Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Word of Encouragement

I know it's about that time again - mid-terms. Just want to encourage all my fellow nontrads out there. You can do it!! This semester will be over soon. Gear up now to end the semester strong. Don't wimp out yet! Remember the Little Engine That Could, but instead of "I think I can! I think I can!", tell yourself "I know I can and this, too, shall pass."

Sharpen those pencils, recharge that laptop/iPad and bring on the coffee! Stay tuned . . .

I Don't Get It

I am taking an Environmental Ethics class this semester - it's a Philosophy class. (groan) I have discovered that Philosophy is very much like math and languages. They are all logical, linear subjects. I am not linear at all. I'm more randomly spatially concrete (as opposed to random), though at times, my random musings are anything but concrete - but, I digress.

On my path to greatness, I have discovered that one is either a words (expressive) or a numbers (logical) person. I am definitely words. Words are expressive and can be used like watercolors - splashed all over the place to make a beautiful masterpiece. I have talked to several mathematicians who have argued that logic makes sense and that numbers can be used to define, interpret, calculate, model, etc. anything in the known (and unknown) universe. Math is THE universal language. Hmmm.

I still don't get it - math, logic, etc. I am so NOT logical, numerical, rational. Sometimes I feel like a fish out of water where I work - the Math Department at UT. That has more to do with my learning style than it does with my being a nontrad. Which brings me to the point of this post - do you know your learning style? I would hope by this point in your nontrad life, you would have some clue. However, if not, there is a fabulous book out there entitled, "The Way They Learn" by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias. It may be out of print, but I'm sure one can find it at a used book store. Tobias not only covers the three basic learning styles - auditory, visual and tactile - but she adds several more layers. Whew! It's a fascinating and enlightening read.

If you feel like you don't get it - math, history, philosophy, etc. - don't fault being a nontrad. Instead, fault your learning style. I'll say some more about how to work with the different learning styles later (when I find out where the book went in all the boxes I packed from my recent move). In the meantime, know that you are not alone if you don't get it. Try these tips:

1. Go visit the prof during office hours or send him/her an email and ask him/her to explain (in 50 words or less) what you are having trouble with.
2. Form a study group and learn from your peers. Someone else in the group may be having the same problem you are and may also benefit from the group experience.
3. Use the campus resources - math tutorial center, writing lab, language lab, etc.

You can do it! It took me 31 years to get my Bachelor's degree and it wasn't always an easy road. Hang in there and come back to visit often! Stay tuned . . .

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Long Haul

When I returned to school in the fall of 2006, I fully expected to be able to graduate two years later. Things didn't quite turn out that way. It took me four years - two of going to school part time and two of going to school full time - in order to complete my degree. Sometimes it seemed like I would never graduate. There were times when I would think, "What am I doing here? Am I being realistic? Is it worth it?"

One of the major characteristics of being a nontraditional student that clearly sets us apart from our younger counterparts is that life is happening all around us - aging parents, school-aged children, a mortgage, a job, single parenting, etc. School is just one of the many balls we are juggling. Larry the Laptop, Minnie the Mini and I were best friends for a number of years. Wherever I went - high school and college sporting events, weekend visits to see children out of town, spring break in Phoenix, etc. - Larry or Minnie went, too. Folks got used to seeing Larry or Minnie and me together. I was never without Larry or Minnie, my backpack and books and my flash drive.

Sometimes it seems like the journey will never end - late nights spent studying or writing that paper because you spent the early evening helping your children with homework; weekend afternoons trying to balance time with family and time with the books; scheduling parent-teacher conferences between classes. No one ever said being a nontrad would be easy - and it isn't!! However, there is a whole world of support out there for those of us who have had the courage enough to return to school as an "older" person. Google "Nontraditional Students" and one gets over 770,000 entries! Nontrads are important in many ways, especially as colleges try to reverse the trend of low graduation rates. (

I remember a former classmate of mine - Bob. He was 52 and returning to school to get his degree in History so he could manage a friend's construction company. Bob died of a heart attack in April of 2008 - one month before he was set to graduate. He was always so encouraging - he made cookies for his younger classmates, carried a total of 19 hours, and was an "expert" in many of his history classes because he was more than twice as old as his classmates and had lived through the era they were studying.

You may find yourself asking the same questions I did - "What am I doing here? Am I being realistic? Is this all worth it?" Yes - as a brand new nontrad, a seasoned veteran and an anxious one-semester-away-from-graduation nontrad - it's worth it. By the time you are finished with your degree, whether it's Associate's, Bachelor's, Master's or PhD, you will have accomplished something great. You will have accomplished a huge goal you set for yourself. So hang in there! Yes, it's a long haul but well worth the journey. Stay tuned . .

Monday, September 19, 2011

Are You Auditing?

Someone recently asked me that question after I told them I was taking a class this semester. I never thought of auditing the class. If I chose to audit, I would not have had to take exams, etc. Why would I want to do that? For me, the reason to continue taking classes is to exercise my brain. Studying for exams, writing papers, and reading for the class are all ways that challenge my "aging" brain. I enjoy being in the classroom, learning about different subjects and interacting with my classmates and professor.

There has been a great deal written about "lifetime learning". One does not necessarily need to be in the classroom to be a lifetime learner. Learning happens every day.

Are you thinking about returning to school? Auditing a class is one idea. However, community colleges are cheaper than the four-year university and are always a great option for those "older" adults who want to get back into the classroom. One can also participate in personal and professional development courses that many universities offer. Don't be afraid to get your feet wet. There are many ways to ease back into the classroom. Google it and good luck! Stay tuned . . .

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fall 2011

The new semester is finally here! Classes at UT started on August 17. It was different to be on the administrative side of the new semester instead of the student side of the semester. I am still taking classes, though. This semester I have Environmental Ethics. Looks like it will be a good class.

A few days after the semester started, a nontraditional student came into the office looking for tutoring help. We chatted for a bit. She has been out of school 11 years. Another friend of mine, the wife of a gentleman I used to work with a couple years ago, is also going back to school. I encouraged both ladies and told them to keep going.

As a nontrad, do you feel overwhelmed by this new semester? You're not alone. There is a whole community of nontrads out there who feel the same way. Here a couple of tips to calm those first semester nerves:
1. Break tasks down into bite sized pieces. Instead of looking at the syllabus for the whole semester and stressing out over it, take things one task at a time.
2. Form study groups in your classes. One prof of mine (Dr. Michael Clark - Geology) insisted on study groups for his classes because he said that students do better when they study in groups rather than alone.
3. Make use of the prof's office hours. Dr. Goodding (Indian Philosophy)lamented that no one ever came to see him during his office hours. That's the case for most profs. Their office hours are their time with/for you. Take advantage of it.
4. Reread your notes and keep track of the readings. Don't get behind. Read ahead if you have time.
5. Take a deep breath and take one day off of studying for some much needed refuel time.

College can be overwhelming at any age. Remember to take it in smaller pieces and you will get more done. Hang in there. I am rooting for you!! Stay tuned . . .

Monday, July 11, 2011

Gearing Up for the Fall Semester

It's hard to believe that the summer is halfway over and we have less than a month left of summer school here at UT. The fall semester starts August 17 for the Vols. Even though I have graduated, I am still taking classes - at least one a semester. I love to learn, classes are free for UT employees and now I can take classes just for the fun of it. Besides, I need continuing fodder for this blog!

There are three types of nontrads out there: rookie, half-way and veteran. Each type of nontrad has different needs, but the same goal - to get their degree. How do each of the different types of nontrads prepare for the new semester?

