Monday, June 29, 2009

Procrastination Kills Passion

"Don't put off 'till tomorrow what you can do today." That saying is totally antithetical to procrastinators. I am a procrastinator. I need to work on not being a procrastinator. My garage is my biggest procrastination project. At one point I was passionate about cleaning out my garage. Now, I dread the project.

Procrastination kills passion. If you are a passionate nontrad, don't procrastinate. Procrastination causes things like delays in studying for that exam, writing that paper, researching that thesis. It's so easy to procrastinate when you're tired, you've lost interest in the subject, or you don't feel well.

Don't lose your passion as a nontrad. The road to your degree can be a tad long, sometimes rocky and may even seem non-existent at times. Hang in there. Stay the course. Keep the goal in sight. That's why it's good to connect with other nontrads - either online through venues such as this, or in person through an Adult Student organization.

A friend of mine always asks me, "Do you still like school?" I tell him, with all sincerity, "I love school! I love being a student!" There are those days when it seems like I live at the library and my family is a distant memory, but I have learned to balance school and family.

As a nontrad, what do you need to do today? What have you been putting off? Don't put it off any longer. Get it done. Don't let your passion for school, family, etc. become a casualty of procrastination. Stay tuned . . .

Life in the Slow Lane

"Keep right except to pass." How many times have I seen that sign as I zoomed down the freeway in the left lane? Plenty. Now, however, I am in the right lane, the slow lane. And it feels great! Life in the fast lane is exhilarating - for a while. But it gets old.

Now I am enjoying a slower pace of life - but only because it's summer. I know once fall semester starts up, I'll have to jump back into hyperspace. But this fall semester is going to be different because I will be on campus during the day - all day. I haven't done that in quite some time.

I have been keeping busy by researching my senior thesis, hanging out with friends, and training a new puppy. Yes. We got a new puppy from the animal shelter over the weekend. His name is Riley and he's a Houndatian - hound/Dalmatian. He should get his spots sometime in the next six months. Jack (my other dog) is already teaching him some bad habits. (Sigh)

I can look out my office windows and see the library, the Joe Johnson Pedestrian Mall and the Humanities buildings. I'm within walking distance of the gym and The Strip (the main drag through campus with all the restaurants). Even though it is summer here at UT, there is still quite a bit of activity - summer school, freshman orientation, Governor's School, and cheerleading and sports camps. I never realized a college campus could be such a hub of activity. Which leads me to my next observation.

Are you a new on-campus nontrad? Have you registered for the fall semester yet? Has a heard of butterflies camped out in your stomach? Now is the time to familiarize yourself with your campus - when there are fewer people around. If you're already registered, or have not registered but know what classes you want to take, make a list of your (potential) classes. The list should include the building and room number of the class (should be available on the class or course listing).

Now, take your list and a map of campus and find out where your classes are going to be. Go on a "photographic scavenger hunt". Take a picture of each building and (if the building is open), each classroom that you will have a class in. Take a picture of the bookstore and the Student Center. This will familiarize you with where you need to go that first day of class. New students are nervous enough without having to worry about where their classes are and where the nearest bathroom is! Taking the time to familiarize yourself with your surroundings (if you haven't already), will be a great advantage to you. Have you visited your advisor? Chances are, he/she is out for the summer. But you can still find out where his/her office is.

Use summer to your advantage - to familiarize yourself with campus, to get supplies together, to save up for books (groan - that's a whole different subject!) and to scout out who has the best food and free wi fi for those non-library study sessions. I am all about making life easier when possible. Familiarization with your surroundings definitely makes life easier!

As I cruise along in the slow lane, I am thinking of things to share with other nontrads, making a list of questions for my advisor (who will also be mentoring my senior thesis), and enjoying a less stressful pace of life - for the time being. All is well. Stay tuned . . .

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Thesis by Any Other Name

Will Shakespeare who said, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." In my case, it's "A thesis by any other name would generate just as much stress."

I am spending this summer researching for my senior thesis. I will spend fall semester of 2009 refining my research and spring semester of 2010 writing my thesis. I anticipate this will be the highlight of my college career because the senior thesis can be a springboard for grad school, a Master's thesis, scholarships, a book, etc.

However, formulating a thesis and actually getting down to the nitty-grtty of writing a thesis are two totally different things! I had lunch this past Tuesday with the professor who is supervising the History Honors program here at UT. She ripped my research idea apart. At first, I was a tad dismayed, but then realized there was truth to her words. I was going about this whole thing totally backwards. Dr. Sacco said that with a senior thesis, one explores the records first, then asks the question as opposed to asking the question first and finding the records to back up that question.

