Balancing time and commitments

There’s no better time than the present. For the 157 undergraduate non-traditional students at Castleton State College the right time is now. Lori Patten in the registrar’s office says non-traditional students are defined as generally over 25 years old and commuters. Here on the Castleton campus they are lovingly referred to as non-trads.

Diverse as any other group, non-trads are men, women, parents, childless, married, divorced, and always been single, or any combination there of.

Thirty-eight percent are enrolled as nursing students, 44 percent are science and arts majors and 20 of those are in education. The rest are sprinkled through the other college departments. But regardless of their area of study they do have three things in common:

* After leaving the academic world they are back in the classroom in the roll of student.

* They all talk about the roll that time plays in their new lives

* The support they receive whether financial, academic or emotional is crucial to their success.

Their reasons for returning to school are as diverse as they are. Some have never gone to college, and some have degrees. And some want to finish degrees that they started elsewhere.

Some of them are just taking a course or two that interests them. Some have no great plan, except to see where an education will lead. Others are in search of a new career, or even a second degree that will lead to an increase in their annual income.

“My first career was raising my kids. Then they grew up and I wanted more. Something to look forward to . and get paid.” said 45-year-old non-trad Michele Laflam.

Laflam received her liberal arts associate degree through the Vermont Community College. She left her full-time job so that she could attend C.S.C. as a full-time education major. Currently carrying 21 credits she will graduate in December 2008.

Freshman geology major, Kurt Duguay, said he moved here with his new wife Professor Patricia Vanderspuy, and that “the time was right for a change in course.”

Tall, blonde, fashion conscious, Suzy Saetta majors in health science. She thought the time was right for financial reasons.

“The youngest was in college, that’s my ticket in. Vermont gave me money. Vermont is kind to women with children. They make it easy with scholarships and grants.”

Tammi White, a young mother of two, is enrolled in the early childhood education program. She has been a stay at home mom and when her youngest started school she said, “I took the plunge and enrolled.”

But enrolling is only the first step. Non-trads must schedule the time that it takes to attend classes, study and commute. All of which is limited by the time they need to manage their other commitments: jobs, spouses, children, or all three. Becoming comfortable in the roll of student and fitting into a new social environment can also be stressful. And the task of convincing the neurons to fire up and help process all that new information can take a day or two.

White said the hardest challenge that she faces is to get to her 8 a.m. class on time. She must get the children off to school before she can leave her house in Poultney.

Duguay, dressed in a brown leather coat and sporting a blonde pony-tail and glasses, spoke about the challenge of “polishing” his rusty math skills. He also said, “The first couple of weeks I felt like a trespasser until I adjusted to my surroundings.”

Eating lunch at Laflam’s favorite corner table in the Coffee Cottage, she lamented with White about the limitations of what she called the “time crunch.”

“It is hard to get it all done, and do it well.”

However, LaFlam was quick to add that the professors have been understanding and very supportive.

“The professors treat me like a peer, a partner in my own education.”

White nodded, “The professors understand that we are in a different place in life.”

One such professor, Catharine Garland, understands. When she was a child her mother went back to college. Garland remembers how hard it was for her mom to balance the family responsibilities and the academic commitments.

She said that non-trads are generally, “more focused because they have less time. It can be hard for them to come in for extra time and be on campus. I understand.”

She believes that non-trads are very good at communicating their restraints. And she values the life experiences that they bring into the class room discussions.

Spartan advisor, Associate Professor David Blow, said he enjoys the “more worldly views” that the non-trads bring into his journalism classrooms.

Traditional students, Amber Vrooman, Jimmy Vanderkar, and Nick Korda echo that very sentiment. They believe that the non-trads broaden classroom debates with their experiences. They all agree that the older students are more passionate, and that traditional students benefit from interacting with them.

All of the non-trads said that they too gained insight from interacting with the younger students.

When the non-trads were asked what their biggest asset was? Every one of them spoke of the emotional support that their families and spouses lavished up on them.

“My biggest asset is my wife. She is extremely supportive in everything. When I was making the commitment and jumping into the uncertain. she has been there,” Duguay said.

The non-trads also have some advice for incoming students of all ages.

“Find a support group,” White said.

Laflam told about how she spent the first semester sitting in the student center’s cavernous second floor commuter lounge hoping to meet non-trads like herself. She finally found them at the cozy unofficial non-trad lounge, The Coffee Cottage.

Laflam’s advise is “go to the Coffee Cottage that’s were the non-trads are.”

There comfy chairs grouped around small tables and inviting couches with throw pillows beg to be sat in. The aroma of coffee and the soup of the day are enhanced by the hospitality of Kari Ball and Trena Judela, smiling behind the counter. They graciously serve the students, professors, administrators and staff who mingle within the warm brick-red walls of the cottage.

Saetta strongly advises “never throw out your catalog and document everything.”

Duguay had to learn that it was okay to drop a course when he felt overwhelmed. His wife finally convinced him that the drop system was in place for just that reason. Sheepishly he said he still “wanted to duck when I saw the professor.”

Asked to generate a wish list the non-trads made the following suggestions:

First, hire a non-trad coordinator to help sift through their transferring credits and help untangle the information and maybe host a one day seminar before registration (the most popular suggestion.)

Second, develop a commuter lounge on the Stafford side of the campus. Third, install lockers in the buildings of the commuting student’s major. (Everyone lives out of their cars, and there is envy of the lockers for nursing students). Fourth, grant outside credit for Soundings. Fifth, offer more classes that meet one day a week, and lastly get more pencil sharpeners.

There is one final thing that is on everyone’s wish list. More time.

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