Monday, August 31, 2009

In The Thick of Things

School is now well under way. I had my first quiz last Friday in my Medieval History class and I have a paper due in Cultural Geography on Sept. 8. Nothing like jumping in with both feet the first couple weeks of class. And to top it all off, my daughter has the swine flu and I have a cold. I am trying to get through my classes today so I can go home and go straight to bed. I may have to miss my Geo lab tonight. Such is life.

I have not seen many adult students so far this semester. I have seen perhaps three adult students. I'm sure I will see more as the semester progresses. I am not sure if we have an Adult Student Association on campus anymore. I am supposed to have lunch one of these days with someone from the Dean of Student's office to talk about adult students.

Not much else going on this last day of August other than I can't believe the summer is over. Where did it go? Gearing up for a busy semester. Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Little Fish in a Big Pond

The office where I work borders one of the busiest intersections on campus - Volunteer Boulevard and Andy Holt Drive. My office is right across the street from the library and business building - also very busy places. In the morning and at noon, there are two campus police officers at this intersection. It's their job to make sure cars and pedestrians get along.

Last week, my Master's Student son told me that he saw the entire student population of his Alma Mater cross the street in front of him at this intersection. There were 1,500 students at Berea College. That might be about half of the senior class here at UT. Needless to say, this is a very big and very busy campus. Makes me feel like a little fish in a rather ginormous pond.

What do I do? How do I stay connected and not get lost? How to I participate in student life here in the big pond? I have several suggestions:

1. Form a study group in some of my classes. My Geology prof has already suggested that to us. My Geography prof has made us do some in-class assignments that involve breaking down into groups. That's a good thing.

2. Get to know the faculty and staff in my major department as well as the department where I work. I am getting to know my boss better. That's always a good thing, too.

3. Get to know at least one other person in my classes. If I see them in the library, at Starbucks or somewhere else, I can ask them, "Hey, aren't you in my (whatever) class? How do you like it so far?"

4. Talk to the people who serve me, get to know their names. For instance, I was at the Starbucks in the library so much last semester, the baristas and I got to know one another's names. Today, as I was leaving the Student Union, two of the baristas were behind me. I stopped and talked to Amanda. She's graduating this year.

5. Practice random acts of kindness - hold the elevator door, pick up a dropped pen, pencil, folder or umbrella, thank the teacher when I leave the class, start a pot of coffee at the office.

Even though I am a little fish, I can still make my presence known. How about you? Do you have any suggestions for becoming a noticeable little fish? Share them! Stay tuned . . .

Friday, August 21, 2009

Back in the Saddle Again

All I have to say after my first "week" of classes is . . . wow. This is going to be a challenging semester. It has been a while since I've been on campus full time. The last time I did it, I was considerably younger. Still, I am looking forward to this semester.

I am taking sixteen hours. The course content is going to be so rich - cultural geography, Medieval history, the history of Mexico, physical geology and researching my senior thesis. I am looking forward to the challenges of this semester.

My boss also told me today that she will give me access to the vacant office next to hers so I will have somewhere to keep my books in between classes. I was flabbergasted! She said I could even come in after hours and use the office for a quiet place to study. That is very cool.

I know I can do the school thing, but can I do the full time school thing? That remains to be seen. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I am confident I will be able to pull this off! Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Veni, Vidi, Vici - Sort Of

"I came, I saw, I conquered." That is one of only three phrases I remember from my high school Latin class. Today was the first day of classes at UT. I was on campus all day! Haven't done that in close to thirty years! Wow. I guess you could say I "conquered" that 30-year hurdle today!

I survived the first day of classes. It looks as though this will be a challenging semester. I am looking forward to it, though. The prof who teaches my Geology class is an 80-year old Geomorphologist who is very animated when he speaks. My Geo class is on "The Hill", so I will be getting plenty of exercise.

More later. Stay tuned . . .

Monday, August 17, 2009

. . . Go!

We're almost there! School starts in two days. My History Honors prof (senior thesis class) has already sent us a boatload of information to look over, read, etc. Ah, the life of a college senior.

