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 . . .