On being a non-traditional student

Last week I toured the geology department at KU with one of the other students in our group (a younger student) who was tagging along out of curiosity.  While waiting for the guide to arrive, one of the faculty entered the waiting room and asked if someone was helping us. When I told him why we were there he said, “Not you, right? You’re too old to be a student.”  It was a statement, not a question.  He didn’t mean it to be hurtful, but it was.

Usually, people just mistake me for faculty.  When I tell them I am a student they look mildly surprised.  I’m glad that I started at a community college where there is a lot of diversity.  There is usually at least a couple of older students in each of my classes but I don’t feel the need to befriend them.  We tend to be more serious and focused than the younger students because we have other priorities.  Having a 16-year-old son helps me to feel not quite so disconnected from them.  They show me vines and are shocked when I know some of the videos.

I knew I would feel awkward and really do sometimes.  I feel like people are looking at me and wondering why I’m there.  Like maybe I did something wrong in my life to have to do this now.  Or maybe that’s my self-consciousness talking, I can never be sure.  It’s funny because I wonder why the other older students are there.

I am enjoying this experience in a way that I never could have when I was younger.  I just had other priorities.  I wouldn’t have been so thirsty for information as I am now.  I can’t get enough.  It’s like I want to learn all the things now and it’s hard to be patient.  My favorite thing is signing up for the next semester’s classes and figuring out my new schedule.  In my twenties, I was curious about many things, but it was not ancient history or chemistry.

One thing I’ve noticed is that people seem to assume that because you are older you have knowledge about things that you don’t.  I am learning the material at the same time everyone else but it’s like I should know it already.  I have gotten that in past jobs.  When I started bartending at 30 people assumed that I had done it my whole life even though I had just started.  It’s like the thing you are doing now must have been the thing you have always done.  Honestly, I hope that helps me when I graduate while trying to land a permanent position somewhere.

It made me be timid to get involved for fear of taking the position of a younger student that may benefit from the experience more than me.  My instinct is to think that they are more deserving of that position because this is their first time around but in reality, it’s my first time around, too.  I would benefit from that experience just as much and that is hard for me to swallow.  I did start to get more involved and I’m glad I did.  It’s earned me scholarships, leadership positions, research experience, and at least two jobs now.

Instead of trying to direct the other students, I try to support them.  I was in management before so I have a little bit of experience trying to help people be the best that they can be.  So instead of taking away a position that another student may have benefited from, my goal is to help them shine in whatever project we are working on so that they have the control.  Hopefully, I can help them so more than they thought they could on their own.  I am learning what kind of mentor I want to be and gratefully, I have some really good ones to learn from.

people coffee meeting team

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Where am I going?

I am so curious about everything that it’s hard to pick a path. I often take the harder road just for the challenge just it’s hard to stick with it. I find myself reading the course descriptions over and over as if the idea of the class is more interesting than grinding in the nuts and bolts. I will be really happy to get the basics down and start working on projects/subjects that I have a solid working foundation. I still have a lot of math ahead of me and that’s daunting. I still haven’t forgotten my love of history. I feel that if I go back to humanities than I’m taking the easy way out (and I’ll never make the salary I would like to make). I hope that I can study a lot of different things that interest me and maybe carve out a niche of a degree. Would that hurt my chance of a job or enable me to choose between a wider variety of job opportunities?

I told myself when I started college that I would be happy doing anything as long as it wasn’t in a restaurant but now it’s more complex than that. The reality is, I’m basically making a career it of going to school right now and if I obtain my goal of graduating with a doctorate, I’ll be 50! 50ish, even. At that point, I may as well stay in academia and make use of the connections I’ve made along the way. Maybe continue with research.

In the meantime, I just keep plugging away. Enjoy my classes and the experience as I go. I’m sure opportunities will present themselves as they blissfully already have been.

I’m president of an honors society, just made the student of the month, and work at the school. I’m so grateful!