I am looking forward to school. I love learning and being a student. This semester I have three history classes - Medieval History, The History of Mexico and History Honors. I will also be taking Cultural Geography and Geology 101 for a total of 16 hours. I think that's enough for one semester! This is the first time I will be on campus full time in almost 30 years.

Campus seems to be more crowded this year than last. Even last week, though we were between summer and fall semesters, it seemed there were quite a few students on campus already. Campus is usually more busy in the fall than in the spring. There are a few things I need to check on before class starts on Wednesday:

1. Classes: Where are my classes? Building and room number? I need to make sure there are no last minute classroom changes. I can check that by going online and accessing my schedule.
2. Supplies: I at least need to have one notebook and one pen before I start class on Wednesday. Do I have all my supplies?
3. Books: I still haven't purchased my books. I'll do that tomorrow - avoid the rush. I did not check this semester for cheaper books online. I will have to remember to do that next semester.
4. Schedule: this includes both work and class. I need to make sure I know when I am scheduled to work and how to coordinate my work and my class schedules.
5. Transportation: If I am going to drive to school, I need to make sure I get a parking pass. If I am taking the bus, I need to make sure I have my bus pass.

I think that's pretty much it. One of the nice things about working on campus this summer is that I have gotten to know my way around campus better. My boss sends me on errands all the time. I will not be one of those students with the deer in the headlights look. I will know where I am going!

My best to everyone as y'all gear up for the new school year. I raise my glass in a toast to all us nontrads - may this year bring new challenges, new friends, and also bring us closer to achieving our dreams! Bottoms up!! Stay tuned . . .

Friday, August 7, 2009

Keeping Good Records

My boss gave me a project to do this morning. My frustration grew as I progressed further into the project because the records I needed were not there. Now we are having to reconstruct the records from other sources. Those sources are scattered as well.

One piece of advice I was given early on in my nontrad journey was to keep hard copies of my records. One never knows when one will need to access those records and they may not always be readily available. Modern technology is great, but modern technology also crashes and gets hacked.

Ok, so what kind of records will I need to keep? Here are some suggestions:
1. Non-official transcript: This is usually free. This document will include all the pertinent information from your college career thus far - cumulative GPA, dept. GPA, classes taken and the grade received in each on, number of credits attempted, number of credits completed. This is an oft requested document.
2. DARS (Degree Audit Reporting System) report (or something similar): This document will have your cumulative GPA, your dept. GPA, and the classes you not only have taken, but still need to take in order to graduate. It also has the number of credit hours you have successfully completed as well as how many you still need in order to graduate. You should be checking this information on a regular basis throughout your college career to make sure you are on track to graduate.
3. Grade report: Your "report card". Keep a copy on hand as proof you did take x class and you did get x grade in x class.
4. Class schedule: It is not necessary to keep a hard copy of this from each semester as your grade report will serve as proof you attended the class. However, it's good to keep a hard copy of the current semester as non-official proof of your enrollment.

All the other normal records usually asked for (birth certificate, driver's license number, social security number, etc.) should always be within easy access for you but no one else. Twitter and Facebook got hacked yesterday. Common sense says that you should not put your vital information online (social security number, credit card numbers, etc.).

Who knows what value those hard copies of information may have one day? Your great grandchildren may be fascinated by the fact that you had to take Elementary Underwater Basketweaving as a requirement for your Liberal Arts degree and that you got a B+ in it! Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cutting College Costs

"It's going to cost me how much to go to school???!!" Sticker shock. It affects us all when we decide to return to school. Multiply that by the number of children you have in college as well as yourself and the total comes out to be . . . Wow! Where do I sign up for the next government bailout??

I've read quite a few articles on cutting college costs. However, they were all written by well-known and well-paid columnists who either have not been to college themselves in well over thirty years or have no children currently in college. So, let's get down to the practical nitty-gritty, shall we?