That has given me a whole different perspective on my research. As I read through different records and articles, I make notes of little things that "pop out". For example, I discovered that the four German POW camps in Tennessee each started out with their own unique purpose. I discovered that there was not a precedent in the US for taking care of foreign prisoners of war. The War Department took the Geneva Convention Accord's stipulations for caring for prisoners of war and played the rest of it by ear. I discovered that the question was raised regarding the US's encouragement of Nazism by allowing the camps to be run by the prisoners themselves. The list goes on and on.

It's a good thing I am taking this summer to do a little exploration. I'd hate to reach mid-term next semester and discover I have to start all over with a completely different topic and subsequent research. It's better to wade through possible thesis topics now as opposed to the week before Thanksgiving. However, I'm sure Dr. Sacco would be on my case about my topic long before then.

I am discovering the subtle and not so subtle nuances of thesis topicing. Even though I am a strong advocate of "Don't sweat the small stuff", I am still a tad apprehensive about my thesis topic. I am excited about the German POW camps, just not sure yet what aspect of that topic I will be writing about.

Mr. Shakespeare was right when he said that it doesn't matter what we name, or call, something. It is still that thing. And a thesis is still lots of work. (sigh) Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What if I Don't Do Summer School?

That's the question I asked my advisor when I first started back to school. She told me, "Well, then, you just have to spend more time in school." Drat! Looks I'll be doing that. Had to drop my summer school classes due to financial constraints in this economy (sound familiar?). However, that does not mean I am at home couch-potatoing it. No. I am knee deep in research for my senior thesis.

A while back, I posted a blog on what to do if you can't afford to go back to school. The main thing is that to keep your brain active and used to the researching, reading, and studying so it won't be as difficult to get back into the swing of things when you do return to school. The research is keeping my brain active.

I will be bischooling it again in the fall. Fun. If all goes as planned, I will be taking 15 hours. Wow! Now that is some serious full-time school! It will be a challenge, but challenges are good.

Part of being a nontrad is the myriad of challenges it represents. Older student returning to school, having to remember how to take notes, study, etc. I understand that challenging the aging brain is a good thing. Don't let that brain just sit on a park bench somewhere this summer! If you're not summer schooling, do something to challenge your brain! My mom used to make us do our multiplication tables during the summer so we'd be all geared up and "smart", ready for school to start at the end of August.

Fall semester is about 6 weeks away. I know that time will go fast! Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Benefits of Being a Nontrad

It seems to me that summer is the time when many people decide they are going to return to school. The fall semester is coming up and now is the time to jump in and take the plunge of being a nontrad.

As older students try to navigate through things like financial aid, advising and scheduling, they ought to remember they are in a unique position. Being a nontrad means you are willingly pursuing a college degree. You are on campus (or online) because you want to be. You have a great deal of life experience behind you that has prepared you for being a nontrad. You still may be a little starry-eyed the first day of class, but you your feet are planted firmly on the ground.

Being a nontrad has its benefits, too. Such things as:
1. You know the words to all the songs in your Music History class.
2. "Been there, done that" isn't just a catch phrase. You actually have been there and done that.
3. You can intelligently discuss the evolution of the PC with your Computer Science prof because you experienced life without personal data devices (iPods, PC's Blackberrys, etc.).
4. You remember how to do math in your head instead of needing a calculator.
5. Starbucks will always be a wonderment - why do people pay $5 a cup for "gourmet" coffee?
6. You know how to form complete sentences - on paper and in conversation.
7. You walk just a tad slower than your classmates, which allows you to enjoy the beautiful day, the music wafting out of the Music Building, or the conversation of a peer.
8. You remember where you were when JFK, Martin Luther King or John Lennon got shot.
9. You can spell without using spellcheck.
10. Learning, and all its trappings (reading, studying, writing papers, etc.), is not a chore, it's a pleasure!

Nontrads are unique - in our needs, our perspective, and our experience. Stay tuned . . .

Fitting In

It has been my observation that one of the biggest fears of nontrads is the fear of "fitting in". This is most evident when one is on a college campus. In a sea of 20somethings, how am I, a 40something, supposed to fit in, make friends, have a "social life", etc.?

I love my new job. My office faces one of the busiest parts of campus - the library. Every morning this summer, I have looked out the window and watched all the college "kids" - summer school students, incoming freshmen going through orientation, grad students doing summer research. I was surprised to see several students my age mixing with the 20somethings in the Commons on the second floor of the Education building (where my office is). They seemed to fit in quite well as they interacted with a group of much younger students.

