Friday, May 29, 2009

I Did It!

I turned in my notice at work! I will be leaving my full time job June 5 and starting a part time job on campus at UT June 8 (in the Computer Science Department no less!). It will be alot less money, but I will get my foot in the door at the UT "system" and will be able to pursue my academic career goals full time.

Am I scared? Heck, yes! My mom and my in-laws think I'm stupid for doing this. My husband says to go for it. My kids are okay with it. So, sink or swim, here I go! Not only do I need running shoes, now I need floaties as well (won't that be an interesting sight on campus!). Wish me luck! Stay tuned . . .

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lessons Learned from Commencement

I spent the day in Berea, KY with my family, celebrating oldest son, Aaron's, graduation from Berea College. The forecasted rain held off and the day turned out to be quite pleasant. Other than husband, siblings and me, we were joined by both sets of grandparents (minus my dad), Aaron's girlfriend and her mother and two high school friends.

As I sit here and reflect on this milestone in my son's life, there are several lessons that stand out from today:

1. Don't give up on your dreams. During the Baccalaureate Ceremony, a group of "first graduates" was recognized. These were students who were the first people in their families to graduate from college. (Aaron is a third generation college grad.)
2. Keep the faith. Events of the day were laced with prayer. I know I have been on my knees many times over the past four years for my son. I'm sure Aaron has cried out to God as well during those late nights! Don't abandon your faith in God.
3. Family is important. Many graduates were surrounded not only by parents and grandparents but by numerous extended family members as well. During the course of the day, the President of the college acknowledged several time the contributions the families had made to the graduates' success.
4. Success is a team effort. Though the student does the bulk of the work, the parents, teachers, friends and college advisers all make a contribution to the student's success. The majority of professors/teachers want their students to succeed.
5. Achieving a goal takes hard work. Plain and simple. There are no shortcuts. One cannot sail through college by the seat of one's pants or the skin of one's teeth and expect to make a difference. I know how hard Aaron worked in his classes. Many people - classmates, profs and community members - came up to him today and acknowledged the effort he had put into this college experience.

Being a nontrad is a challenge, but don't give up on your dreams. There is a diploma at the end of this road for you and for me. Stay tuned . . .

Friday, May 22, 2009

What Do I Have to Offer?

I had a job interview yesterday at UT for a student assistant position. The lady I interviewed with told me my resume looked "impressive" and that she was afraid the position wouldn't challenge me that much. After the interview, I wrote her a thank you email. In the email, I told her that even though I did not fit the typical profile of a student assistant (young, 20-something), I have the experience and professionalism they are looking for.

Many nontrads walk onto a college campus and think things like, "What do I have to offer? Will I fit in? Will I be able to make friends?"

"What do I have to offer?" As a nontrad, we have plenty to offer. The main thing nontrads have to offer is experience. We have been out there in the "real world", whether we have been working, raising children, been in the military, etc. We know what it's like to have to budget our money, deal with difficult bosses, be awake all night with a sick child and still have to go to work the next day, etc.

I had a friend who died a year ago this past Easter. He was taking 21 hours. He was 52. He would tell me about the three papers he had to write that were all due by the end of the week, the four chapters he had to read for each class for the exams that he had the next week, the two group projects he was in the middle of and so on. As a retired soldier, his schoolwork was a breeze! And he even had time to bake cookies and brownies for classmates and family members! His military experience gave him the discipline to be a successful student.

What do you have experience in? My experience is in raising children and working in an office. I have to be organized and know how to communicate for both those tasks. That's what I have to offer.

"Will I fit in?" There are times in my college classes when I feel like a giraffe among warthogs - I stick out like a sore thumb. But that's okay because I am discovering that there are more and more nontrads in my classes. Sometimes, the teacher even calls on me because he or she knows I have more life experience than my classmates.

"Will I make friends?" Yes. I have one friend for whom I took notes this past semester because he has MS. I met him in class and we got to know each other over the semester. He helped me navigate the murky waters of Economics. The college campus is a kaleidoscope of humanity - ethnicities, beliefs, nationalities, majors. Take advantage of the cross section of cross-culturalism and make friends!

