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News
Nontraditional students add diversity to UA


By Kylee Dawson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
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Imagine that Mom and Dad come to visit you at the UA, but then decide to stick around and take a few classes. Perhaps they enroll in the same classes you plan to take. Would you welcome this, or possibly feel threatened or intimidated?

Some UA students feel put off by the idea of sharing their classrooms with nontraditional students, specifically students in their late 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, even 60s. However, others embrace older students as mentors and encouraging contributors to their classes.

The presence of older students is consistently increasing at the UA. According to the UA Fact Book for 2003-2004, 13.6 percent of the UA student body is made up of students over age 25. And students over age 25 make up 78.2 percent of UA graduate students.

Traditional students

Electrical engineering senior Aman Arora recalls taking a computer science course with a student in his 50s.

"The guy used to answer all the questions the professor had," Arora said. "It bothered me because you get marks for feedback."

Arora also said he felt the professor gave the older student special treatment.

Satyajeet Ahuja, also an electrical engineering senior, is currently taking a computer science class with students who are in their 30s.

"I haven't seen any special treatment, but these guys are from the industry and they're very keen in it, so they made the class very interesting," Ahuja said. "They are returning something back to the school."

Phakisha Peterson, a journalism junior, estimated she has taken more than 10 courses with nontraditional students older than 25, including English, African-American studies, accounting, music and journalism.

"I don't know [their] ages, but I'm pretty sure they all were over the age of 35," Peterson said.

Related links
25+ Cats

But Peterson said she does not believe that any of her professors ever showed favoritism to older students.

"Although some professors may relate better to the older students than the younger ones, I feel that they are fair to everyone," she said. "I don't feel that I'm benefited or harmed by sharing classes with older students."

Nontraditional students

Herman Lucero, who describes his age as "60-plus," has been attending the UA since 1977 and is studying in the Department of Language, Reading and Culture in the College of Education as a Ph. D. candidate.

"I did feel isolated when I was doing my B.S. in the late 1970s because most of my classmates were in their 20s," Lucero said.

In 1980, Lucero received a bachelor's degree in management information systems, followed by his post-baccalaureate education certification in 1994. In 1998 he received a master's degree in special education and in 2001 he received an educational specialist degree.

Lucero said he feels more comfortable now that he is taking courses with several other nontraditional students.

"I have been very fortunate in attending classes with friends," he said. "The mutual support and our friendships made the difference. I have never felt isolated since my post-bac days."

Lucero said he enjoys being able to work fulltime on his dissertation about the segregation of Mexican American children in Arizona public schools in the pre-Brown era (Brown v. Board of Education).

"The support staff and professors have been outstanding," Lucero said of the education department.

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I don't feel that I'm benefited or harmed by sharing classes with older students.
Phakisha Peterson
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He also enjoys being able to participate in different workshops and seminars of his choice.

Other nontraditional students feel that going back to college later in life is very beneficial because, in their younger years, some were not as focused in college as they are now.

"I was a very distracted undergrad," said Cassandra Meynard, 37, who completed her master's degree in creative writing this year. "I seem to be one of those people who always has just a little too much going on, and it was worse when I was younger."

In 1989, Meynard received a bachelor's degree in environmental science from Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va. But she wanted to hone her writing craft and decided to enroll at the UA in 2002.

"Coming back to school as an adult and a grad student, I was thrilled to be able to focus on studying things that really interested me," she said.

As a single mother, Meynard attended UA while raising her twin daughters.

"I was a full-time student in a field that requires a lot of independent study, reading and writing as part of its curriculum, so I was able to be at home a lot for my kids, who are seven now and who were only five when I started school," Meynard said. "Though it was hard to get anything done when they were around."

Meynard said she appreciated the support of her peers while completing her creative writing program.

"I am a single mom, and so I was grateful that so many of my fellow students were willing to baby-sit when I had a late class, or needed to have a social life," Meynard said. "My kids really love the people from my program, too."

Meynard also said that her age difference was never an issue with her classmates or her professors while at the UA.

"Although I was certainly older than most of my fellow students, they were such a brilliant, funny and dynamic bunch that I never once felt an age difference," she said. "I had a different set of responsibilities, though, and wasn't able to go for a beer after class as much as I would have liked. But on the occasions when I did attend social functions with the other students, I always felt welcomed and comfortable."

Professors

Many UA professors agree that older students tend to be more studious, but it does not mean that they deserve special treatment from their professors or animosity from their younger counterparts.

Computer science professor Richard Snodgrass said he has had a few older students in his undergraduate database course.

"I find older students to be more focused, which helps their progress. I also find them to have more external demands, such as a family and/or a full-time job, which sometimes makes it difficult for such students on heavy programming assignments," he said.

Snodgrass also said that because older students may be more mature, "I think sometimes students treat those with more maturity with more respect."

Professor Elizabeth L. Glisky, the associate head and graduate coordinator in the psychology department, said the majority of graduate students are possibly older than 25.

She said that older students are different from younger students because they choose to be in college, as opposed to younger students who are often forced to go to college.

"They select classes because they are of particular interest to them, not because they are the only ones that fit in their schedule or the only ones that had openings," Glisky said. "Odd as it may seem at some level, older students seem to be happy taking their time, whereas younger students are in a hurry to get through quickly and get on with their lives even though they do not have particular career paths in mind.

"In that sense, I suspect older students may take a little longer to complete their undergraduate degrees. However, many are attending only part-time because they also have jobs," Glisky said.

But age differences are not an area of contention in her classes, Glisky said.

"Although there is a tendency for students of similar ages to stick together, I have never witnessed any disrespect on the part of younger students towards older students," she said.

In her adult development and aging class, the material deals with changes that occur throughout life, so "having students of all ages in this class is hugely enriching and appreciated by all of the students," Glisky said.

"I think there is much to be gained educationally if classes are integrated in as many ways as possible - by age, sex, race and culture. This is particularly true in psychology courses in which all of these variables make a contribution to the way that people think and behave."

Elizabeth Evans, director of the creative writing program, has been teaching in the English department for 17 years and enjoys teaching with nontraditional students in her classes.

"I find working with older students a pleasure, as they tend to be particularly dedicated to their studies," she said. "In my classes, the older students fit right in with the younger students, but I do teach creative writing, and that means small, interactive classes in which the students get to know each other fairly well."

This ideal situation is not the case in some classes, and other older students tend to feel isolated and uncomfortable around their younger classmates, Evans said.

"Many classes on campus are large, and, of course, there are concerns that older students have that are not shared by the younger students," she said.

To help nontraditional students adjust to college life, there is a UA program for students older than 25 - 25+ Cats. This support group, housed by Student Commuter Services, features a listserv that allows students to get advice and answers about the UA.

For more information on the group, visit www.union.arizona.edu/csil/csa/newtraditional.php



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