If I'm new on campus and I have a fear of fitting in, what do I do about it? My experience has been this:
1. Get to know your prof. Introduce yourself after class or during office hours. For some reason, being able to converse comfortably with the prof (or teacher) seems to attract younger students who aren't as socially savvy with the "older generation".
2. Sign up to be a notetaker for a disabled student in one of your classes. Check with your campus Office of Disability Services for details. This will build a connection with another classmate.
3. Think young. A friend once told me, "You're only as young as you feel." To think young is to be energetic and inquisitive. Don't be afraid to ask questions during class or to volunteer the answers. Most teachers/profs will appreciate the interaction.
4. Socialize with your classmates. Don't be afraid to go have a beer with a couple folks in your class. One of the local pizza joints here has "Trivia Night" every Wednesday night. I joined some of my History peers one night a couple months ago and had a blast. Can't wait to do it again.
5. Find out if your school has an Adult Student organization. If so, it will be a place to connect with other people who are experiencing the same things you are.
6. Be yourself. You are who you are for a reason. Don't be afraid to be who you are.

College campuses can be very big places and, therefore, very intimidating. Don't be afraid to ask questions, take advantage of office hours, and ask more questions. Most profs find it refreshing to have an older student in their class - they know that student is serious about his/her education.

How do I fit in? Relax, take a deep breath and be yourself. Stay tuned . . .

Friday, June 19, 2009

Memorial to Jingle

How does one say goodbye to a dear friend when one doesn't even know that friend is dying?

We had to rush our older dog, Jingle (Newfoundland/Retriever), to the Animal ER last evening because she had suddenly become unresponsive. It turned out she had an infected uterus that went septic and killed her. We had no idea that's what was going on.

I told the vet that yesterday had been a normal day for Jingle - playing with our other dog, Jack, barking for treats, brushing up against me for "doggie massage", barking at passing cars, etc. She even went on a ride with me to get my daughter from a friend's house. Then, a few short hours later, she went into cardiac arrest and died.

We had Jingle since she was a puppy. We went and picked her out when she was only a month old. She was born on my daughter's birthday, October 31, in 2001. She would have been 9 years old this year. We named her Jingle because we got her at Christmastime and that was the only Christmasy name we could all agree on. She loved to swim, snuggle, steal food off the counter, go for walks, rides and runs. She was a long-haired black dog. She was beautiful.

When Jingle was only five months old, we had her at a park. A little girl came up to her and petted her and said, "She's so soft and fuzzy!". Jingle would readily stop our walks and sit nicely for the little kids to pet her. She loved to run in the ball fields at the park

She missed her calling as a bomb-sniffing dog. She would always sniff through the bags of groceries we brought home, looking for treats. She loved pigs ears, peanut butter, cheese and pizza "bones" (crusts).

She shed like the dickens, drooled when she ate and had to drink water out of the bathtub. There were many times when I would walk past the bathroom and see her standing in the bathtub, waiting for someone to come turn on the faucet for her to get a drink. Ah, the disadvantages of not having an opposable thumb.

She was generous in allowing me to sleep in her bed at night. She claimed it during the day, sneaking into my room when I was at work and sneaking back out when she heard me pull up in the driveway.

She hated thunderstorms. She was terrified of them. She could hear thunder long before we heard it. She learned that lightning preceded thunder. She could spell, so we'd have to invent code words for things like doggie treats (code word - DTs), walk (code word - exercise), ride or bye-bye (code word- car), vet (code word - doc). She always knew what I was saying and I knew what her barks meant.

She loved to have her back scratched, to be brushed, to be loved on. She was a very social dog and was most happy when her "pack" was home. One day, she had gotten out and returned to us with a dead squirrel. She was just providing for her pack.

We will miss our dearest friend. She was a member of the family. I would refer to her as my "canine child". She was the best dog ever.

Yes, Jingle, all dogs go to heaven. I know you're there now, chasing squirrels. I miss you.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Take it Easy

The Eagles' song "Take It Easy" floated through my brain this morning. Not sure why. Part of the lyric says, "Just find a place to make your stand and take it easy". It's been my experience that many nontrads tend to stress out over the whole experience of returning to school. I did, too (and still do sometimes).

I was listening to my son give my daughter advice yesterday on the "college experience". He told her she will need to "find her niche". I believe that holds true for nontrads, too. Like the Eagles sang, "Just find a place to make your stand and take it easy." Look at the environment you're in. If you're online and have to participate in group discussions, your niche may be to look at the topic from a different angle, or to offer current research on the topic, or to ask probing questions. If you're on campus, your niche may be taking notes for a disabled classmate, or organizing study groups in your class, or encouraging the doctoral student teaching your Whatever 101 class. One former classmate of mine found his niche in baking cookies for his classes, study groups, etc. He made great cookies!

