Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Survival

Hopefully by now all my fellow nontrads are enjoying some downtime from school - between-semester break or a week off for the holidays. I have always had family around me for the holidays, so I don't give much thought to being alone at the holidays or not liking the holidays. However, as I was perusing through some of the subjects on my homepage this morning, I ran across this headline, "Deaths Spike Around Holidays". A rather grim headline, I know. But it got me to thinking about some things.

As a nontrad, I have been traveling at warp speed since August. Now that I have had the chance to drop out of warp speed, I am forced to take a look at things around me. My house needs a good cleaning, I need to get together with some friends I have been neglecting because of school and I need to pay more attention to myself, especially in light of my recent divorce.

I could get rather maudlin and mopey because this year is different from last, but I chose not to. This year's Christmas will be better than last - I will be surrounded by all three of my children and their respective partners. That's a good thing.

But what about those people who do not have family and friends around them at the holidays? Or those who have experienced a recent loss due to death or divorce? Or those who are on shaky financial footing this year? How can we reach out to those in our nontrad community who are dealing with the "Holiday Blues"? Let's try a few things:

1. Extend an invitation to those people you know who will not be sharing this holiday with family and friends. I have asked my church pastor and several other people at church to keep their ears and eyes open for folks in my congregation who may not have a "home" for the holidays. I have extended an open invitation to them.

2. Volunteer at the local soup kitchen or food pantry. Your time will make someone else's life just a little bit better. Take some friends with you and make a day of volunteering. The more volunteers, the better.

3. Stay close to those who may be exhibiting signs of depression. Be a listening ear, a sturdy shoulder, a compassionate friend. Signs of depression can be found on websites like Encourage that person to seek help. Commit to accompany them when they go to get that help.

4. Check in with elderly friends and neighbors. Take them a nice Christmas ornament and some stationery with pre-stamped envelopes, or food for their pet, or just sit and listen to them share their stories.

5. Designate one day as a "Do Nothing" or a "Mental Health" day on the midst of all the holiday craziness. Sleep in, breathe deep, take a walk, play board games with your family, listen to your favorite Christmas CD. Don't worry about the dirty house or the overgrown backyard or the million and one other things that are calling your name. Sometimes we just need a day of a whole lot of nuthen.

Take this time to download, de-stress and disconnect. School will start back up soon enough - for you and the kids. Work will once again call your name in urgent, stressful tones. Take this time to invest in the most important things - your family, your friends, and yourself.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all. And in the words of Tiny Tim, "May God bless us, every one!"

Monday, December 20, 2010

Barking Dogs, the Smell of Pine and Basketball

I am enjoying my downtime. My dogs are outside having a barkfest with the neighbor dogs as I write this. One neighbor left me a note in my mailbox teling me my dogs bark too much. The other neighborhood dogs howl when the fire truck in the neighborhood goes by, but mine don't. I guess he just doesn't like barking dogs. Such is life.

Megan and her boyfriend picked out a real tree for me this year, so my house smells like a pine forest. It's a very soothing smell for me because it brings back memories of camping with my parents in the forests of northern Arizona when I was younger.

Megan's boyfriend in the only senior on his high school basketball team this year. Needless to say, we have gone to several of his games and will be attending one this evening as well.

Elizabeth Shepherd, from the Moon and the Willow Tree,, encouraged me in my academic pursuits. She said going back to school as an older student really is difficult. I think one of the main reasons why is because life is happening all around us. I have continued trudging through my classes in spite of attending Megan's volleyball tournaments in Georgia every weekend in September and October, working through the residuals from a divorce, an aging parent and a host of other things going on in my life. Do our younger counterparts have such hectic lives? Of course not! That's where we nontrads need to stick together. We need to encourage one another and spur each other on.

Yes, being a nontrad is a challenge that not many people pursue. We are to be congratulated for having the stick-to-it-iveness and courage to forge ahead. We will make it through this, these hectic days of life and school. We will walk across that stage and get our diploma. We will look back on this and be grateful to family and friends as they encouraged us on our journey.

So, fellow nontrads, I raise a glass of egg nog in your honor. May your next term, semester, etc., be better than the last and may we all reach that goal of getting our degree with honor and dignity! Bottoms up! Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Downtime and Life-Long Learning

The semester is finally over and I didn't do as well as I had hoped. This was a rough semester with my daughter's volleyball tournaments all over Georgia during September and October, problems with my ex-husband from summer to the present, and not finding a tutor for Spanish. I could whine about it, but I won't. I need to give myself grace and enjoy the downtime I have. I ended up with 3 B's and a C+ for a GPA of 2.85 - my lowest since my freshman year at the University of Arizona in 1981. What does that mean? Just that I need to focus and work harder next semester. I won't be taking notes for the athletic department next semester, so my nights will be free for studying.

I do want to mention a fellow nontrad, Michael A. Dicianna at He had a 4.0 semester. Way to go, Michael!! And to all the other nontrads out there who had another great semester, kudos!! Our hard work will pay off!

I always tell my children that no experience is wasted if you learn from it. As nontrads, we advocate life-long learning. And that should not just be in the classroom. Life-learning happens every day if we let it. No matter what we experience, good or bad, we need to let it become a learning experience.

I am submitting two paid internship applications to be a student researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, TN this summer. I have already submitted one but am waiting on the other one until my English major sister critiques my essays for the application. A friend of mine told me that even though the internships are highly competitive, the administrators try to get a mix of older and younger folks. I hope my interest in Environmental Studies and population and the environment will be enough to get me in the door.

With that said, I will enjoy my downtime over the holidays with my children and friends. School doesn't start back until January 11, so I have plenty of time to gear up and resolve to finish my college career strong. Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Almost Finished

The further away I get from this semester, the lighter I feel. I took my Spanish final yesterday and am hoping I did well enough to pass the exam and the class. I spoke to other classmates who were also just hoping to pass the class. I am not alone in merely wanting to get through that requirement as opposed to using it to pad my GPA. I still have to finish writing my history final. Will hand that in today.

I got together with some of my Sociology 465 classmates last night. The professor, Dr. Jones, was also there. It was a great time of sharing memories and laughter. I wish all classes could end that way. It's good to download and reflect.

Now I can switch my focus to my family. My divorce will be final on 12/17. That has been a rough journey as anyone who has been divorced knows. But that's a whole 'nother blog entirely. All I have to say about that is that I have been through hell and I am still standing. And in May, I will be walking across that stage to get my degree. So, bully for him!

On to more important things - downloading from this semester. I always take time to reflect on the semester just past and look at the lessons I've learned. As I ponder this semester, the following comes to mind:
1. Don't neglect homework! I would have done better in Spanish if I would have taken the class more seriously and spent time learning the material instead of trying to breeze through it.
2. Hard work is good. My Sociology class was rough because of the group project. We worked hard and learned a great deal. Many of my classmates have said the same thing.
3. Take time to relax. My stress level would have been less if I would have taken time to relax now and again and laugh more often.
4. Take advantage of extra credit, guest speakers, etc. These opportunities make for a richer education experience.
5. Don't take yourself too seriously. It is good to be a serious student, but being too serious leads to banality.

When I was a junior in high school, I took an advanced biology course. One of the things the teacher pounded into us was, "Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny". Translation: species reproduce themselves. I have tweaked that phrase a bit. My take on it is, "Anality recapitulates banality." Translation: If you take yourself too seriously, you become irrelevant to everyone else but yourself.

So, in honor of my semester being almost finished, I lift high a pint of Blue Moon and say, "Cheers!". Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I Can See the Finish Line!!

Today is the last day of classes here at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I am soo glad to bid adieu to this semester! This has been one of the most intense semesters I have had in my college career because of Sociology and Spanish. I had a choice to take another Sociology class from the same prof next semester and I chose not to take the class. I can't take wide-open in-your-face for two semesters in a row, especially when next semester will be my last.

Yesterday morning, I had a Geology final and the Listening Comprehension portion of my Spanish final. I think (hope) I did well on both. I am not shooting for the Dean's List or for a perfect 4.0 semester this time around. This has been one of those, "I just wanna survive this semester!!" semesters. I think everyone has one of those now and again.

