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 . . .

Powers of Observation

Like many of my contemporaries, I have fallen under the spell of Facebook. I originally got an FB account to find and stay in touch with old friends from high school in anticipation of my 30th high school reunion. Now that the reunion has come and gone, FB has lost some of its appeal for me. I recently deactivated my FB account because it was such a distraction. That was two days ago. So far, I am doing pretty good and have not given in to it's whiny voice luring me back to the juvenile pastime of posting what I am doing every waking minute of the day. Yes, I know there are some good things about FB - finding "long lost" friends, posting events, photos, etc.

I have a friend in Wyoming who is the Wild Species Director for the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Duane Short. Duane delights in getting out and documenting not only the critters, but also the varied plants in and around Laramie, WY. His brother, Phil, recently posted a photo of Duane, his "observant brother", looking at something wiggling around his feet as he was setting up to photograph a critter.

Duane is very observant - always taking notice of something or other. I thought about that for a bit. Being able to drop out of warp speed this summer to something just slightly less than the speed of sound has been a blessing. It has allowed me to be a bit more observant of my surroundings. I think as a nontrad, I get to moving so quickly during the school year, that life around me becomes a blur. It's nice when the blur slows to the point that it has actual definition.

For example, I have been watching my daughter more, looking at her, taking in how pretty she is. I have noticed that my Dalmatian-mixed dog is getting more spots. I have discovered a new favorite place on campus where I can eat lunch, read and observe the goings on around me without really being noticed. I have noticed that my house gets really dusty. (Sigh.)

It's nice to be able to stop and notice things - to stop and observe and to ponder. Last weekend, I was trimming a bush in my side yard. I noticed a woolly worm caterpillar crawl across my driveway. I hadn't seen one of those in a long time. I probably just hadn't noticed one in a long time. Like Duane, I need to be a little more observant. It's a good thing. Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Grace in Moderation

I've been giving yesterday's post some thought. While it is important to keep our brains engaged over the summer and not let them go totally couch potato, we still need some down time to regenerate. Just don't DEgenerate.

How does one accomplish this? Read! Reading stimulates the brain with things like new vocabulary, comprehension, etc. Reading is walking for the brain - simple, low cost and very effective.

So, give yourself grace. If you don't want to boot camp your brain this summer, at least take it out for a walk every now and then by reading. Turn off the TV, walk away from the computers, toss the cell phones and iPods in your underwear drawer for a couple hours and read! You may be surprised by what you learn! Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

No Cruising Allowed!

Okay, it's summer. Some of us have been out of school for over a month, some are currently in summer school, some just finished a term and some are just starting a new term. Wherever you are in the grand educational scheme of things, you cannot deny it is summer. Heat, humidity, flip-flops, floaties, vacations, staycations, playcations, and so on.

One thing teachers have a hard time with when students first return to school is that they spend the first month in review because the little darlings' minds have turned to mush over the summer. What about the big darlings? Are we letting our minds turn to mush? Are we just setting our brains in neutral and cruising through summer, justifying our lack of brain stimulation with, "Well, I worked hard all school year! I deserve some time off!"?

Cut that out! Get your brain off its fat behind and get it moving! Not being in school is no reason to let the gray matter atrophy! I hear that whining. "So what do we do??" Hear are some practical ways to boot camp your brain during the summer so you (and your children) will be ready to hit the books with gusto when the fall semester starts.

1. Family Reading Hour: After dinner, when all the dishes are done and the table is cleared, turn off the TVs, computers, cell phones and other electronic devices (that includes you, Dad, and confiscate the kids' phones and iPods), and sit down and read for an hour. You can read as a family or read individually - but read. Not mush or romances, but something that will challenge you, make you think, etc. Right now I am reading, "The Untilled Garden: Natural History and the Spirit of Conservation in America, 1740-1840". Not light reading, but very interesting reading. Your children will benefit from this, too.
2. Brain Calculator: When you go grocery shopping, leave the calculator at home. Take a pad of paper and a pen. Manually add your purchases (and figure out the tax). Take the children and make a game of it. See who can come closest to the final tally. In fact, set a budget. See if you can stay in that budget. Now there's a challenge!
3. Math Geography: At dinner, alternate between reviewing the multiplication tables and reciting the states and their capitols. Let one child pick the tables - say the 3's and the 6's or all states beginning with A or N. Or Quickfire - point to a child and say, "Delaware!" That child needs to respond with "Dover!" Or "6 x 3!" and child - "18!", etc. They can do the same back to you!
4. Vegicolor/Fruticolor: How many veggies can you name that are red? Fruits that are purple? etc. Make a game of it with your children.
5. From Point A to Point B: Pick two places in your town a good distance apart. Think about two ways to get from one to the other. Ask your children to do the same. If you're not good with directions, look on a map. No fair cheating with the GPS or Google maps or Mapquest. To make this one more difficult, think about getting from one place to the other from two different directions.

Stimulate your brain with anything that really makes you have to THINK. By the time you're finished with any one of these activities (except for the reading), you should say, "Yikes! My brain hurts!" That's the whole purpose - to make your brain work instead of cruise. Try it. Stay tuned . . .

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Keep On Keeping On

"Never quit." I am sure we have all heard this advice more times than we care to count. But it is probably some of the best advice I have received.