Where I’m headed

I’ll be going in my third year in the fall.  I will stay at MCCKC for another year so that I may carry out my duties as president of Pai Theta Cappa and I will have one or two electives to finish in the spring.  I’ve become much more involved and even won student of the month.  MCC feels like my home and I’ll be glad to be there for a little extra time than necessary.  I’ll have more credits than necessary to transfer over and I’ll have paid a third of the cost for them.

I’m starting to get a good feel for what I would like to obtain from my academic experience.  My research for undergraduates (REU) program that I am in now for the summer has really sparked my interest.  I am curious about how microorganisms can affect global change such as climate change.  I am interested in learning more about what a geobiologist does.  I like the combination of geology and biology bonded by chemistry.  While there is not a geobiology degree, I think I may be able to mold one out for myself in graduate school.  I see that KU has ongoing geobiology research.  There is even an astrobiology minor that sounds fascinating.  I find it hard to narrow down what I want to study or what I want to do.  I am finding that I really love research both in the field and in a lab.

For now, I’m just taking it one day at a time and enjoying my classes as I go.  Next semester is the last one where I have basic requirements.  This is kind of intimidating.  I feel like I should decide what I want to do or I’m wasting time taking meaningless (to my degree) classes.   I think this is it, though.  I may have found my niche.

The transistion

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My parents owned restaurants and instead of going to college I started working in bars right after high school.  I considered myself a professional up until I reached upper management status and realized that there must be something more for me than this.  I started to realize that I had no interest in what I was selling, which is a problem when you sell things for a living for other people (who care very much how much exactly you sell).   Don’t get me wrong, I was once as passionate as any pretentious server, manager, or bartender you’ve ever wanted to throw your overpriced drink at.

I drank too much.  It was part of the lifestyle.  I didn’t like staying up late.  At school, I wake early and go to bed early.  I love my evenings at home.  Going to school is a form of recovery and self-care for me. Every class molds me into a better version of myself. I’m finally in a place where I can leave that old life behind and transition into a new career. This is really starting to pay off and I am so grateful.

Fourth Semester

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This semester I took English 102 which was an amazing experience.  I wrote a 15-page research paper.  My question was, “Can a resident of North Kansas City lessen her ecological impact on the Missouri River over the next six months?”  Interestingly, the answer is no but I learned so much along the way.  I visited the KC Water treatment plant which was really interesting.  I’d like to tour the other utility facilities in KC now (and will). My instructor is now one of my mentors.  She is an amazing person who really inspired me.

I bearly passed intermediate algebra with a C so that destroys my 4.0 streak.  That’s ok because I know where I went wrong and I’ll try harder in Pre-Calculous.  I’ll have to! I’ve found I really enjoy math.  It’s so meditative and I love the feeling of working a big puzzle.  It’s like learning another language, in fact, I found learning Arabic was easier than learning math at the same pace.  I really have to study in my free time this summer to catch up.

Environmental science was awesome.  Another of my mentors was the instructor for this class.  I’ve had him before in the Foundation of Western Civ and Biology learning community class that I loved so much I am now an SI leader.  That means I get eight bucks an hour to sit in on the class again and play learning games for an hour on Friday to help cement what they learned which is so much fun.

I also took an online Library Resource class to help me learn how to better use the library to conduct scholarly research.  Between that class and Eng.102, I really am better prepared to conduct organized research projects.

Things are great at home.  My son is now 16.  I take him with me to school every chance I get so that he may be as familiar with college as possible.  He’s sat in with me in classes and participated in events.  It was really fun for him to see what a typical day in college is like.  I didn’t know what that would look like until last year!

All in all a good semester.  With the challenges of the first three semesters, I thought I would take this one easy.  (Last semester I did 16 credit hours and held two jobs while undergoing the HepC treatment that made me so tired.)  That, looking back, was a big mistake in attitude that cost me my 4.0.  I did B or C work the whole time and then woke up at the end and pulled it together.  It’s funny, without a crisis to escape into (or out of) I didn’t have the same drive that had propelled me before.  I had to motivate myself just for the sake of doing it.  I’m glad I did.