post waaayyy too much stuff. Who needs a play-by-play of someone else's every waking hour?

I have heard that one has to be careful with what one posts on Facebook, blogs, etc. TMPI (Too Much Personal Information) is not a good thing. Teens tend not to think about what they post and end up getting in trouble for posting too much information. There have even been people whom one would think would know better (teachers, law enforcement personnel, etc.) who have posted too much information (explicit photos, etc.).

Pardon my soapbox, but whatever happened to face-to-face "social networking"? We have become a cyber society that only makes personal connections over the Internet! Okay, I'll get off the soapbox now.

With all that said, one of the biggest disadvantages to the social networking sites is that one has to remember to practice discretion. Personal information, photos, etc. that was once safe in the hands of a friend, is now available to a global network in a matter of minutes. Rule of thumb is, "If you don't want your Grandma seeing it, don't post it." The same goes with email. A slip of the finger can send your complaints about your boss throughout the entire corporation.

Every new communication device - cell phone, computer, Blackberry, etc. - ought to come with a book on cyber etiquette. The first rule of cyber etiquette should be "TMPI is not a good thing. Squash the personal need to make your life an open book."

It's almost like sitting in your car at the stoplight when a boom box on wheels pulls up two cars behind you and your windows start vibrating from the thundering bass. Not everyone needs to be driven into bass-induced deafness. By the same token, not everyone needs the gory details of how loud your newborn pooped, or how much money you spent on remodeling your home, or how many dance performances your daughter was in last month. If you feel the need to share, share with those who will rejoice in those details with you. The rest of us could care less. That may seem harsh, but TMPI is not always a good thing.

Stay tuned . . .

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Getting Ready

Fall semester is right around the corner. I love being a student, so I can't wait for school to start! I feel like a first grader again!

I was walking through the Computer Science building last week and caught a wiff of the cleaner they use in the classrooms. It must be the same cleaner that was used to clean the classrooms when I was small because the smell triggered the memory of the first day of school when I was a youngster. That was a pleasant memory - one filled with excitement, anticipation and expectation.

Two and one half years ago when I started back to school, I was so excited about being in college again that I cried after my first class. Yes, I cried, because it was something I had wanted to do for a long time and was finally getting the chance to do.

Now, two and one half years later, I find myself again in the familiar routine of figuring out where my classes are, how much time I have in between classes so I know whether I can leisurely stroll to my next class or whether I have to run like a crazy woman, buying my books and supplies, getting back into the habit of going to bed at a decent time, etc. Luckily, I have been researching this summer, so even though I did not go to summer school, I am still in the habit of studying, researching and writing.

I still have to get two out of the three children ready to go back to school as well. My second son will be returning to UTC as a sophomore and my daughter will be a senior in high school. It will be a very busy year for all of us - my three children and me.

Are you ready for fall semester? Get on your mark, get set, go! Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Just reading another blog about Continuing Education. One of the posts was entitled, "Should You go Back to School: Eight Things to Consider Before Deciding to Go Back to School." One of the eight things to consider was "Do you have the support you need?"

Being a nontrad is tough enough as it is - going back to school after a certain age, after being out of school for a number of years, because you've lost your job, etc. - without throwing in a family, aging parents and a full time (or part time) job. It makes one feel like the guy trying to keep all the spinning plates in the air and spinning.

That's why we need support - from family members, friends and employers. Before I made the decision to go back to school, I asked my family about it. Husband and children were fine with the idea. However, when we got into the thick of things about a year ago, husband no longer wanted to be the "House Dad". I sighed, sat down with him and talked about it. He's better now.

I knew I could not go back to school with younger children. I remember my own mother returning to school when I was a pre-teen with little brothers and sisters and I remember how hard it was for my family without Mom there. Dad did a good job in picking up the slack, but it was still hard not having my Mom around when I needed her.

My children are very supportive of my pursuit of a college education. My middle son still has a bit of a hard time with it because he doesn't think he and I should be in school at the same time - something about my age. Hmmm. At least we're not on the same campus.

My sisters and Mom are very supportive. I also have a brother and brother-in-law who are back in school - online, though. My extended family is a family of learners! We are all very supportive of one another.