As a nontrad, what do you have to offer? Plenty!! Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


This Sunday, May 24, 2009, my oldest son, Aaron, will graduate with honors from Berea College in Berea, KY with a double major in Communications and German. He will be doing his Master's work at the University of Tennessee in the fall. I am so proud of him, I could bust!

However, I find it just a tad unbelievable that I have a child that old! It seems like just yesterday (pardon my stroll down memory lane) -
1. That I was enduring 12 hours of natural childbirth to get this child into this world.
2. That he took his first steps at the ripe old age of 9 months.
3. That he was in Mrs. Foxhall's preschool class at Covenant Christian School in Mustang, OK and sang the "Star Spangled Banner" at a school assembly at the tender age of four.
4. That he graduated kindergarten early so we could move to Tennessee.
5. That he scored off the charts in all his achievement tests in grade school.
6. That he got angry with me because I told him high school Biology would be fun and it wasn't.
7. That I taught him how to drive a stick shift.
8. That he worked at Pratt's Country Store.
9. That he started high school.
10. That he was inducted into NHS.
11. That he graduated high school.
12. That he was accepted at Berea College.
13. That he went to Germany - several times.
14. That he grew to love Berea College and the people in the community of Berea.
15. That he grew to love Ashley.
16. That he got accepted to UT for his grad work.

Wow. What a life! And he's just beginning! I hope and pray nothing but the best for my son as he takes this next big step in his life. I know I will cry when he graduates - the tears only another mother can understand - pride, joy, and a little sorrow that the little boy who stood on the stage in Oklahoma and sang the "Star Spangled Banner" now exists only in my memory. But that's a good thing. There are many good Aaron memories in the treasure box of my heart and many more to be put in there.

As he goes forth from this place, may he look back with fondness and forward with confidence. Now is the time to see if those wings work! I love you, Aaron!

Stay tuned . . .

Monday, May 18, 2009

Now What do I do?

Stuff happens - the economic downturn has forced you to forgo summer school, cut back on the number of classes you want to take in the fall, look for alternatives for schoolbooks and minimize supplies. Now what do you do? First of all, step back, take a deep breath and reassess.

1. Summer School: In the grand scheme of things, summer school is not a must (unless you have to make up a class or have a deadline for graduation due to scholarship requirements). Summer school is a luxury. Not attending summer school will only delay your education, not make it totally go away.

2. Cut Back on Classes: As with not attending summer school, your education will only be delayed. However, if you find yourself in the situation of not being able to attend school at all due to financial constraints, I would advise at least taking one class at the local community college to keep your study and writing skills sharp. Most colleges have a deferred payment plan. Don't drop out altogether as it will be more difficult to get back into the swing of things.

Another alternative to college courses are non-credit or professional development classes. These classes are often offered by the community college or university and cost considerably less than a college course. They can still be used to keep your study skills sharp and keep you in the habit of learning.

You also might want to look into scholarship resources. Elizabeth Shepherd has a great list of scholarship resources at her site: Check with your advisor and at the local library (or online) for groups in your community that may give scholarships for certain portions of the learning community (working moms, descendants of Civil War veterans, etc.). You never know what categoty you may fall into!

3. Alternatives for schoolbooks: Look online at eBay, used book stores, friends of friends, etc. The only things you have to watch for are: the edition number and the excessive wear (was it really necessary for the last owner to underline or highlight the entire text??). What edition is the class using as opposed to the $2.50 edition you found on eBay? There can be some big changes from one edition to another in some textbooks. One summer, I even checked the textbook out of the library for the class I had (and had to renew it once).

4. Minimize supplies: Sales and coupons. Back to School sales on supplies are great. Also watch for coupons or specials at local office and school supply stores. Remember that if you have half-used notebooks and other supplies from previous classes to make use of those as well. "Use it up, wear it out. Make it do, do without."

Above all, DON'T PANIC! The worst that can happen is that you will have to delay your education. Unless you are under a scholarship deadline, a delay is not that bad. It may even work to your benefit.

So, now what do you do? Step back, relax, take a deep breath, and formulate Plan B. Stay tuned . . .