What have I learned from this semester? Let me go class by class:
1. Geology - I loved this class! As always, take good notes, pay attention and when a classmate needs notes, don't be afraid to volunteer yours. The favor will be returned when you most need it.
2. History - Read, read, read. And don't be afraid to interject a little humor.
3. Sociology - Have grace with your fellow group members. Always point out the good things they are doing. Get to know the prof. And don't be afraid to interject a little humor.
4. Spanish - (groan) Vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary. Study the vocabulary until your eyes cross. Have a "can do" attitude and don't be afraid to interject a little humor.

Also, don't be afraid to participate in class - answer questions, make comments, etc. The profs like warm, LIVE bodies, not just a bunch of sticks in the mud. If the prof is passionate enough about his/her subject to get up in front of a classroom full of blank faces and teach for 6-10 hours a week, the students should at least pay attention and participate.

I am off to do some Christmas shopping on Saturday with a close friend - major downtime! I am looking forward to it. Hope your semester ends well and you finish strong! Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Are We There Yet?

That's the question I used to hear on long car trips with my children. That's the question I am asking as this semester draws to a close. This semester has been especially intense for me because of my Spanish class and my Sociology class. I can't wait for this semester to end - just five more days!! And then I will be on the final leg of my "tour" - the last semester of my undergrad. What am I going to do when I no longer live at UT? It has been my home away from home for the last four, and especially the last two, years.

I wish I had some sage words of wisdom as I come to this point in my education, but all I can say is, "Please, let it end!" I love being a student, but not this semester. Besides school, I have had volleyball tournaments all over Georgia for the first two months of the school year, issues with ex-husband and an emergency surgery. What??!! But, I'm still standing. Whew!

So, as I bask in the glow of having completed a History research paper, knowing I am on the homestretch of my Sociology project (we present on Tuesday), and realizing this, too, shall pass in five days, I have a few hastily prepared words of wisdom for those who, like me, have had a rough semester and just want to be able to sit down with a cup of hot tea and relax!

1. Take a deep cleansing breath - in through your nose, out through your mouth. Close your eyes as you do this and do it slowly. Repeat as often as necessary to get yourself centered.
2. Take stock of where you've been and what lessons you can learn from that. I got my first F this semester. I have not gotten an F in years. It's rather humbling.
3. Declare the holidays a school-free time. Don't do anything schoolish until the end of the first week of January. Take this time to relax and refuel.
4. Look ahead a little bit at a time. I tend to get totally overwhelmed if I look too far ahead and then I get crazy. Take the future, as with everything else, in bite-sized pieces.
5. Be thankful for the here and now, for the who and how. Every day is a blessing, everyone in your life is a blessing. Focus on what matters.

I will be headed to Florida in a couple hours to spend Thanksgiving with my sister and her family. My children and I need some time away. It will be good to refuel our spirits and spend time with those we love. Hopefully, I will not hear, "Are we there yet?" on this trip. Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My College Visit

I visited Appalachian State University yesterday to talk to them about grad school. First observation: App State is hard to get to. I guess the only way to get to someplace in the mountains is to go through the mountains - duh. Second observation: The campus looks like a combination of Asheville, NC and Northern Arizona University.

I did not get to meet the professor I want to study under as he was out with a family situation. However, I did meet two public history professors - Dr. Watkins and Dr. Burns. Dr. Watkins was intrigued with my interest in environmental history and public history. He said there are several science museums in the Washington, DC area that would be interested in someone with my background and interests. Hmm. The conversation was along the lines of, "You could make your own master's program here." Both Dr. Watkins and Dr. Halliday, the grad school director, seemed excited that I am taking the senior research seminar next semester. Dr. Watkins said that is where I would be able to "test theories". Hmm.

I stayed for the student public history internship presentations. The presentation that grabbed my attention the most was by a young man who was involved with the Ashe County Museum in Jefferson, NC. He was involved with the setup and opening of the museum, which means he was involved in assessing, labeling, interpretation, etc. - all the nitty-gritty, hands on part of museum work. I was jealous. I was ready to roll my sleeves up and go to work where he left off! I still love museums!

So, where do I go from here? Kick some serious you-know-what in HIST 499. Continue to dialog with App State. Continue to dialog with my history profs here at UT. And realize that sometimes getting good things takes lots of hard work (like actually getting to App State!). Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Knowin' When to Fold 'Em

I spoke to the head of the History department Monday, Dr. Burman. He denied my petition for HIST 407 to count for HIST 499. He explained why and I understood his reasoning and I am in total agreement. He also said not to knock myself out over a minor. Dr. Burman said that he sat on a grad school application committee for ten years. In all that time he and his colleagues never once questioned an applicant's minor. However, they did question the relevancy of classes taken by an applicant toward that applicant's degree aspirations.

I left Dr. Burman's office feeling liberated, but disappointed. I would not graduate with a bona fide minor, but I was not going to knock myself out taking 15 hours next semester. He said the HIST 499 senior research seminar would be of much greater benefit to me (learning to research, write and produce a grad-school worthy research paper) than having a minor. I had to ask myself what was more important - being Superwoman at 48 or getting into grad school at 48? I am opting for getting into grad school. I already know I am a super woman. :)

As I left the history building, I felt a bit deflated. I had just folded what I thought was a great hand. But was it worth continuing to bet, especially when I have only one semester left? Sometimes we have to reassess our expectations of ourselves. If we fall within the expectations of our peers (in this case, what UT said I needed to graduate), why do we continue to set unrealistic expectations for ourselves? Like Kenny Rogers sang; "You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk to away and know when to run." I had some help in knowing when to fold 'em. However, ain't no runnin' here! I will walk across that stage in May with my head held high - and my Bachelor's degree in History! Stay tuned . . .

(A BIG ORANGE shout out to the STARS at PSCC - Blount County!! Hey, Guys!!! Hope all is well and your semester is going well!! Kudos!!)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Patience is a Virtue

A couple of weeks ago I was wondering if I was going to be able to graduate on time. Changing my minor in my last year of school seems to have been a bit of a reckless decision, especially when that minor is brand new and doesn't have all the bugs worked out yet. I feel like a guinea pig. However, I thought that since I want to get my Master's in Environmental History, a minor in Environmental Science would be a better choice than a minor in Geology, even though I still love Geology and will always be a geonerd.

Two weeks ago, I was informed I would need to take yet another history course. No biggie since it is my major. Yes biggie since it is a three hour once-a-week research seminar. (Exasperated sigh) I am hoping to be able to petition out of it, but in the event that I can't, well . . . it will give me an extra bump for grad school. Last week, I was informed the economics class I wanted to take had a pre-requisite that I could not get out of taking, even though I have taken two economics class without it. The alternative economics class conflicted with another class I need. I spoke to my Geo prof, who is the head of the Environmental Sciences program. He offered another option that we are going to petition to be included in the minor - an Anthropology class, "The Politics of Oil". So far, I am petitioning one sociology class for another (due to the original class not being offered in the spring), the anthro class for an econ class and History 407 (Senior Thesis) for History 499 (Senior Research Seminar).

Come to think of it, I ought to petition for a General Studies minor since I will have 50 more credits than I need to in order to graduate. I wonder if that is even a possibility? By the time I graduate, I will be soo well-rounded. Wow. Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Safety on the College Campus

As the amount of available daylight begins to wane, more students are walking around campus in the dark. Most college campuses are aware of their responsibility to keep their students safe. Here at the University of Tennessee, the administration has been installing more “blue light” security towers in places that could be a security risk, for example, places that aren’t as well lighted as others (between buildings, behind buildings, etc.).

However, it is not only the responsibility of the university administration to keep the students safe. It is up to the students to take responsibility for their personal safety as well. Here are some general safety tips for college students as they walk around on campus.