1. Rookie: It's all new to you, you may be a little scared and intimidated, and you may be very uncertain. Relax. A few tips to help the rookie prepare for the fall semester are:
a. A week before you start classes, get a map of the campus and scope out where your classes are. That way, you will not get lost on the way to class. Take the time to familiarize yourself with your campus - locations of the library, student union, your major department and where to park.
b. Don't wait until the last minute to get your books, supplies, etc. Avoid the rush by visiting your campus bookstore early. Other options for textbooks are - online rentals, book sharing, and off-campus used book bookstores. Collegiate logo notebooks and folders are more expensive than the generic brand. The Wal-Mart brand is just as good.
c. If you know who the teacher/prof is ahead of time, drop them an email and introduce your self - something like, "Dear Dr. Smith, my name is Jane Doe and I am going to be in your Tuesday/Thursday 9am Art History class. I look forward to a great class and a good semester." Yes, that seems kind of corny, but when they call roll, your name will already be familiar.
d. Get your laptop registered with the OIT office. Here at UT, first time network users have to register their computers with campus OIT so they can hook into the campus wide wi-fi network. This is another thing that should not wait until last minute as it usually takes about 15-20 minutes to do. You don't want to waste the first 15 minutes of class getting your laptop registered.

2. Half-way: You've been on campus (or online) for at least a semester, so you are familiar with most of the ins and outs of the academic process. However, there may be a few things you have not thought of - things like-
a. Check with the registrar's office to make sure you are on track with your classes. Are you taking what you will need to graduate? Do you need to petition any courses from your previous school? Don't wait until the last minute, like a month before you are supposed to graduate, to make sure you will graduate!
b. Don't leave your hard subjects for the last semester. Grit your teeth and get through math, foreign language or English now. That way, if you don't do so good in the class, you still have time to make it up.
c. Do it now! Here at UT, we are required to fill out a graduation application a year prior to graduation so the Registrar's office can track us to make sure we are on target to graduate. However, with over 6,000 graduates, sometimes that gets a little sticky. Don't rely on the Registrar's office to get your final paperwork done. Start on it ahead of time if possible.

3. Veteran: Been there, done that, can't wait to graduate. You might either have 'tude coming out your ears, or you're making the mad dash to make sure you have all the classes required to graduate (like I did my last year!).
a. Check your graduation report (or here at UT, it's a DARS - Degree Audit Reporting System) to make sure you have what you need to graduate.
b. Pay your fines/fees. An unpaid parking ticket can and will hold your final grades and, possibly, your diploma. Also, make sure all your library books are returned and your tuition is paid up.

Whatever your status as a nontrad, make this semester count! There's nothing like the smell of academia in the morning! Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer School

I am enjoying my summer school class, Cultural Anthropology. It is nice to be in class and not be stressed out about it - I am taking this class for fun. Last night we were talking about material possessions and how they relate to our identity. The teacher asked the class the following question, "You are in a foreign country and don't speak the language. What five things would you take with you that would tell the people of that country about you?" I chose: a picture of my children, my diploma, a book, my Bible and an American flag. It's been a very interesting class so far.

I have blogged before about the advantages of summer school. I think that deserves a re-visit:
Good Things about Summer School
1. No tan line
2. You don't smell like sunscreen
3. You don't need to wear a hat
4. That Philosophy class you were dreading is only 8 weeks long
5. Not as much homework
6. No sand in your bikini bottom
7. You can wear your Birkenstocks and Bermuda shorts and fit right in
8. Smaller classes
9. Your teacher has his "office hours" at Starbucks
10. It's ok to take your shoes off
11. It's still daylight out when you get out of class at 9pm

If you're new to the nontrad community, summer school, especially at the community college, is worth a second look. The atmosphere is more casual and not as intense, although you only have 8 weeks for the class as opposed to 16. Think about it! Stay tuned . . .

Monday, June 27, 2011

Empty Nesting as a Nontrad

I knew that day would come - the day when all my children would "fly the coop" and be out on their own. For me, that day came in August of 2010 when my daughter went away to school in Georgia. I did not have much time to reflect on my empty nest, however, because I was entering the last year of my undergrad work at the University of Tennessee. I think perhaps my own busyness with school acted as a buffer for the realization that I had an empty nest.

I also faced the empty nest alone as I had recently divorced my husband of 24 years. I am in a much better place now. My life is much more peaceful without him (but that's another story for another blog).

I am dating a man who is also facing the empty nest - sort of. His daughter is in school in Georgia and his son is here at UT (and makes the 30 mile drive home once a month during the school year). Bob has a host of hobbies to keep himself busy - cycling, model airplaning, square dancing - as well as a large circle of friends. He's a real renaissance man. We talk a great deal about our children and about empty nesting.

One of the major characteristics of a nontrad is that our busy lives continue on even though we are in school. We have children, aging parents, a mortgage, pets, carpools, cupcakes, Girl Scout cookies, sports teams, dance recitals, etc. to balance with our studies. Whew! I applaud my fellow nontrads as they negotiate through the sea of life!!

So how does one face the empty nest as a nontrad? First of all, are you facing the empty nest with a spouse or alone? If it's with a spouse, this is the time to get to know one another all over again. Take time to include your spouse in your school experience (if possible). For example, take your spouse to some of the cultural activities on campus, go to a sporting event (football, basketball, etc.) together, give him or her a tour of the campus, take him or her out for ice cream at the Student Center.

If you are facing the empty nest alone, make some time for friends who may be in the same age and stage of their life as you. Get involved with folks from your church, or from the community. If you don't have a circle of friends or a support system in place, now is the time to develop that. First rule of coping with the empty nest: DON'T go through it alone! Now is the time figure out who YOU are, as a student and as a person. It's a great opportunity to know thyself as well as to spend time with those special friends in your life.

Nontrads go through the same life stages as anyone else. We just experience those stages with a backpack slug over our shoulder! Kudos to my fellow nontrads who are empty nesting on their way to completing their degree. Stay tuned . . .

Comments on Comments - Encouraging Words

I receive many great comments on this blog. Thank you to all who leave a few words of encouragement, of clarification, etc. It's great to hear about other non-trads' experiences.

Douglas commented that his last experience with college was rough because of ADHD. Now that he is aware of the ADHD, he can better tailor his college experience to work around how the ADHD affects his life. How many other nontrads are facing a similar situation? Kudos to Douglas as forges ahead and achieves his goals!

Jan commented that she will be writing an MA dissertation this summer. That's another good way to battle summer brain drain - writing! Good luck to Jan as she soldiers through writing and defending her thesis.

I am proud of all my fellow nontrads who are working through a multitude of experiences and life situations in order to obtain their degrees. I think of the STARS group at Pellissippi State - Blount County, Studentmum, Michael Dicianna and others who are focusing on their academics as life happens all around them. It takes a great deal of fortitude and focus to be a nontrad. Hang in there, stay focused and keep moving toward your degree. Let us know how it's going!! Stay tuned . . .

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Brain Drain During the Summer

What are you doing this summer? I am doing what I have always done - work. I am also taking a class on Wednesday nights - Cultural Anthropology. My heart longs to be a full-time student again! I love the fast pace, the lectures, the assignments, the research papers, the mad dash to class from one end of campus to the other! I love being a student.

Summer seems to be the traditional time that students experience massive brain drain. Many primary and secondary school teachers will spend the first two weeks of class in August (or September) reviewing in order to get their students on the right track again. I would always do things like review multiplication tables, state capitals and spelling words during the summer to keep my children's brains from turning into mush.