I recently found out that there will not be a job for me in my department after I graduate. The finances will not be there to fund my position on a full-time basis. I am disappointed because I really enjoy my job. Does that mean I give up and not continue to work hard on the projects I have been asked to do? Heavens, no! "Never quit." Even though the circumstances are not what I'd like, I will not give up, but will complete with integrity the tasks assigned to me.

How about you? Did you work hard all semester only to find that you got a C in a class or that you did not pass it at all? Are life's circumstances forcing you to cut back on the number of classes you can take or to rethink your educational goals? "Never quit". Hang in there. Reassess your goals, your opportunities, your abilities. Take a deep breath, step back and say, "Ok, what now?" Research your network -counselors at school, friends, business associates - in order to seek wise counsel before you act and reset your goals.

Life is not a smooth, six lane highway that goes straight from point A to point B. We must be prepared for the road construction, the rock slides, the washed out bridges, the detours, etc. It is the wise man who knows how to reprogram his life's GPS.

I say this all as much for myself as for you all. I am scared to death of grad school and the changes it represents. I dread taking the GRE because I am not a math person. I just have to grit my teeth, put my head down and move forward. I have to keep on keeping on. We nontrads have to stick together and be encouragement for one another. You can do it! I can do it! Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Prioritizing Tasks

I guess you could say this is the sister post to my last post regarding accomplishing goals. One way to accomplish goals is to prioritize the tasks needed to get to those goals.

Take, for example, the goal of making the Dean's List. What tasks were needed to accomplish that goal? Good note taking, studying, class attendance, research for papers. In priority - 1) attend class, 2) take good notes, 3) use the notes and study guides the prof published to study for the exams, and 4) use the class notes and readings for the class to research and write the papers. It does no good to set a goal if you have no idea how to get there. Prioritizing your tasks gives you an idea of how to get there.

How does one prioritize? What's the most important thing? In the case of my making the Dean's list, the most important thing was to go to class. The most important thing may often seem like a "Well, duh!" We often tend to overlook the most simple things. The next most important task was to take good notes.

Do you have a goal you want to accomplish? Sit down and write that goal at the top of a piece of paper. Now, starting from the bottom up, make half-dollar sized circles leading up to your goal. These are your "stepping stones" or the tasks you are prioritizing. The most important one will be at the bottom - where you start.

Perhaps you want to save $100 a month. That's your goal and that goes at the top of your page. Your very first stepping stone would be "$10 in savings envelope by (date)". The next stepping stone would either be another $10 and the date or an increase (by $1 or $2) and the date. Figure out how many stepping stones you will need and fill them in. Once you have done that stepping stone (task), cross it off. Soon, all your stepping stones will be crossed off and you will have accomplished your goal.

Keep those tasks small and workable. Don't set huge tasks for yourself like "get A on first exam" or "save $100 from first paycheck". Start out small - "get B on first exam", "save $20 from first paycheck". There should be a logical order to your tasks - follow it.

Don't get discouraged if you get sidetracked along the way. We all do. Take a deep breath, regroup, and move forward. Abraham Lincoln once said, "I am not so concerned that you have fallen, I am concerned that you rise and move on" (loosely paraphrased). The main thing is that you are moving forward - whether it is with your education or other things you want to do in life. Resolve to keep moving forward.

A quick shout out to the nontrads at PSCC in Blount County - Hey, guys!! Hugs!!

Always remember to keep moving forward toward accomplishing your goals! Stay tuned . . .

Friday, June 4, 2010

Accomplishing Goals

Setting goals and working hard to accomplish those goals ought to be a priority in anyone's life. After all, how does one move forward if one does not set goals? What is there to strive for?

I set a goal this semester - to make the Dean's List. I wanted to be magna or summa cum laude. I ended up with a 3.58 GPA which was good enough for cum laude. I made the Dean's List! I accomplished my goal. Now that I know I can do it, I may just try to set the bar a little higher for the fall semester.

I am taking this summer off, as I did last summer. I was going to do my foreign language this summer, but my finances had to be committed elsewhere. I have the chance to work 40 hours a week this summer - I am going to take it so I can save some money. That means I will be taking 15 hours next fall. I am hoping I don't have to take that many classes in the spring - that I can get away with only 12 hours.

Setting goals gives us direction - what do we want to do? Where do we want to go? Setting goals may seem like an overwhelming task, but if you remember to break it down into bite-sized pieces, it won't be so overwhelming.

Start by setting small realistic goals, like taking that one class at the community college. Once you have accomplished one goal, set another small goal. Work your way up to larger goals. For example, in my first semester back to school I took one class - Statistics. My second semester back, I took two classes. The next semester it was three classes. I am not going to take more than five classes at a time.

Knowing that math is very hard for me, my goal that first semester back was to pass the class. I did - with a C+. I set other goals, like getting good grades, being able to write an "A" paper for my English prof (I wasn't able to do that, but I got an A for the class), and doing well on exams. Now, as a full-time student, my goals are the same, but different. I still want to get good grades, but part of those good grades is receiving recognition for my hard work - like making the Dean's List.

What are your goals? How are you going to accomplish them? Remember, start out small and grow into your goals. Don't take on the world first thing out of the gate! When you achieve that first small goal, celebrate! After all, you did it! Many people set goals, but never accomplish them. Be vigilant, be intentional, be strong and courageous! You CAN and you WILL accomplish your goals! Stay tuned . . .