1. Be aware of your surroundings. Turning up your iPod and zoning out to the music makes you less aware of your surroundings because your hearing is compromised. If you are going to walk through campus at night, ditch the iPod and stay off your phone. Listen to what is going on around you.
2. There is safety in numbers. Never walk across campus alone. Most campus police departments will gladly provide you an escort if you call and ask them to. Walk with friends. If one friend is parked far away, take them to their car. Don’t let them go alone.
3. Stay on well-lit routes. Don’t go between or behind buildings if you can help it. A “shortcut’ is not worth compromising your safety over.
4. When in doubt, head to the library or another open, occupied building. If you feel you are being followed, head to the library. Your dorm or apartment may be further away. Go to an occupied building, most often the library, and call the campus police for an escort once you are secure inside the building.
5. Lock your doors. Lock your car door as soon as you get inside the car. Don’t stand with your car door open and fumble around for something. Wait until you are in your car and the door is locked before you fumble around. Also, always lock your dorm door, your apartment door, etc.
6. Keys in hand. Make sure your keys are in your hand before you reach your destination (car, dorm, apartment, etc.). You will spend less time fumbling around for your keys and will be less of a target.
7. Put 9-1-1 on your cell phone speed dial. Always be one call away from help. If you are being threatened, call 9-1-1 immediately. Even if you are not directly speaking to the dispatcher, they should be able to track your call.
8. Make yourself conspicuous. Be loud, be obnoxious, scream – whatever it takes to draw attention to you when you feel you are being threatened. People pay attention to someone making a scene and a would-be attacker will be scared away.
9. Do not keep valuables out in the open. Secure your laptop, iPod etc. in an inconspicuous place in your car (the trunk, under a seat, etc.). Ladies, don’t carry around a huge purse and a backpack. Keep it simple – use the backpack only. Make yourself less of a target.
10. If something does happen to you, report it immediately. The police will have a better chance of catching the attacker/thief if you report the incident immediately. Yes, it’s frightening to be the victim of a crime, but being a victim doesn’t mean you are helpless.

Many people carry pepper spray with them. Some even carry tazers. Find out what your campus policy is as far as having items for self protection. Be sure you know how to use the items. Do whatever you can to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of a crime. Take responsibility for your own safety. Be empowered, be safe. Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, October 7, 2010

And Now In the Center Ring . . .

Wow. I feel like I am juggling 50 running chainsaws! Hope I don't drop one! I finished with three out of the four mid-terms this week. I have an essay mid-term in History due next Thursday (10/14). Fall break is today and tomorrow. I am in the office today working on conference things for an Electrical Engineering professor. He asked yesterday if I could help him and has given me a week to pull it all together. Well . . . . It will happen. I am taking tomorrow off as a mental health day. Going with a friend to the Museum of Appalachia's Fall Homecoming and the Greekfest! Great food, great music, great friend! :)

My chainsaws? Three have been removed, thank God. Got a 91 on my Spanish oral exam. Not sure about Sociology and Geology. Another running chainsaw is that I may have to take History 499 next semester, which would bring my total hours to 15. The class is a research/writing intensive class that is now required for History majors. Add to that the fact that I have to take another Sociology class and petition it in to replace one I need for my minor that is not being taught next semester - running chainsaw #2.

The conference, the annual report and other department projects, and the addition of History 499 (like I have nothing better to do with my life) - all are running chainsaws. Am I talented and coordinated enough to keep all these running chainsaws in the air??? If I don't pass Spanish, I will have to take an intensive Intermediate Spanish class which will bring my load to 18 hours. It could be raining chainsaws by mid-February next semester. I just want to graduate and get on with life in grad school!!! Waaaaa!!!

Okay, so what can I learn from all this? There is always a lesson in every life experience.
1. Take a deep breath and don't sweat the small stuff. If I can't petition away History 499, that's okay. It will make me a better researcher.
2. Take it one day at a time. Make a list of what to accomplish today and celebrate the little victories.
3. Remember that this, too, shall pass.
4. Celebrate the fact that I am in school, that my children love me, that I have a job I love, that I have great profs and classmates and friends. Celebrate life!

And hope that it doesn't ever rain running chainsaws! Stay tuned . . .

Friday, October 1, 2010

Mid-Term Mania

It's that time of the semester again - mid-terms; those wonderful exams, projects, etc. that are precursors to your semester finals. I guess it's good that three out of my four profs are giving mid-terms prior to fall break. The lone hold-out, Dr. Hutton from history, is giving us a take home exam. (Groan!) I really wanted to enjoy my fall break!

This is what my fall break looks like: work on History exam, visit to Appalachian State University to talk about grad school, work on History exam, mental health day with a friend and Greekfest, DON'T work on History exam, travel to LaGrange to watch Megan play volleyball, work on History exam. It would be a great fall break if I didn't have to work on my History exam. Such is life.

How does one survive mid-terms, especially when one has more than one mid-term in one day? Take a deep cleansing breath and try these tips:
1. Get a good night's sleep. You don't want to face plant into your desk mid-exam.
2. Eat a good breakfast. The exam-induced stillness of the classroom only acts as an amplifier to your growling stomach.
3. Make sure you get your green book, Scantron or other test paraphernalia the day BEFORE the exam, not the day of. Don't be a Last Minute Lucy and risk being late for the exam by standing in line at the bookstore with all the other Last Minute Lucys purchasing the needed items for the exam that your prof told you about two weeks ago. (roll eyes here)
4. Make sure you visit the restroom prior to the exam. No explanation needed.
5. Relax and just let all the stuff crammed into your head flow out of your head, down your arm, into your hand and onto the paper. Hopefully, it will be right stuff for the right exam!

You can also calm your nerves by singing simple songs like, "The Itsy Bisty Spider" or "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star". I need to learn "The Itsy, Bitsy Spider" in Spanish so I can sing that on the way to Spanish class next Wednesday.

Tell yourself, "This will be over soon and then I am on to bigger and better things . . . like the holidays." I have some survival tips for that, too - surviving the end of the semester while faced head-on with Thanksgiving and Christmas. Another blog. Good luck! May we all get A's!! Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Who You Know

Yesterday as I was perusing through the classes I will need to take next semester, I was dismayed to find out that out of a group of five classes in a certain section for my minor, three are not being offered next semester. I began to panic and double checked my information to make sure what I had found out was the truth and not just me fat-fingering the class schedule. Sure enough. Those three classes were not even on the radar for next semester.

I had a decision to make - panic or figure it out. After a few minutes of sheer panic and visions of having to take one class per semester for the next three years, I set about to find a solution. The group of classes were in a "global studies" section of classes needed for my minor. I need nine hours or three of the five classes in that section. I am already enrolled in one and will take another next semester. I just needed one more class in that section next semester.

I began to hunt for classes that were global studies related. I finally found a sociology class that I thought would fit the bill. I emailed my Geology prof (Dr. McKinney), who is also the head of the Environmental Studies program at UT, and explained the situation to him, offered him my alternative class and asked if I could petition the class next semester. He understood the classes were not being offered and said he would approve my class choice as well as my petition. Whew!

Now a little background: Last semester (spring 2009), I took a biodiversity class from Dr. McKinney. I loved the class and got a B in it. But the thing about the class was that it made a huge impact on my life. Dr. McKinney is the one who got me interested in Environmental History instead of just History or Geology alone. He knows he's had an influence on my life because I told him. Besides that, I am always in class and pepper Dr. Mick with questions. He knows who I am.

It pays to get to know your professors, especially if they are teaching or are in a subject you like, is your major, or that you are passionate about. Profs like seeing students get excited about what they are excited about.

I was talking to a Computer Science prof yesterday. He asked about my educational/career aspirations. When I explained the Environmental History thing to him - the History major with the Environmental Science minor - he looked rather befuddled. He asked, "Those two things don't normally go together, do they?" He's not the first one to ask that question. Most pure humanities or pure science people will question a History (humanities)/Environmental Science (science) combination. (I am well aware that Environmental History tries to be the bridge between two apparently opposing schools of thought - humanities and science) Dr. McKinney doesn't question my academic combination. He gets it. But in Connie's world, yes - those two disciplines mesh quite well together to form Environmental History.

I could speak again to the need for flexibility or offer encouragement once more to step out and take a risk, but most nontrads are aware of those concepts - flexibility and risk. The very category of "nontraditional student" implies one is familiar with flexibility and risk. However, Flexibility and her red-haired sister, Risk, are subjects for another post.

Get to know your profs. They are a wonderful resource! Stay tuned . . .

Monday, September 20, 2010

When to Ask For Help

I am a month into the Fall semester. I am not doing well in my Spanish class. I need help. I have a list of Spanish tutors that I have emailed and am awaiting a response from. I hope I will be able to adequately shore up my sagging Spanish scaffolding enough to pass the class.

I hope that you don't allow being a nontrad to keep you from asking for help when you need it - from finding a tutor to asking questions of your professors and classmates. It's better to ask questions as soon as you realize you don't get it than to wait the entire semester to say, "I don't get it" because you were too embarrassed.