How does one prevent brain drain as a non-trad? Most of us are not taking summer school classes. One word - READ!! Step away from the TV, video games, etc., and READ!! I reently purchased a Kindle for myself for my birthday. (I was told a Nook was better because you can check books out of the library with it, but Kindle is supposed to be getting that application soon.) I don't carry around a book, but I carry my Kindle with me. In some ways, it is more convenient than a book. However, I still love the feel of a book and I don't need to worry about the book's batteries going dead.

Reading exposes one to different vocabulary and ideas and often requires critical thinking skills in order to process the subject (being able to track with the characters or subject, tying ideas and processes together, etc.). Reading also increases one's imaginatiion. What does Homer Hickam's hometown look like? Can you smell the streets of Charles' Dickens' London? What's it like to stand beside Dr. Kay Scarpetta as she performs an autopsy? Can you sense the isolation of Soldier Island in Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None"? Can you feel the heat from the burning books in Ray Bradbury's "Farenheit 451"? Are you there with the first responders in "102 Minutes Inside the World Trade Center"?

Reading fiction takes one away to the world the author has created. I love fiction because it takes me to places I have not been to and might never go to. Reading non-fiction expands one's ideas of people, the world and the universe as a whole. From biography to self-help and how-to, science and the world of discovery. Reading opens doors and exposes one to so many different worlds. I love to read.

Even though you may not be taking classes this summer, that is no excuse to let your brain turn to mush! Pick up a good book for some prolonged reading. I would suggest NPR's reading recommendations or perhaps the NYT Best Seller lists. Those are good places to start.

What has been your favorite reading this year so far (besides a textbook)? I have enjoyed the Jefferson Bass books (fiction) as well as non-fiction ("The Fear" by Peter Godwin about Zimbabwe). I am currently reading Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None." My favorite books of all time are "Though None Should Perish", a medical account of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery, and "A Sense of the World" by Jason Roberts - two historical non-fiction books. Hmm - a history major who loves to read history. Who woulda thunk it?

Take some time this summer to dive into a good book! It will prevent brain drain! Stay tuned . . .

Monday, June 13, 2011

What's Holding You Back?

I read an article on MSN today about Su Meck, a 45-year old mother of three, who recently went back to school to get her degree. What is so different about Su is that at age 22, she suffered a blow to the head that wiped out her memory. She found herself literally starting over from toddler hood. Now, 23 years later, she has gotten an Associate's degree with plans to continue on and get her Bachelor's. I applaud Su Meck. She did not let her fear of uncertainty hold her back from achieving a goal.

So what's your excuse? "I'm too old!", "I don't remember how to study!", or "I won't fit in." Hogwash!! If you want something bad enough, you will persue it. Su Meck could have said, "This is too hard." But she didn't. I have no doubt there were times when she felt like giving up and giving in. But she didn't.

If your dream is to get your college degree, whether Associate's, Bachelor's, Master's or PhD, what's holding you back? Fear is one of the biggest reasons for not pursuing a degree as a 30, 40, or 50-something potential student. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of one's self - these are all reasons given for not returning to school as an "older" person.

Fear of failure: Everyone fails. How do you handle it? Do you let failure cripple you or do you let failure be your teacher? Thomas Edison failed over 1,000 times before he invented the incandescent light bulb. Did he see those 1,000 times as failures? No. He saw them as experiments that didn't work.

Fear of rejection: Like the genie tells Aladdin in Disney's "Aladdin", "Beee yourself!" You will not get along with everyone and some younger folks may be freaked out that someone their mom or dad's age is sitting in class with them. That is their problem, not yours. I made friends with my classmates by just being me - a 40-something mother of three who loves to learn.

Fear of one's self: You don't know your limitations until you push them. You don't know what you're capable of until you try. You don't know how strong you are until you stand in the midst of a storm. Trust yourself. Don't look at past mistakes, failures, etc. Those are gone and you can't change them. Look to today and tomorrow. Do the best you can and then do even better. Challenge yourself. Trust yourself.

Yes, going to back to school as an older person is a risk - financially, emotionally and physically. Taking a risk is like standing on the high dive at the pool looking down. Are you going to jump or not? My advice? Close your eyes, hold your nose and JUMP!! Scream all the way down if you have to! Once you do it, you'll be able to do it again and not be so afraid. Don't allow fear to rob you of achieving your goals.

So what's holding you back?? JUMP!!! Stay tuned . . . .

Thursday, June 9, 2011


My diploma came today in the mail!! I am officially official!!! Saa-weeeet! Stay tuned!!

For the Fun of It

I started my summer school class last night - Cultural Anthropology. Once in class, I discovered that I had gotten the wrong book for the class. I felt stupid, but then I realized it was no big deal, so just lighten up! When we introduced ourselves, I said my name and then I told the prof and the class, "I graduated in May with my Bachelor's in History. Now I work in the Math Department and classes are free for University employees. This class is something I was interested in so I thought I'd give it a shot." I think they were all amazed that I am in class just for the fun of it.

"For the fun of it." There seems to be a huge difference in taking a class as a degree requirement as opposed to taking a class just for the accumulation of knowledge. I feel much more relaxed about being in class - not that I am going to be a slacker and not try my best to get a good grade. That's not it at all. I just don't feel as much pressure being a "for the fun of it" student. Yes, I am still an older nontraditional student, but I feel like a "freelancer". In this class, I am a student by choice, not by necessity.

Hmm - lesson for this post? Learning is a lifelong experience. Many universities offer non-credit courses in everything from computer programming to wine tasting and kayaking. Libraries offer courses in computers. Community centers offer courses in crafting, dancing, swimming and host of other subjects. Wherever you are in your journey - serious degree-seeking student or lover of knowledge - take advantage of the opportunities to continue growing and learning. Stay tuned . . .

Friday, May 27, 2011

Keep Plugging Along

I loved summer school when I was a full-time nontrad. Summer school is good for several reasons:
1. Shorter "semesters"
2. More compact lessons
3. Easier than the regular semester
4. If you don't particularly like the class, you're only in it for 8 weeks as opposed to 16.
5. You can study and tan at the same time.

I am a huge advocate of summer school, especially at night at the local community college. Being a nontrad is hard enough. Any chance you have to make it easier is a good thing. Summer school makes being a nontraditional student a little bit easier.

I will be taking one class this summer - Cultural Anthropology. Why? Because I want to stay in the mode of learning, studying and writing. Besides, I am too addicted to education to quit cold turkey now! I love learning. Now that I am "staff" at UT instead of "student", I can take classes (up to 9 hours) for free. I may as well take advantage of that perk!

To all my fellow nontrads who are also doing summer school, hang in there and keep plugging along. The end product, your degree, is well worth the effort you are making now. I start class June 8. Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Where Are You in the Journey?

I recently finished the first portion of my nontrad journey - I got my Bachelor's degree. Is a Master's degree in my future? Perhaps. Where are you in your nontrad journey - Thinkin' about it? Newbie? Been at it for a while? or Woo-hoo, I have one semester left!! I have been in all those places.

Each stage has its own unique characteristics:
1. Thinkin' about it: Can you really teach an old dog new tricks? Is it really like riding a bike? What will my friends and family say? Can I really do this? My advice: just do it!!
2. Newbie: Overwhelmed, nervous, may exhibit a lack of self-confidence, scared, uncertain, excited. My advice: You can do this.
3. Been at it a while: Ya, ya, what else is new?, knows better than to schedule an 8am class on a Monday, faces in class look familiar, jokes around with the profs. My advice: Keep plugging away, you're almost there!
4. Woo-hoo, I have one semester left: Have I taken all the classes I need?, been at it so long, I can write the paper in my sleep or two hours before its due, guess it's time to figure out what's next. My advice: Congratulations!! Start looking ahead.