Other than tuition, what's the most costly item on your "Back to School" list? Textbooks! Last semester, I ended up paying over $250 for three books - THREE BOOKS! That was at the bookstore. *facepalm. My freshman son at UTC bought his books online through Amazon or on eBay. That's using your noggin. With regard to textbooks, there is nothing wrong with buying used books as long as they are the correct edition. One of the things I've done in the past is to check out the textbook from the school library and keep renewing it. However, the book is always subject to recall should someone else need it. You can also rent textbooks (see

One of my son's biggest expenses was food. Many schools have a meal plan you can purchase. However, there are limitations to some of the meal plans (# of meals a day, only certain places to eat, etc.). If you are a commuter to school, bring a sack lunch with food that is healthy, but not perishable. If you are in campus housing and have (a) roommate(s), you might want to think about going in with some of your fellow collegians and purchase bulk items at a place like Sam's or Costco. Buying in bulk is great for high volume items (toilet paper, computer paper, paper towels, coffee/tea/hot chocolate, etc.). You can also divide items like shredded cheese, hamburger, etc. Take advantage of the local farmer's market for fresh fruits and veggies. Earth Fare, a great whole foods store, just opened a new location not far from campus.

How many of us absolutely cannot do without our cell phone? Call your provider and find out how you can save money on your plan. Put the customer service department to work for you. Can't live without texting or chatting all day long? You'll need to learn to curtail your non-essential communication. There's always email, free on the computers at the library. And speaking of the computers at the library, if switching to a phone with less bells and whistles (like internet access) will save money, do it. My cell phone is like Captain Kirk's communicator - a basic communication device. I can phone and text - that's all. And that's all I need on my cellphone.

Other cost cutters are: take public transportation (if possible) instead of driving everywhere; recycle your old clothes and take them to someplace like Plato's Closet, Planet Exchange, etc. that will either give you money for your clothes or an in-store credit to purchase more clothes (The basics in clothing don't change that much from year to year); rent a movie or join Netflix ($10/month) instead of always going to the movie theater; keep an eye out for "cheap dates" - low cost or free activities you can do with family and friends; drink less alcohol and more water.

What are some ways you are cutting college costs? Share them with us! Stay tuned . . .

Monday, August 3, 2009

What Am I Doing Here??!!

Elizabeth Sheppard posted a list of nontrad blogs on her Yahoo nontrad group. Some of the blogs have posts entitled, "I Never Signed Up for This", "Back To School For Grown-Ups", "Returning to College", "The Financial Aid Blog", "College the Second Time Around" and so on.

I remember when I decided to go back to school. I panicked. How was I going to pay for this? Would my employer let me take classes during the day? Was I going to get attacked walking through campus at night? How can I read five chapters a day and still work full time and still be Mom? How do I get my children where they need to go if my husband has to be out of town with his job? What am I doing here????!!! Making the decision to go back to school was a big deal.

I would love to get some of these nontrad bloggers together, sit down to coffee or tea and share stories. What was their impression after the first day of their very first class? I was so excited, I cried. Did they know what a FAFSA was? Luckily, I already had a child in college, so I was familiar with that. What did their classmates think of them? Many of my classmates could not believe I have children their age.

We each have our own stories, our own road to walk down, but we have a common goal - to get that degree! Whether it's an Associates Degree, Bachelor's, Master's or Doctorate, returning to school after you've been out for 5, 10, 15, 20 years and longer can seem like a daunting task, an intimidating proposition, a foolish dream. However, judging from Elizabeth's list, there's lots of folks out there doing it!

I would like to raise my glass in a toast to all my fellow nontrads, wherever you are on the road, "Just do it!" Stay tuned . . .

P.S. Just realized, I've been rather prolific today. Hmm - some days are like that!

I just got notified of a new website for non- and ultratraditional students. It is I briefly looked over it and something caught my eye. One of the articles on the site is titled, "I Can't Keep Up! What Do I Do?" Haven't read the article yet, but it sounds interesting. Another article of interest is titled, "Generational Learning Differences".

One of the things I think is important to ascertain before one returns to school is one's learning style. There is a book out there, though I'm not sure if it's still in print, called "The Way They Learn" by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias. In the book, Tobias not only addresses the three basic learning styles (auditory, visual and kinesthetic), but how one processes material (concrete or abstract) and how one filters that process. It is a very in-depth book. Along with Tobias' book, I would recommend "Different Children, Different Needs" by Charles Boyd. Boyd's book addresses the four basic personality types. Even though it is meant mainly as a resource for parents and children, it can also be a resource for understanding yourself in the midst of a new experience, like returning to school.