Friday, May 15, 2009

Chasing Research Rabbits

I was in the UT library recently - hunting, not haunting. I was chasing research rabbits (figuratively, of course). Toward the end of my History Honors class this spring, the professor asked us several questions: 1) do you plan to go on to History 407 and 408 (researching and writing a senior thesis)? 2) if so, do you have a topic in mind? 3) have you chosen a faculty mentor yet? When we were discussing our possible topics, the prof looked at me and said, "I know you have one." After a year of independent research, I was able to give a relatively good synopsis of my topic - German POW camps in TN during WWII.

However, as I was chasing research rabbits the other night for that particular topic, one rabbit took a side trip down another stack. I stumbled upon the topic of female POWs in WWII. I had never heard of female POWs in WWII. Apparently, 90 nurses (Navy and Army) were captured and detained in Japanese and German POW camps - 79 in Japanese camps and 11 in German camps. I am currently chasing this rabbit through the cyber stacks to determine if there are enough primary sources available to support a thesis/research project.

I guess I am a research nerd at heart because I have found several sources over the last couple of days and am overjoyed that the pieces of this research puzzle are falling into place. I may hit a wall before the summer is out and have to re-evaluate. I hope not. I hope there are enough resources about this topic to justify and sustain further research.

In the meantime, I have another couple of rabbits to chase. I just hope they don't lead me down a hole like Alice in Wonderland! Stay tuned . . . .

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Every semester, we (the students in my classes and me) fill out teacher evaluations. They are the bubble fill-in type sheets. There is also an additional "yellow sheet" we can use to make further comments. I asked one of my teachers if he actually saw the information from the evaluations and he said he did and that it was quite helpful.

Perhaps we as nontrads need to fill out an evaluation on ourselves at the end of each semester. We should ask questions like:

1. How did I do with managing my time this semester? Did I feel rushed to get all the class assignments completed or did I feel I had ample time to the get the class assignments completed?
2. How did I do in staying current with the reading? With my note taking? Did I procrastinate and have to stay up the night before an exam reading?
3. How did I do with my papers? Did I wait until the last minute to start them or did I start to at least think about a topic as soon as I knew about the assignment?
4. How well prepared was I for class? Did I read the syllabus and know what to expect or was each class a surprise?
5. Was I on time for class or did I walk in late and disrupt the class?
6. How organized was I for class? Did I keep all my assignments for each class separated? Was I constantly fumbling for the right notebook before I left the house or when I got to school?

It helps to stop and take about 30 minutes to look back through the last semester and do a self evaluation. What did you do that worked? What changes do you need to make? What can you do better? Staying organized and being efficient with our time will make it easier for us to study and complete our assignments on time.

Looking back over this semester, there were some things that happened that I had no control over. However, some things, I did have control over. Those are things I need to change so I can become a better student and do better next semester. Returning to school is my dream and it is my goal to graduate with honors. What do I need to do to achieve that goal? I need to evaluate and then take the steps to make it happen. Stay tuned. . .

Friday, May 8, 2009

Gearing Up for Summer School

Whew! Seems like I just finished with one semester and summer school is right around the corner. Luckily, I am not scheduled until second session which starts July 6 and goes until August 7. That will be one intense month! My son starts summer school at the community college in three weeks. Both of us need to get prepared now. What do we need to do?

Getting Geared up For Summer School:
1. If this is your first summer at summer school, make sure all your records are in order - transcript from previous school, immunization records, etc. Different schools require different records, but most require transcripts and application. Don't wait until the last minute, even if you're unsure about your attendance.
2. Make sure you confirm your attendance for summer school. Some schools have this option in their online registration window. If you don't confirm your attendance, you'll be dropped.
3. Work out any financial aid or deferred payment plans. Neglect in this as well will cause your schedule to be dropped.
4. Watch for sales on school supplies or reuse supplies from last semester. If you still have half a notebook and a few pens left, use them up! You know the old saying, "Use it up, wear it out; Make it do, do without."
5. Get in the right mindset. Summer school is like running a sprint for 4-8 weeks - get ready for it. The regular semester is a marathon - you have more time. Not so in summer school. Psych yourself up to move fast, read quickly and study HARD! Invest in a Starbucks gift card for yourself.
6. Remember - IT'S WORTH IT! Summer school is for those classes you can't stomach for 16 weeks but could possibly tolerate for 4-8 weeks.