Deb's Continuing Education blog and Elizabeth Sheppard's blog are two blogs I find to be very supportive regarding nontraditional students. Deb and Elizabeth are great cheerleaders. I have family and friends who are great cheerleaders as well. It's great to have support as I hash through this process.

What about you? What is your support structure? Family? Friends? Profs? In the construction of one's college education and future, one needs sufficient scaffolding. Do you have the support you need? If not, find an online group, like Deb's and Elizabeth's. Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Broken Foot

A week ago Monday, I broke my foot. I got tangled up in the dog's rope. The dog took off and I went airborne. I went to my doctor who told me this type of injury is non-castable. So, I have buddy taped a couple toes and I am wearing a special shoe. It's been a week and I'm over it.

The doc, whom I have been going to for 16 years, told me it would take 4-6 weeks to heal if I'm "good". Then he glared at me. He knows me. He knows that I am independent, stubborn and hate limitations. I am ready to put on a regular shoe and get on with life - except the foot still hurts. Doc said let pain be my guide. It's still too painful for regular footwear.

Do you know what I'm missing out on? Walking through campus, walking my new puppy, working out, etc. What am I supposed to learn from this experience? Hmm - maybe how to have a sedentary workout, or which shoes are the same height as my special shoe (so far, only my sandals qualify - bummer on rainy days), or what it feels like to be semi-ambulatory in a 100% ambulatory world.

It is with much grumbling that I put on the special shoe each morning. It is with much groaning that I walk slower in order to accommodate my injury. It is with much unhappiness that I am relegated to the couch in the evenings (to elevate and ice my injury) instead of being outside walking the dogs or running. I am not a very good patient. I just hope this heals quickly and completely.

(Exasperated sigh!) At least my car is an automatic. Stay tuned . . .

Seize the Day

Several years ago, Robin Williams starred in a movie called, "The Dead Poets Society". Williams' character was a rather unconventional college prof (more than normal) who encouraged the young men under his tutelage to follow their dreams, to "seize the day".

As nontrads, we have dreams, goals and aspirations - or we wouldn't be here. What is your dream? To finish your undergraduate degree? To finally get through that dissertation in order to get your doctorate? To prove to yourself that you can do this? Seize the day.

Now is the time to pursue your dream of getting your degree, whether it's your undergrad, Master's or PhD. Obstacles, excuses, etc. will always be looming on the horizon. They are a fact of life. Purpose yourself, steady your gaze and move forward. Seize the day.

As a nontrad, we have a unique set of characteristics - we have a family, we are over the age of 25, we are perhaps already working full time, we may even have some college under our belt. We are older than the traditional student on the traditional college campus. We wonder if online really is better when we tend to be easily distracted. Take it all in bite sized pieces, one day at a time. Seize the day.

The economy is not especially "user friendly" right now. Education costs are soaring and personal incomes are falling. Be creative - think outside the box. Dialog with other nontrads and your advisor. A recession is a wonderful opportunity to cultivate creativity - in funding your education, in creating your "niche" in the workforce, etc. Seize the day.

One person I always think of when it comes to creative nontrads is Elizabeth Sheppard, a fellow blogging nontrad. She's out there in cyberspace - encouraging, working and being most diligent in discovering new resources for her fellow nontrads. Elizabeth knows how to seize the day.

Walk outside today, take a deep breath (if you're not experiencing an air quality alert day), close your eyes and say "Thank you" for another opportunity to seize the day. Stay tuned . . .

Monday, July 6, 2009

Education and the Economy

It's no surprise that the cost of education these days is on the rise. From paying for Junior's extracurricular activities in elementary school to footing that hefty bill for college (for you or your children). What is one to do? Throw up one's hands and declare we are all going to be uneducated hicks and that education is only for the wealthy? No, of course not. Education has definitely become an investment, though, often leaving one with a mountain of debt.

I've been giving this some though and these are some things I've come up with.