As a student, your fees pay for all sorts of resources on campus. Some of the resources available to students on my campus are: Writing labs, computer labs, student counseling services, private and/or free tutoring services, and student success services. I have counseled each of my three children to take advantage of the services available on their campuses. Those services are there for the students, the students just have to take advantage of them.

If you find yourself needing help, ask for it! Many profs are willing to read the rough draft of a paper, or ask questions, or advise on research projects. Don't be afraid to darken their door during their office hours. Form study groups with your classmates. Take advantage of every service you can - they are there for YOU, the student. Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Excellence or Mediocrity?

99% of the time, I strive to be and to do my best. However, there are those times when no matter how hard I try, my best just doesn't seem to cut it. What should I do, then? Should I cut my losses and instead of setting my personal expectations so high (striving for excellence in something I know I can't attain excellence in) knock it down a notch and be satisfied with mediocrity? What if my best in a certain situation is only mediocrity?

Fall of 2006 was my "Welcome back to college!!" semester with the first half of my math requirement - Statistics. My best in that class was mediocrity, even though I tried my darndest to do my best. I find myself in that situation again.

Apparently, math and language ability both reside in the same side of the brain - the analytical side. The analytical side of my brain just sits there and stares out the window and daydreams. I can't seem to get it to do much. Writing, grammar, vocabulary - that side of my brain is VERY active and I can't seem to get it to shut down when it's time to go to bed. For one side of my brain, mediocrity is about as excellent as it gets. For the other side, the sky is the limit as far as excellence goes.

(Exasperated sigh.) The moral of this story is that I will have to do several things to attain excellence for both sides of my brain:
1. Know my weaknesses and work hard to turn them into strengths. I will have to work harder on Spanish vocabulary.
2. Understand there is no room for laziness when it comes to subjects I am not strong in. This will take personal discipline.
3. Ask for help. My Spanish prof told me "vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary!!"

If I want to go on to grad school, there will be no room for mediocrity whatsoever. I will have to walk in excellence 24/7. No one ever said school would be easy. How bad do I want this degree? How bad do I want to go to grad school? Bad enough to breathe excellence? Stay tuned . . .

Friday, September 10, 2010

Blessed Are The Flexible

I got thrown a huge curveball this week - I had emergency surgery Wednesday night to remove what initially was thought to be an infected appendix but what turned out be a burst ovarian cyst. That means I was out of work and school for two days. So, how do I hit this one out of the park? I'm still trying to figure that one out.

I initially went to the ER Tuesday night with severe abdominal pain, but because there were 50 people ahead of me, I decided not to stay but went home, doubled up on nighttime pain medication and went to sleep. I felt a little better the next morning, knowing I had to make it through my Spanish exam (which I got a 60, or D- on, so I didn't fail it). The pain on my right side got worse as the day went on and I finally left school at 2. I went to my doctor's office. After having to peel me off the ceiling when he poked that one spot on the right side of my abdomen, he immediately sent me to ER. Once there (and five hours later), the ER doc and surgeon both diagnosed "your garden variety appendicitis". However, once the surgeon got in there, he found something totally different. He cleaned everything out and removed my appendix anyway ("You'll never get appendicits!").

My oldest son and his fiance were with me in the ER and my youngest son came up from Chattanooga to spend the night in the hospital with me. My daughter cried because she could not be with me. I am blessed with three of the best children in the world!

When I woke up Thursday morning, I immediately began to call my profs to let them know I would not be in class Thursday or Friday. When I got home, I emailed my classmates to ask for notes. I was reminded that I have an exam today in Geology 202, which I will have to make up next week.

The lesson for this post is --> COMMUNICATION. If you know you are going to have a situation that takes you away from school, let your professors know. Ask for help from your classmates. Don't just fall off the face of the earth for a few days. Profs are much more appreciative and more willing to cut you some slack when you keep them in the loop. In fact, one of my profs assigned a classmate to take notes for me. But then, I make sure my profs know who I am by the second day of class just for this very reason.

Communication - with your profs, with your classmates - is one of the pillars of a great educational experience. You never know when you might need a favor. Stay tuned . . .

Monday, September 6, 2010

Lemons, Curveballs and Lessons Learned

There is a saying; "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." What that means is when life throws you a curveball, hit it out of the park! Life will always give us lemons or throw us curveballs - hand us the unexpected. What we do with the unexpected shows our maturity as a person and as a student. Many people face the unexpected with fear, anger or other negative emotions. Those reactions are normal, but one cannot be overwhelmed with them.

An example: I did not expect to be taking my foreign language my senior year. That is neither the lemon nor the curveball. That is the lesson learned - don't put off your foreign language requirement.

What if you do face something unexpected or you realize you left an important requirement until the last minute?
1. Stop. Step back and take a deep breath. Take a look at the situation for what it is - unexpected, a poor decision. Acknowledge that something has happened.
2. Ask yourself, "What do I do now?" Explore all your options. Do not make any pressure decisions, but take the time to analyze the situation. When my dad died a year and half ago, I was in the middle of my spring semester. I missed a week of school. Projects were due, exams were coming up. What was I supposed to do? I sat down with a friend and looked at my options.
3. Make a plan and start working toward fulfilling that plan. Make your lemonade or lemon merangue pie, or prepare to hit that curveball over the back wall and out of the park! Take control of the situation, don't let it take control of you.
4. Let people in so they can walk with you through this time of uncertainty. Seek wise counsel, not just about your options and your plans, but for your own mental health as well.
5. Stay focused. Don't let the false urgencies distract you from your goal - getting your degree. The unexpected is only a side track, a detour. It is not a new road. Stick with your goals. They may need to be redefined and reworked a bit, but you can still achieve them.
6. Keep track of the lessons learned. They will prove valuable in the future.

Each day is a new day to experience life. And life is an adventure! My challenge this semester is Spanish. I will give it my all. ¡Hablaré español bien! Estancia afinó . . .

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Oil Filter Wrench

A couple years ago, I had to wade through some gen ed classes. I thought, "This will be interesting. But it will be like having an oil filter wrench in my toolbox when I don't plan on being an auto mechanic." Little did I know that the oil filter wrench would come in handy.

Two years ago, I took a Contemporary Appalachian Lit class. Great class. Most difficult exams I ever had to take (part of the exam was to identify 30 quotes from the 30 readings for that section of the semester, title and author of the piece and which character said it). One of the readings was Robert Morgan's "Poinsett's Bridge", an historical fiction piece about a self-taught mason who worked on the real Poinsett's Bridge in South Carolina in the 1800's.

Fast forward to this semester. This is where the oil filter wrench comes is. I am taking the last of my History electives or "Upper Level Distribution" classes - the History of Appalachia. We have to do a book review. I immediately think, Robert Morgan. "Poinsett's Bridge" is in a collection of Morgan stories, but he has written other books. "Gap Creek" is another novel by Morgan. Badda-bing, badda-boom - I ask my prof about it and he okays the book for the book review. Easy read, great story, quintessential Appalachia. I'm not an auto mechanic, but thanks to Dr. Russell Wilhelm, I just happened to have an oil filter wrench in my toolbox that I was able to use again. Who knows, maybe I'll need it sometime in the future as well.

So, what about you? Are you exasperated with taking those classes that seem to have very little to do with your major or your minor? Don't dismiss them. They may be the odd-looking tool in your academic toolbox, but someday, you'll be glad you took them. Besides, an oil filter wrench can always double as an egg ring. Just sayin'. Stay tuned . . . .

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Your Story

Nontrads each have a unique story to tell. Many of my profs have been impressed with my story of returning to school after 20 something years of being out of school. They find it more impressive this year when I tell them all three of my children are in college as well.

Two years ago, I sat in class with a Computer Science teacher who had not taken a computer science class until she was 35. She said she had a soft spot for women who were returning to school. At that time, I was working full time, in school part time and "Momming" uber full time (isn't that always the case - we're Mom 36 hours a day?).

Last week I changed my minor from Geology to Environmental Science. I had to drop one class and pick up another class that was closed. In order to get into the closed class I had to speak to the professor who was teaching the class. I attended his morning class, which he would not let me into. He said to come back to his afternoon class. I did and he let me into that. When I explained why I needed the class (switching minors because of my major and my plans for grad school), his eyes lit up. He said, "We need to talk!!"