When I was homeschooling and I would meet new homeschooling parents, my first advice was, "Become a student of your children". In other words, watch your child, get to know your child one on one (difficult if you have more than one child, but not impossible). I would also recommend the two books I mentioned above.

Now, as a nontrad, I want to advocate becoming a student of yourself. If you're new to the nontrad scene, you may feel scared, anxious, inadequate. Take a little walk down that introspectiveroad and examine what you're feeling. All these feelings are natural. If you're not sure where you fall in the learning curve, take a look at Tobias' book on learning styles. If it's been a while since you've done something you really enjoy doing, take a look at Boyd's book on personality types. Once you understand why you feel the way you do about returning to school, you will be able to walk forth confidently and enjoy being a student again. Good luck!

Check out the studentagain website. Stay tuned . . .

. . . Get Set . . .

Many nontrads have a family as well as a desire to get/complete their education. I would be remiss if I did not include family preparation on my "To Do" list before returning to school in two weeks. The amount of family prep one has to do before classes start depends on several key issues:
1. How many children are there in the family and how old are the children?
2. Is your spouse willing to cooperate and help with household chores, meals, etc.?
3. What kind of support do you have from family, friends and neighbors?

If your children are older (high school and beyond), if you have a spouse who is willing to be a "single parent" for a couple of semesters, and if you have the support of your family, friends and neighbors, then you're waaay ahead of the game. What if your life isn't so ideal?

Here are some practical tips to help get your family prepared for you to go back to school:
1. Children: a) If possible, schedule your classes around their school day. You should be in school while they are in school. b) Ask a couple other Moms if they'd fill in for you in the event you cannot pick your child up from school on time. You will most likely need to list these ladies on your child's "Approved Pickup List" at school. Make sure you communicate with your backup, your child's school and your child in plenty of time when you know you are going to be late. c) Children love games. Make "Mommy/Daddy is going back to school" a game with your children - do things like, "How big is your backpack?" "How many books are in your backpack?" "What's the most unusual thing in your backpack?", "What are you having for lunch today?", etc. That will give them a little better understanding that you are in school, too. d) Take your children on a field trip to your school. Show them all the "cool" places you go, like the library, the student center, etc. Tell them they have their school and Mommy/Daddy has her/his school. Do something fun while you are on campus - check out a children's book from the library, get an ice cream from the student center, etc. e) Let your children's teachers know you are a student, too. They'll cut you some slack with Parent-Teacher Conferences, etc. f) Don't forget to spend some quality time with your children. Take a Saturday to just go to the park and enjoy the swings!

2. Spouse: a) Communication: make sure to talk about expectations - what you need from each other during your time in school. Do you need your spouse to take the reigns at home and be "Mr. Mom"? Do you need him to do a load of laundry every other day? Vacuum? Spell it out. b) If your spouse is not willing to or cannot cooperate (he travels a lot for his job), you'll need to learn time management. God invented the crockpot for working and student moms. Take advantage of it. Do a load of laundry while you're eating dinner. Enlist the children to help dust, vacuum, etc. on a weekly basis. Plan menus a week in advance so your older children can help with dinner, too. General clutter pickup will make your house look more organized. c) If your spouse is helping and not complaining too much about it, make sure you take him out to dinner as a way to say "Thanks for your support. I really appreciate you!"

3. Animals: a) You will obviously get no cooperation from the canine or feline children. However, someone does need to take care of them, too. Designate a child to care for the animals on a weekly basis - this will help to teach them responsibility. b) Taking the dogs for a walk is a good way to work off the stress that comes with having to study for a major exam, write a 30-page term paper, etc. Take advantage of the down time and the exercise! c) Nothing says "I Love You!" like the purr of a cat. Take advantage of this built in love-meter. d) Don't forget to water your plants before you leave in the morning.