Wherever you are in your nontraditional student journey, know that you are not alone. There is a whole community of nontrads out there - online and on campus. You CAN do this!!! The journey may seem long, but remember that the journey begins with a single step. Good luck to all those nontrads in summer school. Stay tuned . . .

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What Graduation Means to Me

I did it! I finally graduated with my degree in History, Environmental Studies minor. It has been a long road that at times was rather difficult. Yet, here I am. I finally have my degree.

What does graduation mean to me? It means the obvious - no more exams, papers and reading incredibly boring books. No more juggling study groups, group work or semester-long projects. It also means the not-so-obvious - I am strong, I am determined, I am capable. I am able to accomplish goals and I am not afraid to pursue my dreams. I am able to focus in spite of personal crisis.

Graduation also means I have a great network of profs, staff and classmates as an alum. It means I can get the license plate frame that says, "Alumni - University of Tennessee". It means that I can hold my head high in the midst of trials because I did something great! As a 40-something mother of three, I went back to college and got my degree!!

The most significant thing that graduation means to me is that I learned a great deal about myself. These past four years, and the years since I first set foot on a college campus in August of 1980 at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, have shown me that I do indeed have what it takes to pursue my dreams and achieve my goals. What next? Stay tuned to find out . . .

I Did It!!

Friday, May 13, 2011, I graduated from the University of Tennessee with my Bachelor's in History, Environmental Studies minor. It was a proud, yet surreal moment for me - a moment that I never thought I'd see. Yes, I persevered through a host of trials (my dad's death, divorce, Spanish) and emerged victorious, but it was still a long road.

There was one time where I seriously thought about packing it all in and giving up. I had gone to see Dr. Sacco, my history prof that semester, about my failure to meet the requirements of the History Senior Thesis class. She gave me the dressing down of my life! I walked out of her office and thought, "Maybe I'm not supposed to be here. Maybe I really don't have what it takes to be a good student and pursue my degree. Maybe there is just too much going on right now." But I really wanted my degree, so I stuck it out and kept going. There were several people along the way who counseled me to delay my education, especially in the midst of the marital difficulties I was facing. To be honest, the most stable thing in my life at that point was school. I knew I could count on the routine of daily classes, exams and papers. I think being a student saved my sanity!

As I look back on my nontrad tenure, there are several things that stand out:
1. Just do it!! Grit your teeth, forge ahead and don't look back!
2. Silence the naysayers. Even though I had lots of positive support, there were still a few negative voices. They were the ones who were my inspiration to continue. "Oh, ya? I'll show you!!"
3. Anything is possible. Don't let life stand in the way of achieving your dreams.
4. Find support. Being an older nontrad can sometimes be a difficult place to be. Build a good support group of family, friends and other nontrads.
5. Have faith in yourself. You can achieve things you never thought possible when you make up your mind to just do it!

My children, especially my daughter, have been greatest cheerleaders. We've walked this road together so many times (studying for exams, writing papers, etc.). I think being a nontrad has served to further cement my relationships with my college-aged children.

Are there things I would have changed? Yes. I would have studied more, read more and tried to be better student in the face of personal crisis. That may sound like I am being hard on myself and I guess I am. However, I do have a chance to be a better student as I will be taking one class a semester to keep myself "sharp" and possibly work toward a Master's degree. There are other things I would not change - getting to know some of my profs, making friends with my younger classmates and working in the EECS department.

All in all, it's been a great ride, but I'm glad its over. I will still blog about being a nontrad because I will still be a nontrad. I love being a student! Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

No Homework

Not sure what to do with myself now that I don't have any homework to do every night- no papers to write, no verb declensions to study, no books to read, and no information to memorize. Hmm - what to do?

This is an unusual place for me to be because for the past four years, I have been going to school non-stop as well as working part time and Momming full time. I won't be here long, though, because I will be taking a summer school class. Imagine the looks I am going to get when I introduce myself and say, "I already graduated. I am just taking this class for fun."

As an employee of the university, I can take classes for free (up to 9 hours). So, as long as I am taking the classes for free, why not take something I like (that is also available at night)? I am going to take Cultural Anthropology on Wednesday nights this summer. I have already taken Cultural Geography - it is going to be interesting to see where the two intersect. That's another cool aspect of taking a class a semester - where does all this knowledge intersect? Is it at the spatial perfect storm? The intellect's whirlpool that leads to an upside-down world of rational free-floating inquisitive thought? Maybe it will just all make sense some day.

For now, I am basking in the glow of no homework, another successful semester and graduation. Homework will come soon enough and then I will probably complain about the amount of reading and writing I will have to do for class. Come Friday, I will finally have my Bachelor's degree in something I like. That will be a huge accomplishment!! Stay tuned . . .

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dating as a Nontrad

I ran across this subject this morning as I was checking my Facebook account. Elizabeth Shepherd found this subject adressed in her Yahoo nontrad group. Dating is something I have thought of, but not in the context of being a nontrad. My dating experience is more of a late-40something, getting back into the swing of things dating that has nothing to do with being a student.

Honestly, I don't think I would want to date a classmate or professor. I guess that leads to the question of where does one go to find a "companion"? There are lots of resources. I found a wonderful man through an online dating site. Yes, I know online dating still carries a stigma. One has to wade through tons of fraudluent profiles, bad first dates, etc. to find someone worth investing in. But wouldn't you have to do that anyway with face-to-face dating? The only advantage with online dating is that one has more access to more people in a shorter period of time. And, for a nontrad who is busy with school, etc., online dating can save a great deal of time.

However, one must still be cautious with online dating. Some tips I have run across are:
1. Don't reveal too much about yourself. Email first and then decide if you want to meet.
2. Meet for the first time in a well-lit, easy to find place. Take your own car. Meet in a group situation with some of your friends.
3. If at any time you feel uncomfortable about your date, trust your instincts. Don't move forward with it.
4. Ask questions. Be cautious about how much information you share.
5. Don't allow yourself to be pressured into doing something you don't want to do - have sex, go back to his place, etc.
6. Set boundaries. Don't be pressured into the amount of time you will spend with him/her, etc.
7. Always let someone else know where and with whom you are going. SAFETY FIRST!

I have discovered that the parameters for dating now are alot different than they were when I was 18. The best advice is to relax and be yourself, trust your instincts and know your boundaries. There is someone special out there. It just takes time to find them. I know because I found my special someone. Stay tuned . .

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I took my last final today as an undergrad. I hope I passed. It was in my most difficult class - Spanish. For some folks, language is no big deal. However, because language and math reside in the same part of the brain - the logical part - language is difficult for me. If I had another 16 weeks, it would be fine. Since that's not the case, I just had to make do. I studied for three days. Even if I did not pass the class, I will still be able to walk, just as long as I make it up in summer school. I am hoping I passed the class.

Don't write me off as a nontrad has-been just yet!! I plan to enter grad school as a non-degree seeking student so I can take classes and take my time studying for the GRE. As an employee of the university, I will be able to take classes for free. Maybe I can get my Master's totally paid for by the university! We'll see.

Hello, my name is Connie and I am an education addict! I love being a student!!