I recently spaced out on some Spanish homework. I threw myself at the mercy of my Spanish teacher, explaining that I didn't turn my homework in because I was suffering from Post and Pre- Traumatic Stress Disorder. Post from taking my last child, my only daughter, down to school over the weekend and Pre from having to visit my lawyer again on Friday. He granted me a reprieve.

Being a nontrad is not an excuse, but it helps to speak with your profs to let them know that you are not the average college student who is on campus just to get the degree and leave. You are on campus (or online) because you WANT the degree, you are working hard for that degree, but you also have life going on around you (family, financial obligations, etc.). It has been my experience that profs have more tolerance, admiration, sympathy, etc. for a nontrad who they know is working hard in spite of the other things going in their life than they have for the average college student who is goofing off! After all, I was not out partying over the weekend and didn't do my homework, I was getting my daughter settled at her college in Georgia.

I enjoy reading about other nontrads and their adventures - people like Studentmum, Man Who Stares at Coats, Michael Antonio Dicianna. There are many other nontrads out there in Cyberville. Their adventures will make you laugh, cry, ponder, give you encouragement, etc. Each of us has a story. And each of those stories is well worth telling. How about you? What's your story? Tell it to whomever will listen!! That's my story and I'm stickin' to it. Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Hen Has Landed

A with a loud, "Squawk!!" the semester begins. I survived my first day - two classrooms did not have air conditioning, all three classrooms were overcrowded, and I only got lost once. What are some handy-dandy tips, ideas, etc. I can take away from today?

1. Make sure my water bottle is full before each class. It's sweltering here in the southeast.
2. Make sure to participate in each class. My classmates may think I'm brown-nosing, but the profs like student participation.
3. Do not be afraid to help a classmate in need. One of my Geo 320 classmates is on crutches. I was her extra pair of hands this morning.
4. Acknowledge folks I know from previous classes, even if it's the TA in the class. I did not acknowledge Will in Geo 320 (one of the TA's who was my lab instructor last year for Geo 101)and I'm sure he will have a smarty pants comment for me on Friday.
5. Say "thank you" as often as possible. I had a lot of doors held for me today. (Is that because I am a woman or an "older" woman? Hmmm . . . .) I made sure I said "thank you" to everyone who held the door for me.

Tomorrow I only have my Appalachian History class in the afternoon. I am looking forward to it. Once again, this semester will be a challenge - fossils (Paleobiology) and Spanish look to be the two roughest classes so far. But, as anyone who follows me knows, I love a good challenge! Dean's List, here I come!!!

How about you? Does anyone else have good first day of school experience worth sharing? Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

T Minus < 24

No, that is not a math formula. (Are you crazy? Most of you know I am NOT a math person!!)That is how long I have until fall semester starts for me. Am I ready? Of course not. I still do not have my books. I will probably get those tomorrow or Thursday. I may wait and compare online prices to bookstore prices. I have been so busy trying to get my daughter ready to go to school that I have neglected my own preparation.

Besides books, I need a new backpack, notebooks and folders, and pens. I also need to fire up the mini to make sure she is fully charged in order to pound out notes like a crazy woman. I'm sure once I wake up tomorrow morning, I will be excited. I have not had much time to get excited about my school this semester because I have been so busy with my daughter and other stuff going on in my life. What are some ways that I can get excited about school?

1. Go to the school supplies aisle at Walmart and watch the frantic elementary school moms with their long lists of supplies - things like hand sanitizer, Kleenex and Post-it notes (whatever happened to notebook paper, pencils and crayons?) - surrounded by masses of children all under the age of ten and click my heels together three times while saying, "There's no place like college! There's no place like college!"

2. Go to the bookstore and stand behind the freshman as they field phone calls from their mom (in between texting their buddies about the great party tonight); "Yes, Mom. I'm getting them now. No, Mom, no partying last night. Yes, Mom, there is milk in my fridge. Yes, Mom, I had breakfast this morning. No, Mom, I did not throw the bananas away. Yes, Mom. Me, too."

3. Take a walk through campus and listen to the buzz of activity the new semester has created so far.

4. Walk down to see Jason at the Campfire Grill hotdog stand on the other side of campus and ask him how business has been this week.

5. Stand on the plaza overlooking Neyland Stadium and observe the sudden increase of activity as the construction guys hurry to finish the renovations before the first football game on Sept. 4. They had been working on this all summer, but it seems as if someone suddenly looked at the calendar and said, "Hey, guys. Football season's only three weeks away. Oh my gosh! Football season's only three weeks away!!!"

I need a good night's sleep and a good spray of Eau De First Day of Kindergarten. I should be wide awake, excited and ready to roll with the new semester by tomorrow afternoon. Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Taking Shape

I am always amazed as I watch a potter work with a lump of clay. They take a shapeless lump of something and make it into a beautiful work of art. Today, I am that potter. The shapeless lump of clay is this semester. This morning, I slapped that clay on my potter's wheel and began to mess with it. It is beginning to take shape.

I have Megan's volleyball tournaments plugged into my planner. Funny how I still cannot escape volleyball tournaments! I guess I will be volleyballing it for the next four years. Go, Spike! (That was her orientation nickname.)

Next week, this lump of clay known as fall semester will continue to take shape as my classes begin. I am hoping the work of art produced at the end of it all will yield a diploma come May. Keep your fingers (and toes and eyes) crossed for me!

How about you? What does your lump of clay look like? Is it beginning to take shape? I know I will have to pound it out a couple times during the semester and try again, but I am hoping this semester will produce another work of art like last semester did (Dean's List!).

Good luck. Have fun pounding out this lump of semester! May it produce a work of art! Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Counting Down

Classes start at the University of Tennessee a week from today. I finally have my schedule tweaked so I am only taking 13 hours instead of 16. Plan Q has proved successful thus far. Megan is working the next couple of weeks to get her stuff sorted and packed so we can take her down to school on August 21. Last fall represented a major milestone in Megan's life - her senior year. This fall is my final senior year - hopefully!

As I prepare for my final year, for Megan's first year in college away from home, my first year as an empty-nester and a host of other changes I am sure that I am not yet aware of, I am excited and scared. You know the feeling - like the first day of kindergarten. Remember that? Your own first day as a child and your first child's first day. The excitement, yet the fear all at the same time - kinda made you want to throw up and run to find your mom. The thing is, throwing up is not an option and I AM the mom. So, I need to suck it up, hold it together and walk forward with confidence and grace.

I am looking forward to this semester. I have two Geology classes - Paleobiology and Earth as an Ecosystem (with the infamous Dr. Mike McKinney again), Intermediate Spanish I and the History of Appalachia. Good stuff. Lots of writing, memorizing and lab work. I can smell the late night latte now! As usual, I am jazzed about the new semester. And as usual, I am sure once the end of November rolls around, I will be ready for the semester to end.

Once again, what do I do to prepare? This semester is a little different because of Megan's departure and her dad's job loss. I am going to review my previous posts about cutting college costs and getting ready for the semester. In the meantime-
1. I will make sure I have a good support system in place. I am going to take advantage of the Student Counseling Services. There are many services on campus that are free for students - the writing lab, counseling services, etc. They are there for YOUR use - take advantage of them.
2. I will introduce myself to my profs after class and find out where their offices are. Chances are, I may need to pop in and make use of their office hours at some point.
3. I will also take the time to visit a couple of my past history profs. I will need letters of recommendation soon and I need to catch up with some of my profs.
4. I will look for sales on the school supplies I need. I will also watch for sales for Megan. Neither one of us needs all of our notebooks to be from our school - those embossed collegiate notebooks can get expensive! I'm over the novelty of it all, Megan probably is not. She can have two collegiate embossed notebooks!
5. I will make sure both Megan and I have a planner to write down assignment due dates, exam dates, etc. A planner is a major time management tool we both need to take full advantage of.

I am counting down the days until I start school and until I take Megan down to Georgia. One I am jazzed about, the other is a bittersweet event.

A quick shout out to the PSCC Nontrads - Hey, y'all!! Good luck this semester!! And good luck to all the nontrads out there - new, continuing and finishing. Stay tuned . . .

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Needle in the Haystack (or Keep on Swimming)

I think I may have found the needle in the haystack. I have been searching for an environmental history program. in the southeast I realize I may be going about this backwards. My Philosophy prof said, "Find a prof whose work you admire and go study under him." The only thing is, the prof whose work I admire is at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. That's a bit too far away. So, I wrote to him and asked him if any of his colleagues in this area were "doing" environmental history. He directed me to Dr. Tim Silver at Appalachian State University.

