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 . . .