One you've gotten all the basics lined up (schedule, financial aid, books and supplies, advisor), take it easy. The first session of summer school is almost over and the second one will begin soon. That means the fall semester is right around the corner. Now is the time to stop and ask, 'What is my niche? Where is my place to make my stand?' If I go into a situation with some inkling of what to expect, I can handle that situation better. I can relax and take it easy. How about you? Stay tuned . . .

Friday, June 12, 2009

Totally Normal

I am part of E. Shepherd's non-trad group on Yahoo. A couple days ago, we got a post from a lady who will be returning to school to finish her degree in Education. She is facing the usual non-trad fears and questions: Will I be able to make it financially? Will I fit in with a much younger student population? I'm not a math person - what do I do about that part of my education?

I wanted to give her a big hug, a cup of tea and say, "Sit down, let's talk." She is so totally normal in the nontrad scheme of things. It has been my experience that the normal nontrad's biggest fear is fear. This is what I told her:

1. Finances: Fill out a FAFSA and see what kind of financial aid she qualifies for. As a single mom, she may be able to qualify for more than, say, someone like me who is married and whose spouse has a relatively stable job.
2. Fitting in: A couple things here. 1) She will most likely be able to relate to her profs more than her classmates. 2) Some of her classmates will look up to her because she is older; she will attain the "wise sage" status. 3) Find out if there is an Adult Student Association on campus; that will be a place to connect with people who are experiencing the same things she is.
3. Not a math person: Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time knows that I am definitely NOT a math person. I believe I have mentioned that more than once (10 times, perhaps??). :) I told her to check with her advisor and in her department for tutoring services. Making use of study groups is also a good thing to do.

Returning to school at any age is a bit scary. However, the fear is totally normal. It is the fear of the unknown. But it's like anything else. Once you get in and get used to it, you're fine. Besides, there is a whole world of nontrads out there in varying degrees of nontradism, so the support is endless! All one has to do is reach out and connect - either online or on campus. It's totally normal. Stay tuned . . .

Finish What You Started

I am a charter member of the Procrastinator's Anonymous Club. I keep saying I am going to clean out my garage, organize my room, etc. I always find excuses to put those things off - tomorrow. One thing I can't put off, though, is my getting my degree.

I was talking recently to a lady who is in her early 50's who went back to school a few years ago to get her doctorate. It took her six years, but she did it. Deb is an English prof here at UT. She told me 80% of all folks who start out in the PhD marathon never complete it. She said she wanted to be in the 20% who finished that race.

I was looking for something else recently and came across this listing at a university back east: It is for a Bachelor's of University Studies. The program sounds really great! I thought, "Now there's something I can major in!" I love being a student. Why not get a Bachelor's in it? Cool!

The program sounds like it's geared toward folks who aren't quite sure what they want to do, but know they need to get a degree. How marketable is a degree in University Studies? It can be a springboard for other things. I wish other universities would come up with a program like the University of Hartford. Perhaps it would be motivation for more people to return to school and finish what they started.

The new job is going well. I love being on campus. Stay tuned . . . .

Monday, June 8, 2009

New Adventures

Ah, the end of the first day of the new job. It went well. My boss said she is very glad to have me there. Two of us occupy the position - I am the morning "girl" and Felicia is the afternoon "girl". I may stick around one day this week to meet her.

Julia, my new boss, was telling me horror stories about the most recent girls who occupied the position Felicia and I are in now. I know I will be able to get in there and make a good impression and do a good job in that position. Julia told me that the way I will know if I have been accepted by the faculty is if they stop by my desk and ask me to do something for them - mail something, type something, etc. She said it took her a good 6 months before that happened to her. I hope it doesn't take me that long.

I got to work early this morning - 7:45am (I take the bus in and it drops me off in front of the building at that time). Julia was so impressed that when she introduced me around, she said, "And she was here early!" What a hoot!

It was nice to get off work in the middle of the day, to actually take a lunch and to get stuff done in the afternoon at home (grocery shopping, mow the lawn, etc). I know I need to use this time wisely because before long, I will be back in school and will need to use it as study time.

I have my running shoes, my hiking boots, my backpack, my walking stick, my water bottle - anything else? Oh, yes - a good attitude and an eagerness for new adventures! Stay tuned . . .