Appalachian State is the little David who defeated the Giant Michigan Wolverines in football three years ago. That's how I remember them! Go, Mountaineers! I emailed the head of their graduate program and received an enthusiastic response. Dr. Linda Holliday told me there are two other faculty in their history dept who are also working in environmental history, though not necessarily on conjunction with US history. At least there is more than one environmental historian on faculty. I was thrilled to find a program that 1) was actually doing environmental history and 2) had some "robustness" to the program in the form of several faculty. I perused Dr. Silver's publications and it looks as if he is doing some things I am interested in.

I am scheduled to visit Appalachian State University on October 7, my fall break. I am excited. Now, I just have to get the GRE out of the way and kick some serious you-know-what in the rest of my classes. This is shaping up to be yet another challenging semester. BTW, I take my baby down to school August 21 (I'll try not to cry much). Then, it's just me, the dogs, GRE math and Geology. Ya, baby! Oh, the point of this post? In the words of Dorie from "Finding Nemo", "Keep on swimming!" Stay tuned . . .

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Create Your Own Niche

I want to go to Grad School to get my Master's in Environmental History. The problem is, there aren't many, if at all, schools here in the southeast that are doing Environmental History. There is one prof I'd love to sit under, but he is at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. That's half the world away from my children! I want to stay in the southeast because of my children.

I have been talking to several people about Grad School. I talked to my Philosophy professor most recently. He said several things (in true Philosophy prof form, where there is never just a two-minute answer to any question), among which were, "Create your own niche" and "You don't go out looking for the knowledge, you create the knowledge (about the subject you are interested in)."

That got me thinking - what exactly is it about environmental history that I am interested in? Can I do it in an interdisciplinary fashion? And why the heck are so few history departments doing environmental history??!! I have yet to speak to a Geo prof and a history prof about this. I will post again when I do.

My own niche . . . hmm. What I'd love to do is take a segment of US history and overlay it with a corresponding segment of geologic history and see where the two intersect. I know that sounds rather vague and absurd, but I want to know how geologic factors affected what happened in human history and how human history impacted what happened geologically. Where exactly do earth science and humanity crash into each other? That's what I want to explore.

In the meantime, are you considering grad school? Are you there now? What has your experience been? How have you created your own niche? Tell me about it. Stay tuned . . .

Friday, July 30, 2010

If You Wait Long Enough . . .

It's funny how sometimes situations have a way of resolving themselves. I asked my ex-husband, "Are you sure your health insurance benefits don't extend for the next 30 days?" He checked and we still have health insurance for the next month - just enough time for everyone to get back to school and switch over to the school policies. Whew!

I am a procrastinator by nature. That is something I am having to fight on a daily basis, especially now that I am a single mom, because if I don't do it, it's not going to get done. I do not advocate waiting in all situations, however, there are some situations in which it is better to wait than to act immediately.

Situations such as financial aid and scholarship deadlines, registration for classes, advisor approvals, taking the GRE, MCAT, GMAT, and other tests, and admission applications are obvious situations where time is of the essence.

I have learned to "trust my gut". Call it "women's intuition", "the leading of the Holy Spirit", etc. There is something inside me that says, "Hmm - hold on just a minute . . ." or "Ask that question again in a couple days." Sometimes, there is wisdom in waiting - to ask the initial question, to ask the question again, to seek the answer. It has been my experience that some situations, when left alone, have a tendency to resolve themselves.

How does one know when to act and when not to act? As a nontrad, the three biggest areas of our lives are: school, family and finances. I need to go back to school to finish/get my degree, but how am I going to pay for it and how much time will it take away from my family? When deciding when to act or not, sit down with a piece of paper and a pencil. Make three columns on the paper. Head one column "school", one column "family" and one column "finances". Take something simple like filling out your FAFSA (which you should have done by now). In the finances column, write "fill out FAFSA". Now, on a scale of 1-5 (1 being the LEAST and 5 being the MOST), determine how great of an impact doing that would have on your schooling and your family. Did you put a "5" in the school column? Your FAFSA determines your financial aid which in turn may determine if you do indeed return to school. A "5" means you act now. If you have money set aside specifically for your education, perhaps it's not going to be a big impact on the health and well-being of your family if you don't get your FAFSA done. However, if your wife is freaking out that you going back to school is going to take money out of the family budget, that's a "5" and you'd better get your FAFSA done now.

Act or wait? Three columns, trust your gut, life experience, wise counsel. What works for you? Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Working Hard For What You Want

When I was growing up, my mom told me that working for something would make me appreciate it more as opposed to just having it handed to me. I think once I finally get my diploma, I am not going to have it framed and hang it on my wall, I am going to have it stuffed and make it into a pillow so I can sleep with it! Sheesh!

Yes, sometimes all the obstacles that are thrown in our way make us want to quit. Sometimes we have revised our "Plan B" so many times that we have gone through truck loads of pink erasers or reams of computer paper or cases of Kleenex!

When times like this happen - you're once again revising your Plan B - put down the pencil and take a minute to look back at where you've been. Retrace your steps. How many detours have you taken? How many naysayers have you silenced? How many profs have you had to prove yourself to? How many late night study groups have you commiserated with? How many good grades have you celebrated? How many goals have you already accomplished? You know what? You're almost there! You will appreciate your degree more because you have worked hard - REALLY HARD - for it! I plan on taking a nap on my diploma the day after I graduate. Stay tuned . . .

Monday, July 26, 2010

Blessed Are the Flexible

Ah, yes. Once again I find myself in that place of having to be flexible. The primary breadwinner for my family, my ex-husband, lost his job on Thursday. That means we have no health insurance. Not to panic. My children and I are all students, we can all get health insurance through school. However, that does mean I will need to work more hours next semester and drop a class. That means I will have to drop a class I really don't need but wanted to take all the same - Introduction to Cartography. Perhaps next semester will be better and I can pick it back up.

One of my favorite sayings, one that I should have tattooed on my bicep by now, is "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall bend and not break." Granted, there are some areas where one cannot be so flexible (like class offerings or times from semester to semester and year to year). However, there are many times when one can and often must be flexible. This is also known as "Plan B". I always have a Plan B. I think by now, for this next semester, I am up to Plan Q - things have changed that much. But that's okay - I know I will not break.

Outside circumstances sometimes happen to our plans and we have to be ready and willing, even though we are still going in the same direction, to take a different route. How about you? Have you had to take a detour recently, employ a "Plan B"? How does it make you feel? Yes, it can be frustrating. But remember, you will still get there, not just in the way you had planned. Hang in there, stay the course and be flexible. Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Dog Days of Summer

I just finished reading Studentmum's latest post. She said she felt bad because there wasn't much going on to write about. Unless one is in summer school, there may not be much to write about that is applicable to being a nontrad. So, how are you spending your down time? Cleaning, sorting, vacationing? I am getting my daughter ready to go to college.

If you are like me and your school year is very intense, you need this time to relax, regroup, refresh. You can't go great guns all year long without burning out. If you are not summer schooling it, be grateful. Take this time to plan for next year. Be proactive by doing things like:

1. Make an appointment with your advisor. Chances are he/she may be out of town for the summer, but email them and get on their "gotta get back to" list. This is a "student academic health check" appointment. Are you where you should be with respect to the classes and the number of hours you need? Don't wait until the last minute, like when you are a few weeks away from graduation, to do your academic health check.
2. Reserve or buy your books. Avoid the rush. Set up the textbook rental if that's how you get your textbooks. Don't wait until the last minute here, either.
3. Figure out what you and the kids will need as far as supplies, clothes, etc. Start watching now for sales.
4. Do a "dry run" on getting to sleep on time at night, getting up on time in the morning, etc. Make a game of it. Tell the kids it's called "School Practice".
5. Clean out one closet. It will feel good to be at least that productive over the summer.

Are there other things you need to check on before school starts? Do you have your financial aid? Do the kids have their immunizations? If you do stuff like that now, you will avoid the rush later. Avoiding the rush makes life easier. And I am all for making my nontrad existence just a little bit easier.