Elementary & Secondary education costs:
1. No, Junior does not need to have the latest and greatest. As a parent, learn to say "No" to that which is not essential. Your children will not be psychologically damaged if they don't "keep up with the Joneses" - no matter what they think. First graders do not need a cell phone. Does your fifth grader want a cell phone? Make her work for it - chores around the house in exchange for the cell phone. No willingness to do chores, no cell phone.
2. Use up those unused supplies from last year. Spiral notebook that is half used? Rip out the used pages and use the rest of the notebook. Junior doesn't need to have all new markers when last year's markers will do. Markers do not change from year to year.
3. Essentials like socks and underwear don't change unless they've been outgrown or worn out.
4. Take your used children's' clothing to a consignment shop, used clothing sale or have your own used clothing sale. Folks are always looking for a bargain. If you're selling your children's clothing on your own, do a 2 for 1 sale, or throw outfits together and sell them for one price. Think creatively.
5. Orville Redenbacher said, "Do one thing and do it well." Does Junior really need to be involved in 10 different after-school activities? Pick one activity and invest in that. Less time running Junior from this lesson to that lesson means more family time. Now that's a worthwhile investment.
6. I understand colleges often look at what kind of activities a student is involved with in high school when they are considering that student for acceptance into their college. Sit down with your highschooler and evaluate what activities would be most worth their while. Activities like sports and band are almost always exclusive - the student's time is invested solely in that activity. As far as clubs go, which ones will prepare your highschooler for the future? Which ones involve community service? You, or your highschooler, will be footing the bill for the extracurricular activities. Help your highschooler to choose wisely and not to choose just because "everyone else" is involved in it. More activities = more expense.
7. Insist your of-age child get a job. Fast food, retail, office assistance. Learning to work to earn a paycheck is a good thing. It teaches respect for authority other than yours (as a parent), how to work as a team with people you may not necessarily like, and how to work hard for what you want. Teenagers with a good work ethic is a rare thing in today's society.

Higher education costs:
1. Use up those half-used supplies from last semester.
2. Co-op with your textbooks. If you have a friend who is in the same class, but different section, offer to go in halves on the textbook. Plan to study together or work out a share plan for the book. You can also check the textbook out of the library if you get in a bind. eBay may have the textbook at a greatly reduced price - just make sure the edition is the latest one and not several editions old.
3. Setting up the dorm room: Goodwill, thrift stores, yard sales. Sally can outfit her dorm room for less than half the cost it would take if she got all her stuff from the department store. Just make sure to wash everything, check for shorts in electrical cords before you purchase a used electrical item, and find out what the thrift store's return policy is before you purchase something.
4. Sell your services - for example on the site Study Blue, you can sell your notes, flashcards, etc. If you take great notes, you can sell them to others who are not such good notetakers. If you are a good, organized typist, sell your paper-typing skills. You can contract through the Office of Disability Services to be a notetaker for a disabled student in your class. Find out what it takes to be a tutor in your department and sign up for that. There are plenty of opportunities to make money on campus doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
5. You may also want to check with your department to see if there is a need for a student assistant. This is quite different from college work-study in that the student assistant position is not necessarily tied to financial aid, but is a different position altogether. Check with your profs if there is nothing available in your department. There may be something available in other departments.
6. Start paying the interest on your student loans. The interest is often less that $100 a month. Start a "Student Loan Payback" savings account and put a little bit in it each month so you'll have something to start with once you are out of college and the loan payback won't be such a shock. You'll also develop a good habit of saving.
7. Develop a network to share and co-op with other students. What to share and co-op? Textbooks, computer time, etc. If you don't have your own laptop, your library should have a laptop loan program. Here at UT, laptops are checked out in 4-hour increments. They can be taken anywhere on campus, just as long as they are returned within the 4-hour period. Of course, your student ID is held as collateral and you need your student ID to do anything on campus, so it's pretty much guaranteed you'll return the laptop.

Think creatively. Things like riding the bus as opposed to driving in and parking everyday - saves gas and saves on the expense of a parking permit. Carpool, ride your bike or walk to school (if possible).

Granted - all these suggestions are not for everyone and may be impractical to some. That's okay. As long as I've gotten you to THINK about ways to get your education (or your children's' education) and not go totally broke in the process. What do you think? Education is doable in today's economy. Stay tuned . . .