Okay, application time. As I reflect back over the last four years as a nontrad, what have I learned??
1. Just do it!! Deciding to go back to school as an "older" student is like jumping off the high dive at the pool - grit your teeth, close your eyes and jump!!! If you spend time questioning and second guessing yourself, you'll never get it done.
2. Find/Build a support structure. Nontrads need all the support they can get because returning to school can be a frightening prospect. In case you're wondering - yes, you will fit in with the younger crowd; yes, you will remember how to take notes, study and write; yes, you will learn how to manage your time; yes, you can do this!! Also remember to form study groups in your classes.
3.Take advantage of on-campus resources. The Writing Center, the Math lab, the Student Success Center, the Student Counseling Center, etc. - they are all there for you to use so you can be a successful student.
4. Give yourself grace. It may take a while for you and your family to get the hang of this, so give each other grace, grace and more grace.
5. Start out small. Start at night at the community college. That way, you can find out if returning to school is something you really want to do and you won't spend a fortune in the process. Attending school part time at night will also ease your family into the idea as well.
6. Ask lots of questions - from other nontrads, from the admissions office, from your family and friends. Question everything and everyone! The more you know, the better off you'll be. Never be afraid to ask questions.
7. Recycle old school supplies. Only used half a notebook last semester? Tear out the old notes, file them, and use the rest of the notebook next semester.
8. Rent textbooks whenever possible. Profs seem to change book editions each semester. Don't get caught with a textbook you don't want or need. Renting textbooks makes more sense unless it's a consumable book like a workbook.
9. Get to know your profs. Some of these folks will be good references and may end up as life-long friends. Dr. McKinney saved my arse several times this semester regarding the hoops I had to jump thru for my minor (Environmental Studies). Most profs will be impressed with your efforts to return to school.
10. Take your time. If you cannot be a full-time student each semester, that's okay. It's also okay to bi-school - take classes at the community college and the university at the same time. Just don't burn yourself out. Have fun being a student.

I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of my nontrad experience. There have been some difficult times as a student, especially when life was happening at the same time (my dad's death, my divorce, empty nesting alone). I had a good support system - family, friends, other nontrads (thanks to Deb, Elizabeth and Betsy at PSCC - Blount County). Now that I (almost) have my Bachelor's degree under my belt, there ain't nuthen I cain't do!! Watch out, world!!! Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Blessed are the Flexible, Part II

Once again, flexibility is a virtue! I had to give an oral presentation of my Geography research paper today. I had a great Power Point prepared, complete with cool videos, BUT the projector in the classroom was broken. So, I had to give the presentation without visual aids. THEN I got to my history class to discover I had forgotten about the oral report I had to give for my paper in there. That was a bigger "flex" since I was totally unprepared.

So, what did I learn from this?
1. Hard work does pay off, even if it's not always immediately noticed. My Geography prof was impressed with my information.
2. Always have your flash drive and computer with you!! That's what saved my backside in History today!
3. ALWAYS be flexible!! 99% of the time, life does not go as planned. Suck it up, laugh about it, regroup with Plan B and move on!
4. If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with something else!

Whew! School is almost over. Fingers crossed that I will indeed graduate! Stay tuned . . .

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Blessed are the Flexible

My life motto is, "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall bend and not break." If I do indeed take that to heart, I should be a circus contortionist by now and be able to fit into one of those little plexiglass boxes.

I found out on Thursday that: I have another week to work on my history paper, I have to write a 10-page paper for my Geography final (I an not taking the final at the same time as my classmates), and I will be presenting my research paper in Geography on Tuesday which will require a 10-minute Power Point presentation. Good thing I love to write and am not afraid of words!

As a nontrad, one of the best qualities to possess is FLEXIBILITY. Life does not always go as planned, "surprises" pop up now and again, and you have to be able to roll with the punches. There are several instances in my nontrad life where I have had to be as flexible as Gumby - missing a week of school when my dad died, not being to take Intermediate Spanish II during summer school, spending every weekend this past fall on the road to volleyball tournaments for my daughter and losing valuable study time, changing my minor, etc.

"The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray." I think that saying ought to be "The best laid plans of mice and men ALWAYS go astray." When your plans don't work out, you can respond in one of two ways: get really angry and stomp around, shaking your fist at the sky, OR take a deep breath, regroup and ask, "What do I do now?" and move forward with Plan B. I am a big advocate of Plan B - and Plan Z if necessary. Life is a learning experience and learning to be flexible is a great lesson to learn.

As you face the end of the semester, do you need a Plan B? Or do you need to be a tad more flexible with school, work, or home circumstances? Learning to be flexible will take you a long way. You won't get as frustrated and you may just find out that Plan B was the better plan anyway. Stay focused, but stay flexible and stay tuned . . .

P.S. I also wanted to share this short film called "The Butterfly Circus" that was shared with me by a very wise woman - Betsy Boyd at Pellissippi State Community College, Blount County campus. It is about making the most of what you have and who you are. It's well worth the watch.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gettin' There

I'm almost at the end of this journey. All that stands between me and that diploma is: Spanish oral and final exams, a History paper, a Geography test and three unpaid parking tickets. How ironic that graduation is Friday the 13th (of May). Isn't that a fitting way to end my nontrad journey?

I found out that I did indeed get the job in the Math Department. I will start that after I graduate. That's another irony - that me, Miss No-Numbers, will be working in a numbers department. My mom said she hopes some of "it" - the ability to do math and do it well - will rub off on me. Perhaps by osmosis I will be able to derive the quadratic equation in my sleep. Fat chance. Give me words any day!

I am sure there are those out there in nontrad cyberspace who may be waiting with baited breath for some profound words of wisdom as I come to the end of my journey. I am not one to disappoint, so here goes:

1. Just do it!! Don't sit around and debate whether you should go back to school or not, just do it!! Time is short, grants are being cut and who knows what the next few years will hold economically? Grit your teeth, close your eyes and JUMP!
2. Plan. Sit down with your family and make a family game plan for meals, chores, etc. Learn how to manage your time well. Explore funding resources such as scholarships, grants., etc. Apply early and fill our your FAFSA early. The early bird really does get the choicest worm!
3. Pace yourself. Rome wasn't build in a day, neither should your degree be built in a day. Start out slow and small at the community college. That way your pursuits will be less of a shock to you and your family.
4. Get support. Join an online or on campus nontrad group. No one but another nontrad knows the joys and disappointments of being a nontrad.
5. Be realistic. It may take you some time to get back into the swing of researching, studying and writing again. Give yourself some grace. This is another reason to start out slow - to ease you back into the flow of being a student again.
6. Explore ways to save money. Check out textbook rentals, recycling school supplies, taking the bus to school, etc. Be creative.
7. Take some time for yourself. Going back to school may be a shock to you and your family. Take some time alone to refuel and take some time with your family to let them know you have not "forgotten" about them. Declare at least one day a month as a "no study day".
8. Show appreciation - to your family, to your support group, to your professors, to your classmates, to yourself. It's rough being a nontrad when life is happening all around you. Thank those in your life who step in to make this time a little easier for you.

Above all, remember - YOU CAN DO IT!!!! I have faith in you. Deb Peterson has faith in you. Elizabeth Shepherd has faith in you. Dozens of other nontrads have faith in you. In the midst of the mortgage, the school plays, the three dozen cupcakes or cookies, your spouse being on travel for a week, the college visits for your 17-year old, and the calls from your mom, tell yourself, "I WILL do this!!"