Forget the sandals, we're going to need a good pair of running shoes for summer school. You with me?? Let's go! Stay tuned . . . .

Is It Worth Obsessing About Your GPA?

I knew my GPA was going to take a hit this semester. And take a hit it did. By my calculations, my GPA went from 3.71 to 3.10. That's a huge tumble. Needless to say, I am bummed.

Is it worth obsessing about my GPA? One of my goals is to graduate with honors. Both my sisters did it and I want to do it as well. One friend told me that GPA doesn't matter as much as work experience. The majority of Masters' programs look at your GPA. A good GPA does matter in the world of academia.

I know I could have done better this semester - there were a lot of distractions (my job, my marriage, my Dad). I know I could have been more focused. I know that I am the only one who can do better and bring the GPA back up.

I don't want my GPA to become an obsession, but I want to do well. I think that's another thing nontrads deal with - Will I do well in school? Has it been so long that I don't remember how to do this school thing? I think there is a difference between obsession (all-consuming) and the desire to do well. An obsession is like a vacuum cleaner - sucking all of whatever/whoever it is up and never being satisfied. The desire to do well is motivation to do one's best. I want to do well in school. Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"B"ing Consistent

I finally got all my grades back and I am officially a B student this semester. I guess that's not too bad. I was expecting to get a C in one of my classes (Economics) because I just didn't seem to understand it. At least I am consistent.

That brings me to yet another list. How does one remain consistent as a nontrad when there are other things that demand one's attention? I know these "Ways to Be Consistent" are nothing new and have been mentioned on other blogs, but they are worth repeating.

How to Be a Consistent (Nontrad) Student (on a college campus):
1. Attend class. If you're sick, stay home. If the class only meets once a week, you're missing out on a great deal of information by skipping class.
2. Take copious notes. Very few people can remember what the professor lectures on or what they read about. Notes jog your memory.
3. Read the book. If the whole book is a bore, skim through the chapters the prof covers in class. Take notes on what you've read.
4. Make at least one friend in class in case you are sick and need to get the notes from someone.
5. Let the professor/teacher know who you are. Introduce yourself after class. Take advantage of their office hours.

You only get out of the college experience what you put into it. Most nontrad newbies battle fear. Having three years of this under my belt now, I can confidently tell newbies, "Don't be afraid. Take a deep breath, smile and move forward. You can do this!!"

Memory: Some of the most difficult exams I had to take were not in Computer Science or Statistics (math - yuk), but were in my Contemporary Appalachian Lit class. The class consisted of reading novels and short stories. The exams consisted of identifying quotes from the readings, which character said the quote, what piece the quote was from and who wrote the piece. There were at least 20 readings for each exam. Talk about information overload! It was painful. I got out of there with B. See? Consistency.

Being consistent is a good quality for a student to have - traditional or nontraditional. Being consistent is equated with dependability and stability. Maybe next semester, I'll try for a few more "A"s. Stay tuned . . . .

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


A reminder for my History class popped up on the calendar on my computer this morning. For just a brief second there, I panicked. I thought, "I didn't finish my paper!" Then I remembered, "I'm done!" Old habits die hard! It's strange not to have to rush off to the library to study or to write a paper. What will I do to occupy my time? How will I handle having so much downtime?

I remember a principle from one of my science classes years ago which states that nature abhors a vacuum. (Could that be why my house is such a mess??) Something will rush in to fill the time vacated by school. I need to resolve that whatever rushes in to fill that time is not a time-waster. These are a few things I thought of to fill that vacuum left behind by school:

1. Spend time with my family. Don't forget to tell them "Thank you" for their support and cheer leading throughout the semester.
2. Catch up on my reading. My "Books I Really Want to Read" pile grows taller by the day!
3. Hang out with friends. Renew old acquaintances and make some new ones.
4. Work in my yard. I need to work in the front planter around the mailbox. My son has some really good ideas for that area. We can have Mom and Ryan bonding time.
5. Enjoy a walk in the park with my dogs. Dogs are always so loyal. They are pretty much satisfied with whatever time you can give them. My dogs are great destressers.
6. Write a letter to my Mom. She likes getting snail mail even though she's becoming a whiz in cyberspace.
7. Write a "thank you" to my teachers/professors from this semester. They probably don't hear that often enough.
8. Reassess my list of goals. Am I still on target for where I want to be? Do I need to make any adjustments? When do I need to take the GRE? When do I need to apply to Grad school? What Grad programs do I want to apply to?
9. Declutter, organize and simplify. The more organized I am at home, the easier it will be as we all step into Megan's last year in high school and, possibly, my last semester in college.
10. Chillax! I've been moving at the speed of light for so long. It's okay to slow down and smell the fresh cut grass!

How about you? What are going to do with your downtime? Go on vacation? Learn a new skill? Do nothing? Whatever you do, enjoy it! Life is an adventure, live it! Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Stay tuned . . .

Monday, May 4, 2009

I'm done!!!

Yea! I had my last final tonight!! I am doing the Snoopy happy dance. I love the beginning of the semester because I love the adventure of new classes. But I also love the end of the semester and getting out of those classes!!

I got a B+ on my final history project. I was a bit discouraged and emailed my history prof. He said he had no doubt in my abilities. That bit of encouragement made me cry. It's so nice when teachers/professors are encouraging, especially when you are a nontrad and they know how hard you are working.

I'm not sure what my final GPA will be. I told a friend from high school that as a National Honor Society alum I am a tad concerned about my GPA. She said some classes you just need to pass and not worry about the GPA.

So, there you have it. The end of another semester. It's been a rough one, with my Dad's death right in the middle of the semester. I hope I have made my Dad proud.

Now, on to bigger and better things - tackling my messy garage. Stay tuned . . .

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Whew! I am almost there. One more final and I am done for the semester. This has been a rough one because I was in school full time, working full time and Mom full time. The last time I worked full time and went to school full time was about 25 years ago. I wasn't a Mom then, so I had only me, my work and my studies to worry about.

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel! Someone else said, "Yes, but I hope it's not a train!" Me, too! I keep checking my grades from my other classes and the profs/teachers have not posted them yet. Technically, they do not have to have grades in until midnight on the last day of finals, which is Tuesday, May 5 - Cinco de Mayo! Will I have something to celebrate? We'll see.

In advance of my last final and my grades (I can confidently say I will not get below a 3.0 this semester), let me raise my glass to another semester under my belt and another semester closer to my degree! Cheers! Now, off to study for that final! Stay tuned . . .

Friday, May 1, 2009

Academic Probation

No, it's not me. It's my youngest son. This was his first year away at college. His first semester, he got a 2.5 GPA. This second semester, he did not do so well and fell below a 2.0 (to a 1.9). Needless to say, he is freaking out. I told him his Dad and I will help out in any way we can, but he has to work hard to pull himself out of this. That includes calling UTC (University of Tennessee - Chattanooga) and finding out what he has to do and then doing it.

Both my husband and I were at this same place many years ago - on academic probation. I spent only one year at the University of Arizona before I had to return to Phoenix and attend a community college. I got my 2-year degree in 3 years while working 40-plus hours a week and attending school at night. So going to school full time and working full time is not unfamiliar to me. When I was back in Phoenix for my Dad's funeral, I told my Mom the best thing she and Dad ever did for me was to make me figure it out on my own after I had to return to Phoenix from being placed on academic probation at the U of A. That was an incredibly difficult life lesson to learn, but it was a good one that has stayed with me.

I hope my son will learn from this experience and will not squander it. I hope he will remain pliable in this experience and will not resist what God is trying to teach him through it. I also hope that my husband and I will remain teachable and use this experience to show my son how much we love him and are concerned for his future. Being the middle child, he often feels overlooked. I don't want to be a "helicopter parent" and hover over my son and not allow him to learn from life's hard experiences, but I also don't want to leave him out there, floundering on his own. I pray for wisdom and balance.

I hope we will all learn from this experience of academic probation - again. Stay tuned . . .