So, see? There's always something to write about!! Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Blogs, New Nontrads

New blogs about being a nontrad are popping up daily. That's good. That means the nontrad population is growing. That means there are more and more people out there who are overcoming their fears and are taking the plunge into returning to school.

Deb Peterson recently blogged about Man Who Stares at Coats, a 42-year old first year med student. One is never "too old" to return to school. Cheers to Patrick as he starts his journey. I can't wait to read his posts!

I think it helps to chronicle our triumphs and struggles as nontrads. After all, that helps others in their triumphs and struggles, too. The biggest thing is to remember - you are not in this alone! If you are a new nontrad and will be walking onto a college campus this fall for the first time ever or returning after a l-o-n-g hiatus, WELCOME!!

Good luck to Patrick, good luck to the PSCC nontrads (Hi, guys!!!), and good luck to all nontrads - new, returning and continuing - as we get ready for the new semester (only 6 weeks or less away!). Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Going to School With Your Children

No, this is not a post about how to be a good PTA mom. This is a post about being on the same college campus as your children or being in college at the same time as your children.

Starting at the end of August, all my children will be in college. I will be in my last year (hopefully) and will be graduating in May of 2011. That's when my oldest son is also supposed to graduate with his MA in Communications Studies.

This is quite a unique experience - being in college with my children. I enjoy that I am able to relate to their woes about assignments, exams and papers. I can encourage them to hang in there and tough it out because I really do know what they are going through. We can rejoice together when we get good grades, mourn when we don't and relate to early morning coffee runs after late nights or all-nighters. This is a different kind of connection with my children. I am still mom, but I feel more like a peer.

Which brings me to my next thought. I have posted before about reasons people hesitate to return to school. One of the most common is fear. I think another reason people hesitate to return to school is embarrassment - visibly being the oldest person in the classroom. That's okay. As a matter of fact, I have seen more and more nontraditional students on campus. We are not such a rarity anymore.

I am beginning to feel more comfortable being an older student on the college campus. For a long time, I felt rather self conscious. Now, though, I have gotten to the point where I am not afraid to participate in class. In fact, it's fun to "show off" a bit when the other students don't have a clue about what the prof is lecturing on and I do because I read the book!

What are some good things about being an older student?
1. You really have "been there, done that".
2. You don't freak out as easily.
3. You don't need to do stupid things to get noticed - your gray hair says it all.
4. You know the answer to most of the questions the prof asks.
5. You drink coffee instead of Red Bull.
6. You know the true cost of your education.
7. You get the prof's jokes.
8. The only person you're out to impress is yourself.
9. You know the difference between the "small stuff" and the "big stuff" and you know how not to sweat the small stuff and how to handle the big stuff.
10. You can have a beer after your last final.

Being an older student is a challenge, but it's fun. It's even more fun when you share the same campus as your children. "That's your MOM?" Yes, and fellow student. Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Are You Lost?

That was question I asked a young man this afternoon. I was on my way to the bookstore to purchase some more items for the conference I am working on. He was part of freshman orientation and he was just trying to get his bearings. He said, "I'm always lost!" We stood on the steps of the Haslam Business Building across from Hodges Library, within sight of Neyland Stadium, across the plaza from the University Center. I pointed out to him that those three buildings - the stadium, the library and the UC - were basically the "hub" of the campus and that if he remembered where those were, he could find everything else.

What about you? Do you feel "lost" as you venture forth for the first time as a nontraditional student? Or do you feel you are aimlessly wandering midway through your program? Or are nearing the end of your degree program, but still feel lost because you don't know what the future holds? Find a point on a compass- like the library, the stadium or the UC.

Many people find their compass in God and prayer, in their faith. If you are not a spiritual person, who or where is your compass? If you are a new nontrad, perhaps that compass can be another nontrad, or an advisor, or a good friend. If you are a continuing nontrad, perhaps that compass can be a trusted professor, a spouse or friend, or a fellow nontrad in your same program. If you are a seasoned nontrad at the end of your program, perhaps that compass can be an alumnus in your program, a fellow nontrad who has graduated and can encourage you in your future endeavors, or a close friend or spouse.

We all need someone to whom we can turn to and say, "I'm lost", who will gently guide us in the right direction. GPS does not work in this case. It takes good old-fashioned figure-it-outedness to get us where we need to go. We need the help of someone, or perhaps a couple people, to get us going in the right direction. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't be afraid to stop and ask for directions along the way.

Are you lost? Ask someone for help. Let someone who has been there journey with you. In the end, we will all make it to that destination - obtaining our college degree. Stay tuned . . .

Monday, June 28, 2010

Grace in Weakness

"No one on this campus right now knows how I feel." I remember thinking that as I walked out of Dr. Sacco's office last November after she had given me the dressing down of my life and told me I would not be able to continue in the History Honors program. I was an inch away from feeling absolutely devastated, wondering if I really wanted to continue. I wanted to cry, but knew I had to get back to my office and get some work done.

I'm sure we've all had similar moments, whether it was the news that you failed a class, did not get the scholarship, or another similar situation. What do you do in that moment when it feels like the proverbial rug has been pulled out from under you? What do you do in that moment of extreme emotional vulnerability? First of all, it's okay to cry. That's a normal human reaction.

Second, give yourself grace in that moment of weakness. I am the kind of person who hates weakness - especially in myself. I am probably the hardest on myself. Yet, I am learning that I need to give myself grace. I need to realize that it's okay to be weak. Weakness does not constitute failure, but a chance to regroup and redefine.

So what about you? Do you find yourself in a place of weakness? Is it frightening for you? Give yourself grace to be there. It is also a place of learning. Let others come around you and be your strength. By giving yourself grace in the midst of your weakness, you are an example to others. Stay tuned . . .

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Now is The Time

This week marks a major milestone in summer - June will end and July will begin - the halfway mark. As always, I am left scratching my head and wondering, "Where did the summer go?"

There are many nontrads out there who are in the throes of summer school or just beginning a new term. There are others who are wondering, "Can I do this (return to school)? Should I do this?" The answer to both those questions is a resounding, "YES!!!"

In the summer of 2006, I knew it was time for me to return to school. I would have one child in college and two in high school - old enough to be able to handle themselves so I could return to school. I sat down and talked about it with my former husband. He agreed with me that the time was right. I applied to the University of Tennessee here in Knoxville and was accepted for the fall term of 2006. After going to an adult student orientation (really not much of an "orientation") which was just speaking to an advisor, I decided to defer to the spring term, but instead entered the community college and took a math class - Statistics. My first class at UT was a Social Psychology class on Wednesday nights. I took US History on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

Was it scary? Of course! Was I afraid I would not pass my classes or take good notes or or do well on the exams or fit in with my younger classmates? All yes. I entered the "big school" with the same wide-eyed wonder I have seen on the faces of the incoming freshmen. Even though I am an older student, I was no less confused, dazed and frightened by my surroundings than they are.

If you are considering returning to school, now is the time to act. Summer is the time to apply to the school of your choice. I, of course, am biased toward the traditional university setting as opposed to the online school setting. However, time is of the essence in online admission as well. Why procrastinate? If you are seeking financial aid, most aid is awarded on a first come, first served basis, so the sooner you get your applications package in, the better. Also, most scholarship deadlines were May 30, or are June 30 or July 30. Most college financial aid offices can help you with financial aid deadlines like that. My friend, Betsy Boyd at Pellissippi State Community College, Blount County Campus, is a great resource for the nontrads on her campus.

The door is open. Are you going to just stand there and think of all the excuses NOT to walk through the door? Or are you going to take a deep breath and walk through the open door to the adventure that awaits you on the other side? Now is the time.

What does this adventure hold? Let's be honest - some bad things as well as good things. Frustration that you may not remember how to take notes, or can't keep up with a prof who's lecturing at the speed of light, or that you just can't seem to understand how that prof wants that paper written. Annoyance at your classmates who think they can show up to class whenever, then whine when they get a bad grade or bug you for your notes. Fatigue when you're studying for midterms or finals and have several papers due at or around the same time. Welcome to the life of a college student. But there are also the good things - the relationships cultivated with your profs and classmates, the light bulbs that go off when you understand how what you've learned in one class intersects with what you've learned in another class, the satisfaction of having written an "A" paper, the relationships you develop with university staff because you've darkened their doorway so often just to ask questions.