There are three important things to remember: take a deep breath, walk before you run, and just do it. I did it. You can, too. Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Crunch Time

It's that time of semester again when we experience the crunch of final projects and exams. There is a policy here at UT that says a prof cannot give a test/quiz/project worth more than 10% of a student's grade within 7 days of the final. Sooo, that means all the profs are scrambling to get all their remaining tests/quizzes/projects completed within the next two weeks. When the profs scramble, the students scramble even more. Needless to say, there's a lot of scrambling going on at UT these days. My only comfort is that this semester's end is not like the end of the fall semester where we are not only dealing with finals, but the holidays as well. However, Easter is rather late this year . . .

What are your best tips for dealing with "crunch time"? This is my eighth and final semester here at UT (provided I pass Spanish) and I have learned a lot about dealing with semester end. Some things I've learned are:
1. Pace yourself: Don't wait until the last minute to get all the projects. papers, etc. done. You will needlessly wear yourself out. Learn how to effectively manage your time.
2. Don't panic! Take a deep breath and knock out one thing at a time. Three papers due on the same day? Work on one at a time and when it's done, it's done. Move on to the next one. Same thing with study groups - one at a time.
3. Review: take the time to read over your notes for your class(es). This is helpful when the prof springs a last-minute quiz on you.
4. Get a good night's sleep: It's useless if you can't stay awake during class - 'nuf said.
5. Take some downtime: Even if it's one afternoon or one night during crunch time. You need time to refuel and de-stress. Declare that time a "study free zone".

Every semester comes to this - final exams, projects and papers. How well you end the semester is up to you. Are you going to panic during crunch time or are you going to take a deep breath and pace yourself? Good luck as you finish the race that is this semester. Finish strong!! Stay tuned . . .

Monday, April 11, 2011

Something Different

I had a great time with the Pellissippi State Community College nontrad group, STARS, today. We ate lunch at Mellow Mushroom on the strip, then took a tour of campus. I was excited to see how Chris and Courtney were progressing and jazzed to meet some new nontrads. Their stories were all very different and very exciting. I wish you all the best as you accomplish your goals!

A couple of things came up that I'd like to address.
1. Transferring from a small campus to a large one.
This can be very intimidating, especially if you are someone who thrives on the smaller campus. Keep it all in perspective. Chances are your "world will shrink" (thank you, Betsy!). Your sphere will only be those areas of campus close to your college (Business, Arts and Sciences, etc.). Don't panic!
2. How do I find my way around? Get a map of your campus and explore on a day when it's not so busy - like during the summer. Grab a cold drink and your map and just meander through campus. You can do this more than once to make sure you feel "solid" and not lost when you get onto campus for your classes.
3. "Bi-schooling". You can take classes at both the community college and the university at the same time. Just make sure your schedule allows for enough time to get from one campus to the other and find parking, etc. Also make sure the classes you take at the community college will transfer to the university. Most will, but check with your advisor at the community college.
4. Questions, questions, questions. The following are the places you need to go to find out what you need to know. Admissions office - the beginning (admission) and questions about housing,etc. Financial aid office - how to get money for school. Registrar's office - your student records. Bursar's office - pay fees, disbursement of excess financial aid. Your college of choice - advising and how do I get there (a degree) from here (where I am currently in my academic journey).

Check out the university website as well. Learning to navigate in academic cyberspace is a great benefit. Follow up on applications, etc. And above all, ask lots of questions! That's the only way you'll learn what you need to know.

Good luck to the Pellissippi STARS as they look forward to reaching their goals! Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nontraditional Success

I was just reading Deb Peterson's blog about "The Top Reasons Non-Trads Don't Succeed". There is no question that returning to school as an older student can be a bit daunting when life is happening all around you. Our younger counterparts don't have careers, children, mortgages, marriages, aging parents, and other responsibilities of adulthood. The top reason Deb sited for Nontrads crashing is the inability to balance family, work and school. Been there, done that and survived it. My #1 tip for survival as a nontrad is to find a support group - online, on campus, in the community. No one but another nontrad can relate to all the balls we must constantly keep in the air. I have previously likened this delicate balance to juggling chainsaws.

I will soon be graduating. I won't be totally out of the nontrad community though, because I will still be taking classes - not for a major, but for fun and to keep myself "sharp". I love learning - it is truly a lifelong process.

So how does a nontrad succeed? Let me address the statistics from Deb's blog.

1. 30% of nontrads have difficulty balancing life, work and school. * Realize that your life is going to change as a nontrad. Sit down with your family and let everyone know that now is the time to step up to the plate. Your success depends on their willingness to help out - with household chores and with being more responsible for themselves.
* Start out small - at the community college at night. Don't bite off a huge chunk if you can help it. Start out with one class - on campus or online. That will get you and your family's feet wet and show you all what this (mom/dad going back to school) will look like.
* Learn to manage your time better. Don't waste time. Prioritize - at home and at work.

2. 26% had trouble with finances.
* Look into financial aid - grants, loans, employer match programs, community grant programs, etc.
* Set aside a little bit of money each month for future school expenses.
* Look for ways to save money, like textbook rental instead of purchase, or recycle/reuse your children's old school supplies.

3. 13% were ineffective at completing projects.
* Form study groups in your classes to help with your motivation. Spur each other on to do well.
* Find a support group - on campus, online, in the community. Share your experiences.
* Time management. Don't get behind on homework or projects
* Ask your prof for help. That's what the profs are there for. Use their knowledge and expertise.
* Use the on-campus resources - the Student Success Center, the Writing Center, the Math Lab, etc. That's part of why you pay tuition. Get your money's worth out of school!!

4. 9% had lack of commitment. If you aren't willing to work hard 24/7/365, then don't even consider going back to school. School will be a huge commitment for the next 2-4 or more years. If you're not willing to commit to that, then don't waste your time and money.

5. 8.6% had health problems or lack of support.
* An online program would be best if you are homebound.
* The online nontrad community is HUGE - tap into it! Many colleges and universities are also beginning to see nontrad support groups spring up on campus. Be a hound dog and hunt out those support groups! I had a one-woman support group in one of my instructors. My CS 102 instructor, Ms. Wallace Mayo, has been one of my biggest cheerleaders! I am soo grateful for her support.

What's standing in the way of you and success?? Let's talk about it! Deb Peterson at is a great resource. So is Elizabeth Shepherd at Being a nontrad is a huge commitment - of time, money and guts! Talk to your family and friends before you take the plunge. Make sure you have their support before you go forward. Ask questions about financial aid, classes, credit for work, etc. Your life will change in a major way when you decide to pursue that degree. Balance and commitment will ensure your success as a nontrad. Don't be afraid to follow your dreams. Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Research Update #2

I went to TDOT (Tennessee Department of Transportation) on Monday and Liz the Librarian had lots of great information for me. Betty, who came along as my research assistant, and I spent three hours with Liz and the cool stuff she had. She found even more documents while I was there. I was excited.

We then went over to the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA), but had less than an hour to go through what they had. I asked the Manuscript Librarian to pull some documents and I will be returning to Nashville on Saturday to complete my research at TSLA. It should be good weather for the drive.

I am feeling like a hound dog again - sniffing out leads. It's exhilerating! As I read through different folders of correspondence, I get a feel for the time period I am looking at. For example, I was reading through a folder of correspondence on Saturday to the Knox County highway official. The majority of people wrote to tell him their road was in bad shape. He was relatively timely in answering their complaints. One gentleman even put a P.S. as "See if you can find some tickets to the UT-Vanderbilt football game and send them my way." The official replied, "Those (tickets) are pretty hard to come by." And that was in the mid-50's! One can learn a great deal by just reading "between the lines" of some of these letters.