Do you have any practical tips on family preparation for your return to school? Feel free to share them! Above all, our families need to feel that they have not been abandoned to various colleges texts, but that we still love them. Take the time to tell your family you love them and appreciate them. Stay tuned . . .

Sunday, August 2, 2009

On Your Mark, Get Ready . . .

It's a beautiful Sunday morning here in Ktown. I'm glad I mowed the lawn last night since it poured rain here about two hours ago. The sun is out now and my wildflowers are finally blooming because of all the rain we've had recently.

I was sitting here thinking about school - 17 days and counting! Am I ready?? Let me check my list:

1. Financial Aid: I recently filled out a Special Circumstance form in order to see if I qualify for more financial aid since I am only working part time now. Have you had changes in your financial status since you initially filled out your FAFSA? You or a spouse experiencing a job change, a divorce, even additional children in college could mean more financial aid. If you have experienced a change, find out if your school has a Special Circumstance form to fill out. Take advantage of the resources available to you.
2. Books: The bookstore at my school allows students to reserve their books ahead of time. I specified that I wanted used books if at all possible. The bookstore will notify me that my books are ready for pick up. All I have to do is go get them and pay for them. That service saves me time. I don't have to spend an hour out of my day trying to figure out what books I need, then standing in line to purchase them.
3. Schedule: About a month ago, my department sent out an email to all its majors informing them of classes that had recently been added. Several of the new classes were classes I needed for my major. Even though I already had my schedule figured out, I dropped one elective to take a class in my major. A word of caution, though. Don't drop a class until you know you can add the class you need. At this late date, most classes are already full and you may not be able to get back into your dropped class if you need to. Also, due to budget cuts, many universities are trimming their class schedules, so some much needed classes may not be as readily available.
4. Advising/declaring/misc. departmental stuff: If you're new to the nontrad population, the first thing you will need to do is meet with an advisor to figure out your class schedule. When you applied for admission, you were asked to submit a transcript. Any classes from prior colleges were evaluated and counted (or not) as transfer credits. An advisor will go over these with you and you can build your schedule from there. When I applied to UT, I was able to transfer in as a Junior. UT's policy is that you must declare your major during your Junior year. Once one declares a major, one is given an advisor in one's major department. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how well the faculty member knows advising. It can be a bit intimidating getting to know the faculty, etc. in one's department. Read a faculty member's latest book. That will be a point of commonality and may win you brownie points with the faculty member!

I think I have all my ducks in a row for school. Now I just need to make sure things are settled on the home front and I'll be good to go. Stay tuned . . .

Saturday, August 1, 2009


This is one of those catch-all, update, not doin' much o' nuthen posts. It's been an exciting week.

First of all, I can finally put a shoe on the broken foot. It's not 100% yet - probably more like 85%. Still, it's getting there. I was on the treadmill at the gym this morning for the first time in over a month! I know I won't be able to run for at least another 6 weeks.

I have been in contact with several people regarding my German POW camps in Tennessee project. I received an email from a lady whose father served in the army at Camp Forrest (Tullahoma, TN) as a supply officer. She had many wonderful experiences to share with me. She will be a good source of information for any future presentations on the subject. I also emailed a history teacher in Tullahoma who had contacted me last winter about my research. She wants me to come speak to her class about the POWs at Camp Forrest.

I am excited my research is coming together and I will have an outlet for it other than writing a paper. The University of Tennessee has a Center for the Study of War and Society. The Center awards fellowships to graduate students who are studying some aspect of war. One of the fellowships is given to a graduate student who is studying an aspect of WWII. That's me! The presentation, the opportunity to share with others what I know and the fellowships all serve to increase my motivation to dig into my research and do a good job with it.

School is right around the corner and I will able to present to my thesis prof and class what I have discovered through my research. I am excited about that! My new advisor is also the prof who is mentoring my thesis. He is a WWII historian. Very cool! The pieces seem to be falling into place for my thesis - not sure exactly what the topic will be yet, but I know it will be about the POW camps.

I realize it is a bit nerdy to be excited about research. Fine. Just call me the "Histonerd". Stay tuned . . .