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College freshman at 52? Utah State has made it possible, he says

December 15th, 2010 Posted in Arts and Life

By Megan Allen

LOGAN–Kevin Murphy has just finished his first semester at Utah State University. He is majoring in English with an emphasis in technical writing and dreams of becoming a freelance writer. He attended SOAR and took the Connections class.

However, one thing stands out about Murphy, making him different from a typical freshman at USU: he is 52 years old.

Murphy is just one of the many Aggies who are classified as non-traditional students. By University Admissions standards, a non-traditional student is someone who has been out of school for seven years or more. Standardized test scores are no longer factored into admission, they just focus on grade point averages.

However, the Access and Diversity Center has a looser definition of what makes someone non-traditional. Jacob Scharton is an intern who works with non-traditional and veteran students through the center.

“We see non-traditional students as anyone who doesn’t feel like they fit into the typical college student demographic,” he said. Things like age, race, sexual orientation and religious affiliation are factors that may make a student feel like they don’t fit in.

Non-traditional students return for a university education for many reasons. Murphy worked in sales for over 20 years after high school but eventually couldn’t take it anymore. “I was completely burned out,” he said.

Murphy said he was at the point where he was physically and emotionally torn up enough to seek professional help. His doctor directed him to a psychology professor at USU. After talking to him, Murphy said they recommended he get involved with a vocational rehabilitation program.

Vocational rehab provides a way for mentally, emotionally, and physically disabled people to get back into the work force. Through the program, they ran “every test imaginable” and found Murphy to be above the bar in all areas. When that happens, they suggest returning to school.

And that is how Murphy ended up at Utah State.

The university provides many opportunities and resources for non-traditional students.

All incoming students are required to attend Student Orientation Advising and Registration (SOAR), before they can register for classes. The SOAR office holds a special session for non-traditional students.

“We do it for them at night, rather than all day with the typical freshmen, because so many of them have jobs or kids to watch during the day,” said Lisa Hancock, SOAR program administrator.

Freshmen also have the option of participating in a two-credit class taught the week before school starts called Connections. This year, the office for Retention and Student Success decided to offer a 10-week section of Connections specifically for non-traditional students.

Noelle Call, director of Retention and Student Success, said the intent of the Connections experience is to provide non-traditional students an opportunity to explore and learn about the university environment, develop academic connections, and discover ways to broaden their educational experience.

“The course is designed to for students who are older than the traditional incoming students with emphasis on balancing work, school and family,” she said. As in the regular sections, students discover academic, financial and health resources, learn how to navigate the Blackboard system and use the library. They also hear about campus activities that engage them and their families.

Vicky Pope, an adviser in University Advising and a former non-traditional student herself, teaches the non-traditional Connections course.

“We focus much more on study skills, building confidence, networking, resources for families,” she said. “We also spend more time on technology because many students do not have sufficient computer skills.”

Pope brings in guest speakers to talk to her students. They focus on non-traditional student issues like finding a balance between work, school, and family.

The class ranged in age from the early 20s to 56. There were students who are married and students who are divorced. There were single parents, returned LDS missionaries, and veterans. “The class was incredibly diverse, which made it so much more fun,” Pope said.

Murphy was one of the students in Pope’s class.

“I really enjoyed it,” he said. “It reminded me that I wasn’t as old as I thought I was, and that there are people out there with infinitely more complicated situations than mine.”

This is the first year the Access and Diversity Center has really had a strong focus on non-traditional students.

Tony Flores, program coordinator for non-traditional and veteran students, said they do not presently have numbers or statistics on these students. They are researching and trying to find the best system to see how many students they have and their retention and graduation rates.

The Access and Diversity Center has a lot of resources and programs in development for these students.

The office is trying to develop a peer mentoring program where new students can pair up with other non-traditional students who have been through a couple years of school.

“One of the biggest challenges for our students is their math preparation,” Scharton said. “We want to help them refresh their skills before school starts.”

The other challenge the office faces is helping the students realize the challenges that come with coming back to school.

“You can’t just say ‘OK, I’m going to college now,’” Scharton said. “It takes effort. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.”

The office helps students identify the challenges of finding housing, child care and financial aid, he said.

Murphy said he has really appreciated all the help the university has offered.

“You can go through the catalog for a month and still miss something,” he said. “Vicky pointed out everything, and in everything she pointed out, I found something that helped me.”

No matter what the reason was for leaving, or the reason to come back to education, there is help available. The Access and Diversity Center is located in room 313 of the Taggart Student Center. More information about their programs, as well as contact information is available on their website.

After 36 years, Murphy has returned to the classroom and he said it is something he does not regret. While it is tough to get back into the discipline of school, he is looking forward to the experiences he will have.

“This is a really neat school,” he said. “I’m having a great time and am glad I came.”


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