Even though research is time consuming and can be tedious, it is well worth the time one takes to do it. There is so much more to learn off-topic! Are you in the middle of doing research for a project? Relax! Enjoy the time you have and approach the research not as a tedious task, but as a multi-faceted learning experience. Learning, like life, is an adventure! Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Research Update

Now I know what it feels like to be a hound dog. I had a couple topics for my senior research paper. I sniffed around until something finally smelled real good. Now I am pursuing that delicious smell all the way to Nashville. No, it's not BBQ, but TDOT (Tennessee Department of Transportation). I contacted the assistant PR person at TDOT. She put me in touch with their librarian, whom I am meeting with on Monday. A good buddy of mine and I are driving to Nashville to see what Liz has for me. She said I'd be happy with what she found. Nothing like good archival information!

I have come to the conclusion that being a historian is like being a hound dog - figure out what that smell is and chase it down! Don't get distracted by other smells, but concentrate on that one thing and soon, you'll find the source and all will be well.

As I work on my research paper, I am reminded that this is what I love to do - research, write, and be a hound dog. I love being a student!!! Spring break is next week - the last spring break of my college career. Wow - it's gone by fast. Gotta get my nose to the ground!! Stay tuned . . .

Life Happens

As a nontraditional student, I have much more going on in my life than just school. I know y'all can relate. In the four years since I have gone back to school, one child has graduated from college, two children have graduated from high school, my dad died, my ex-husband attempted suicide, I got divorced, my son is getting married, and I have racked up countless miles going to high school and college volleyball tournaments. I still have a mortgage, household repairs, and the crazy details of life as a middle-aged single mom. Whew! The flurry of activity can be overwhelming, dizzying and just plain crazy sometimes.

Luckily I found a great man to share some of this with. His name is Bob, he's an engineer, he has two college-aged children and a dog, he is 6'4", he is 6 years older than me and he is a widower. He cycles in his spare time and is very mechanical. He reads a lot, too. He is very wise. We enjoy one anothers' company. We've seen plays, heard lectures, gone on walks, attended UT basketball games and survived a small home repair event. The next test of the relationship, according to Bob, will be a road trip. Hmm - the Biltmore in Asheville, NC perhaps??

I am set to graduate in May and know that life will not stop just because I am finally graduating. I will trade the academic world for the working world. My house and the mortgage will still be here. My children will still be here. My dogs will still be here. Bob will still be here. Life happens . . . . and it's a grand adventure!! Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Good Things Come

Last week, I received an email from a "graduation specialist" here at UT telling me there were problems with my classes and that I would not be able to graduate. That was not something I wanted to hear. I have worked long and hard up to this point and all I want to do is to be done with Spanish. After several emails back and forth, Susan finally called me.

"Are you getting a second major?"
"No. My major is History with an Environmental Studies concentration."
"You can't do that."
"What do you mean?"
"You can't get a 'concentration' with a History major."
"This is the first I am hearing about this."
"Well, you can't do it."

Eventually, things worked out and I will be able to graduate with an Environmental Studies minor after all. I was able to petition two previous classes into the minor. It pays to know the chair of the Environmental Studies program. (Thanks, Dr. McKinney!!)

Needless to say, I was a little panicked there for a few minutes. After all, this has been a long, hard journey. I don't want to be told I can't graduate! (Now I just have to pass Spanish!)

What if things had not worked out? One must always have a Plan B. If things had not worked out, I still would have had a "concentration", it just would not have been "official". What's the "take home point" from this experience? There are several:
1. Don't panic.
2. Be flexible.
3. Thank God for your network.
4. Don't make any hasty decisions.
5. Things are always workable in some form or another.

Good things come to those who don't panic, are flexible and wait. Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Researching the Research

It can be quite frustrating to have a great topic for a research paper but not have any sources for that topic. That happened to me this week. I wanted to research segregation in Knoxville's cemeteries. The only source I found was Mr. Robert McGinnis, Knox County's Cemetery Historian. When asked about resources other than him (like primary and secondary documents), he replied, "I'm it." For those of you who have done a major historical research project, you know how critical it is to have good primary sources. Without them, your research is a waste of time.

Soooo, I must find another topic. I have several ideas, but am researching sources before I settle on one topic. Topics I am considering are: The Development of the Interstate Freeway System in Tennessee from 1950-2000, The Evolution of Market Square, Knoxville's 20th Century Fine Arts Landscape, The Development of Knox County's Museum Culture, Building World Class Architects: UT's College of Art and Architecture.

I need to nail this down by tomorrow. I'll keep you posted. Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Don't Delay!

Deb Peterson recently blogged about returning to school:

I know this topic has been addressed many times, but it is a topic worth revisiting. Where are you in life - Retired and want to start a second career? Recently divorced or widowed and need to update your job skills? Empty nesting and want to finish your degree? Wherever you are in life, if you are asking, "Should I go back to school?" - the answer is "YES!!!"

Four years ago when I started my nontrad journey, I did not even know what a nontraditional student was. I didn't know there was a name for people like me. The only thing I was sure about was that I wanted to finish my degree and attending the traditional 4-year university was the only way to accomplish that task. So, here I am - one semester away from getting my Bachelor's degree in History.

I need to thank Deb Peterson and Elizabeth Shepherd for their continued encouragement to me and others like me as we trudge along this path of being a nontraditional student. Their expertise has proved to be incredibly valuable, time and time again.

So, where are you in life? Think you want to go back to school but not sure because of finances, time commitment, etc.? Start out small at the community college. It's more affordable and there are evening classes, so you can afford to explore your interests. Online versus traditional university? Look at the what programs are offered. For many people, online school is not as intimidating and can be done from the convenience of your own home. Others, like me, choose a degree field that is not available online. Still others like the social interaction of the traditional classroom. The possibilities are endless! Don't delay! Check out your options and apply this spring. Don't think you are too old, or too dumb, or too whatever. You are never too old, it's like riding a bike and the excuses won't get you anywhere. You CAN go back to school! Just do it! Stay tuned . . .

Monday, January 24, 2011

What Color is Your Pace Car?

Once again, I have a motorsports reference for my title. Does anyone know what a pace car is? It is the car (vehicle) that is out in front of the pack of NASCAR cars, Indy cars, etc. that sets the pace for the first "introductory" lap of the race. It is an honor to be the pace car (manufacturer - Toyota, Ford, etc.), to be in the pace car as a passenger and to be driving the pace car. The pace car makes sure the drivers don't start off too fast and end up getting jumbled up even before they begin the race.