Don't let fear, uncertainty, or naysayers hold you back from getting that college degree - whether it's a Bachelor's, Master's or PhD. Now is the time to step forward - be strong and courageous. Just do it! Stay tuned. . .

Friday, June 25, 2010


I've gotten some great comments on my last post. What it boils down to is that pursuing a college degree as a nontrad takes courage, guts and heart. Stay the course, keep the goal in sight, don't let anything deter you. There is a whole community out there, on campus and on line, that will tell you the same thing. Many colleges now have adult education departments and support groups. Use them!

Make me a promise, my fellow nontrads. When you graduate, I want you to send me a photo of you getting your degree. I will post it on this site. I will also post a photo of my Glorious Moment as well.

Let's continue to encourage and celebrate one another! To borrow a war cry, "Semper Fi!" Stay tuned . . .

Do You Really Want Your Degree?

Last week, one of the ladies in the Electrical Engineering office retired. I had heard a couple weeks earlier that she was going to retire, so I asked my boss if that would open up a spot for me. She said no, that they have to replace that position because it is a crucial position for the department - it is an HR position.

At the beginning of the week, my friend and co-worker, Julia, came into my office and said, "Rumor has it you want that job over in Electrical Engineering. Why didn't you tell me?" I told her it was because I did not want the job. Someone must have heard something wrong.

Julia knows that my degree is my priority. I have come too far and have worked way too hard to put my degree on hold now. Besides, I am only a year from graduation. I want to go on to grad school.

The job in EE would represent stability, insurance, a retirement plan and all the things someone my age would "need" to be comfortable - and miserable. I would hate it. I don't like HR stuff, I don't want to work in an office full of women and irresponsible students, and I aspire to greater things than being an administrative professional for the rest of my life. For some people, that's great. But not for me.

I have a dream - to get my degree - first my Bachelor's, then my Master's, perhaps even my PhD. That dream comes with sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears - I know that. I am prepared to do all that - and more. I want a college degree. I want my Master's degree. I am ready to give up being comfortable in the short run so I can make a difference in the long run.

What about you? Do you really want your degree? What will it cost you? What will you give up in the short run? This road is not an easy one. Those who have traveled it, or who are currently traveling it, know that. Hang in there. Keep trudging along. Because at the end of the road is your college degree and that degree WILL make a difference. Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Quotabulary - "The Phases of Life . . ,"

A friend of mine recently gave me a birthday card and gift. This friend has a knack for choosing very meaningful cards. The card she gave me talked about how each new day is like the waves of the ocean bringing new treasures to the shore. Sometimes the waves are calm and bring nice treasures like shells. Other times, the waves are turbulent and may wash up seaweed, animals and even trash onto the shore.

"The phases of life itself are as unpredictable as the moods of the ocean." Renee Duvall

My friend acknowledged that this year will be a year full of changes for me, that I will be facing some very different phases in my life - an empty nest, becoming a mother-in-law, graduating from college and moving on to grad school. I'm sure there will be other changes as well. The best way I can prepare for the next year is to expect the unexpected.

What about you? What are you facing this next year? You may know some of what you face, but much of it, you don't know. Melissa Shanken, ITT Tech's Valedictorian for this term's graduating class, said in her graduation address last night that one's attitude in the face of life's circumstances makes a huge difference. I know some of what I will face this next year. I need to maintain a positive attitude as I enter those phases of my life.

As I move forward with the last year of my undergraduate work, I know this phase of my life will soon end. However, in the midst of this phase, others are beginning. I guess I need to grab my life vest and hang on! Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I have noticed that since I have been searching for quotes to use for "Quotabulary", I have been listening more intently - to people as they talk, to commentators on the radio - and I have been reading with greater purpose. It's like adjusting the focus on the microscope so you can get a better look at what you're looking at. I thought that was rather interesting. Just making an observation.

Quotabulary - Your Attitude

I attended ITT Technical Institute of Knoxville's 80th graduation tonight. A friend of mine is the Chair of the Information Technology and Business Departments as well as the Interim Chair of the Electronics Department. He is one busy man!

I have never been to a technical school's graduation before and I wanted to attend to see what it was like. It helped that I knew one of the faculty members. I came away with a story of inspiration and today's quotabulary quote.

Melissa Shanken was this term's valedictorian. She earned a Bachelor's of Applied Science Degree in Criminal Justice. She earned her degree while attending ITT Tech, working full time and raising her son as a single mom. In her graduation address, Melissa told her fellow graduates, "I am convinced that the attitude with which you handle life's circumstances will determine your outcome." She chronicled her struggles with not wanting to write one more paper, or study for one more exam, but having to do so anyway while still attending school functions for her son.

How many of us have been there? Melissa also said she knew she couldn't quit because she didn't want to be a poor example to her son. Melissa had plenty of support along the way - from family, friends, ITT faculty and staff. She was definitely an inspiration to all who attended tonight's graduation ceremony.

What about you? What kind of attitude do you have? Are you determined to get your degree? Are you determined to make good grades or are you satisfied with just squeaking by? Do you feel like quitting? Remember Melissa and what she said about your attitude. Resolve to handle life's circumstances with a positive attitude. A positive attitude will take you much farther in life than a negative attitude. Stay tuned. . .

Monday, June 21, 2010

Quotabulary - "I See Things Better With My Feet"

I googled the word "quotabulary" and found there were several domain registrations for it and a missing link to a definition, but I did not find the definition itself. I'm sure if I continued to delve into it, and do research via the New York Post, Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, I could come up with a satisfactory definition. I, however, would like to offer my own definition of the word.

Quotabulary, like vocabulary, is a phrase that enriches your communication. However, the phrase cannot be one of those well-known, oft-quoted phrases. You know the sort: "Four score and seven years ago . . .", "We have nothing to fear but fear itself.", "Ask not what your country can do for you . . .", "Houston, we have a problem." and so forth. No. Like the ACT vocabulary, quotabulary phrases are phrases you've never heard of and that originate from obscure sources. You most likely will never hear them used in a common, everyday setting, but it sure would be impressive to throw them out in happy hour conversation every now and again.

Today's quotabulary phrase comes from James Holman, the 19th century blind English explorer. Lieutenant Holman and his party were ascending Mt. Vesuvius in June, 1821. "There was nervous talk of halting the ascent" due to the volcano's eruption. "He had begun the climb quite willing to proceed alone. . . (and) had insisted on hiking the full distance. 'I see things better with my feet', he explained." (A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler by Jason Roberts, Harper Collins, New York, 2006. p. 2)

One can understand this quote to mean a host of things other than the obvious - a blind man using his sense of touch to make more sense of the world around him. I invite you to chew on this phrase for a while. How does today's quotabulary phrase enrich your communication? Stay tuned . . .

Friday, June 18, 2010

I Concur!

Elizabeth Shepherd recently posted this on her blog - "Positivity vs. What You Tell Yourself: Taking Baby Steps" ( She has some good advice for new nontrads or soon-to-be nontrads.

I want to throw in my two cents worth. Returning to school as an "older student" is scary, no doubt. Been there, done that, in the midst of it right now. Each day I am reminded I am "not getting any younger". On Sunday, I will turn 48. That will be a huge reminder that I am not getting any younger. By the time I graduate next year, it will have taken me 31 years to get my Bachelor's degree. Another huge reminder. I want to go on to grad school. When I graduate from that, I will be in my early 50's. Think that's not daunting? Many people retire in their 50's, get laid off and can't find work in their 50's, or are discouraged because they are passed over for promotion in favor of someone younger. The odds are certainly NOT in my favor.

If you're ready to go back to school, I have three words for you - JUST DO IT! What have you got to lose? Like Elizabeth says, start out with baby steps, one thing at a time. Start out with one class, perhaps at the community college, perhaps just a class in something you like - maybe writing, or computers. That will get your feet wet and you'll get used to the whole classroom experience again. Or, if the last time you were in the classroom was in high school, this will give you a feel for what college is like. Being in a classroom is like changing a diaper - you never really forget what it's like (and sometimes it can get kinda stinky!).

Don't be afraid to conquer that fear. There is a whole world out there of older students who have stood right where you're standing. Some are just starting out, some are about halfway there, some are wondering, "Why in the world did I decide to do this?? Am I nuts??", and some just graduated and can tell you it's all worth it. Stand up, take one baby step, then the next and move forward. As long as you are moving forward - that is what matters. Just do it. Stay tuned . . .