I was thinking about this semester and how I will need to pace myself for the work ahead, especially since it is my last semester. Favorite colors are very telling of our personalities. I thought I'd go out on a limb here and not only encourage my fellow nontrads to pace themselves this semester, but also the best way to pace what color you are. Try this (hope you don't take this too seriously!!):

My pace car is:
1. Red- I am high-strung, non-nonsense, git-'er-done. I am a high achiever and I have already read all my books for the all my classes for the semester. I have explosive energy and am an early riser. However, if I don't watch out and learn to temper my energy, I will get burned out quickly and find myself existing on Red Bull and No-Doze - neither one of which is good for my body. I need to remember to slow down.
2. Orange - I am a cautious and run in the middle of the pack if I run at all. I sit in the back half of class and am very observant of my classmates. I will only volunteer the answer to a question if no one else does and the prof looks exasperated, even though I would much rather someone else participate than me. I tend toward shyness. I need to remember to assert myself.
3. Yellow- I am similar to red, except I am not as explosive. I am perky, full of energy and mostly happy. I want to get everyone in class together for a study group and I'll make chocolate chip cookies to bring to the group!! It doesn't matter what the weather looks like, you will always see me smiling and finding the good in life! I need to remember that not everyone likes "perky".
4. Fuscia - I am INTENSE! I am the girl in the back of the class who never stops talking! I run the risk of burning out like my friend, Red, because I have such high energy, however, IcantalkyourearoffatamileaminuteandnotletyougetawordinedgwisebecauseInevertakeabreathor pausebetweenmywords! YouknowwhoIam!!! I need to remember to shut up.
5. Green - I am quietly content to plug along in life. I am laid back, nothing bothers me, I don't stress out about stuff - like exams and research papers. I laugh at the prof's subtle jokes because I just get them. You'll find me at the local coffee house or pizza place, often with my prof and other "heady" associates. We're just killin' time. I need to remember to put a little more gas behind it.
6. Blue- I am definitely not a morning person. The weather severely affects my moods. I finished my research papers at least a month in advance. There is a place for everything and everything in its place. I am usually the first one in class and the last one out because I have to talk to the prof after every class. I need to remember to find balance.
7. Purple - Don't bug me, man. I'm in a haze. I don't remember anything.
8. Brown - Let's get down to the nitty gritty. I take my notes on my laptop and my flash drive is my best friend. When I'm not studying, I'm on the net playing the latest version of Warcraft or Halo. My friends sometimes call me a geek. I fantasize about being the young Jeff Bridges character in "Tron: Legacy". I need to remember that life is NOT a video game.
9. Black - I just wanna get through this semester and graduate.
10. White - It's all new to me!! I'm so excited!! I have coordinating notebooks, folders, and pens for each class! I clean my laptop everyday! I love a Venti Mocha Latte Triple Shot every morning! I sit in the front row and make annoying eye contact with the prof! I'm always at his or her office for their office hours even if I don't need to be! I love school! I need to remember that, heck - it's algood!

You may find your pace car to be a combination of a couple colors, or you may even find you're one color with racing stripes of another color or colors! Whatever color your pace car is, make sure you follow it and pace yourself appropriately through the semester. (I'm green with yellow racing stripes.) Stay tuned . . .

Friday, January 21, 2011

Moving Right Along

Now that I have the first full week of classes under my belt, I can say one thing - "Yikes!!" This is going to be a great semester as far as the content of my classes goes - lots of great information, lots of interaction, etc. However, it promises to be another intense semester even though there are no group projects on the horizon. Will have an uber major paper due in History (30+ pages), a paper due in Geography in lieu of class debates, and several compositions due in Spanish. What's even more fun is that for two of my classes (Spanish and History), I get to walk clear across campus - in the cold!! And I thought I wasn't going to have time to work out this semester! Ha!

Rumor also has it that I will also be picking up more responsibility at work. I may have to remind them again that I am primarily a student. Not 100% sure about grad school yet, so I am also looking for a job. Lots of changes coming up in the next few months. Wish I had some words of wisdom for those of us in transition, but I don't - other than take a few deep breaths, stay close to family and friends and don't sweat the small stuff.

Last semester, son getting married, new relationship - it's algood. Stay tuned . . .

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hitting the Ground Running

I have definitely gone from 0 to 60 in about .005 seconds as I begin this semester. I think I have whiplash. The profs wasted no time in assigning a boatload of homework for the weekend. I have to read the equivalent of two books by Tuesday and complete a Spanish lab. Didn't I say this semester was going to be good, but not easy? Yikes!

I got a comment on my last post from threecreditsatatime ( Three says that I should add "Be open" to my list of how to prepare for the semester. "Be open to classmates, to opportunities that might come up, to challenging yourself, to whatever!" I agree. Look forward to this semester with excitement and anticipation! You never know what will happen these next few months. Life is an adventure, live it!

My adventure is jumping into hyper space at uber warp speed as I hunker down sometime this weekend and read until my eyes cross! Thank God for a three day weekend! Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

For those not familiar with formula one racing, the title phrase of this post is the phrase that marks the start of the annual Indianapolis 500. Thirty-three racecars roar to life in the hot summer sun, their drivers' hearts pumping as adrenaline courses through their bodies.

That phrase should also mark the start of the new semester. Over twenty-five thousand students come to life amidst the remnants of a recent snowfall, their hearts and minds anticipating the new semester. For some, this is their first or second semester at UT. For others, like me, this is their final semester at UT. My semester is once again marked by an initial excitement and expectation. So far, my classes look good. Not easy, but good.

My Spanish teacher is a native speaker, so that should make a huge difference. My Anthropology prof is one of a handful of anthropologists who are experts on oil spills, so he has been widely consulted on some of the recent disasters such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf. I have Geography later on today and my history seminar doesn't start until next week.

How does one start a new semester well, in anticipation of all that it will bring? There are a few things I've learned in my journey as a nontrad:
1. Be prepared. One does not have to be an ex-Scout to employ this tactic. Have your supplies - book, notebook, charged laptop, pens or pencils, travel pack of Kleenex - before you get to class. Profs like prepared students. Preparation is indicative of a serous learner.
2. Be alert. Be ready to participate in class. Listen to other students in the class as well as the prof when asking/answering questions.
3. Be present. I don't understand the students who only show up for exams then whine they got a bad grade. I am paying for these classes, I want to get my money's worth! Attendance and participation can often mean the difference between getting a B or an A for the class.
4. Be organized. Before heading off to class, make sure you have all the tools you'll need for that class - book, notebook, laptop and flashdrive, Scantron answer sheet or green book (if it's an exam day), pen or pencil, readings for that day (if separate from the book), etc. The class experience will be better for you if you are organized.
5. Be courteous. Don't text in class. Turn off your cell phone. Don't talk when the prof is talking. These things are common courtesy, but overlooked by many of today's younger generation. (Doesn't that make me sound old!!)

If this is your first semester in class, congratulations! You are about to embark on a wonderful journey. Strap yourself in and hang on! If this is your last semester, congratulations! We're almost there! If you are somewhere in between, hang in there. You're moving forward. Keep the goal in sight and you will do fine! I raise my glass in honor of all my fellow nontrads. Start your engines!! Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Gearing Up for the New Semester

As I get ready for the new semester, I am both happy and sad - happy to almost have it over with (provided I pass Spanish) and sad to almost have it over with. This has been a great journey - being a nontraditional student. I would not trade this experience for anything!

As I prepare for the new, and hopefully my last, semester, I need to keep in mind the following:
1. Finish strong! Now is not the time to slack off, but to put my all into my classes and resolve to d and be my best.
2. Study hard! Again, no slacking off just because it's my last semester. I will give grace where grace is due, but for the most part, I will need to focus and make sure I am ready for exams, projects, etc.
3. Laugh alot and smile even more! Happiness is a choice, not a circumstance. I am glad I was able to go back to school and I look forward to what lies ahead!
4. Say "Thank you" - ALOT!! To my profs, my classmates, my co-workers and my family.
5. Remember that . . . "It's great to be a Tennessee Vol!!" Give back to my school when I have the opportunity.
6. Look forward, not backward.

I have a sign on my desk that says, "God grant me today, for tomorrow is gone and I can't change the past." Head up, eyes ahead and moving forward! The goal is in sight - I graduate May 13th at 8:30am. Stay tuned . . .