While a majority of the UC Davis undergraduate population is in their late teens or early 20s, there are some students that break the age barrier. Undergraduate students in their 30s, 40s and beyond are often confused for graduate students or professors.
“Some students think that I am a professor,” said Jean-Francois Pineux, a 37-year-old junior civil engineering major. “I went to purchase a pen at the bookstore and they asked me which department I wanted to charge it to. I thought it was cute, actually.”
Pineux, and senior history majors Janice Wolverton, 46, and Colum Malec, 30, all returned to school in the hope of pursuing a degree to gain more employment.
Wolverton, a mother of three and grandmother of one, decided not pursue a college degree immediately after graduating from high school.
“I took a break because when I graduated from high school, I wanted to join the work force and make money,” Wolverton said. “I never really cared for school. Once I was in the real world and had kids, I wanted to get a better job with a better salary, so I went back to school.”
In 1991, Wolverton graduated from American River with an Associate of Arts degree in business and got a job as an analyst. Even though she was making more money, Wolverton said was still unhappy with her career choice.
“I realized that being a teacher was what I wanted to do, so I had to go back to American River in order to get more transferable units so that I could come to UC Davis,” Wolverton said.
Malec decided he wanted to take a break after high school in order to pursue economic ventures.
“I didn’t prep well for college in high school and I was interested in making what I thought was good money at the time, I guess I was just bound and determined to do things my own way,” Malec said.
Malec worked in a manufacturing center that made water treatment pipes for two years and then joined the Marine Corps for five years.
“Ever since I got out of the military, I realized that an education was the only option, whereas straight out of high school I was not interested in college,” Malec said. “I have to give a shout out to Yolanda Torres [from the Veteran’s Affairs Office]… without her help I would have been lost. UC Davis is really good about reaching out to transfer students.”
Pineux also pursued a college degree after working for several years. Pineux, originally from the “French part” of Belgium, said he first came to the United States in 1992 to work as a chef. Pineux wound up working as a waiter for several years before deciding to go to school.
“I wanted a better job, even more so, I wanted stability. I wanted a job where I wouldn’t be screamed at by customers,” Pineux said. “The only way to get a better job was to get a degree.”
Both Pineux and Wolverton admit that age can become an issue in the social aspect of collegiate life.
“The age difference is a barrier but it also creates a relationship as well. Students will ask me questions, ‘Why did I change?,’ ‘Why did I come back to school?’,'” Pineux said. “The students are curious, which is wonderful, so I do make friends.”
Wolverton, who has gone back to school twice, said that she too felt slightly out of place at first.
“The first time I went back to school, I was only 28. I remember thinking, ‘I am so old and I’m going to school with these little kids,’ and I remember being a bit depressed about it,” Wolverton said. “When I went back a second time I had more of a chance to mingle with students and I realized we weren’t so different at all.”
Malec said he has a difficult time with the age gap.
“I have a hard time identifying with younger students. I love my professors, I would much rather be engaged in a conversation with my professors than with younger students,” Malec said. “Younger students complain about their weekend partying or about some chick who threw up in the bathroom. I just don’t have the patience for that.”
Like most college students, Malec, Pineux and Wolverton are all looking toward life after graduation with angst and anticipation. Pineux hopes to receive his engineering license and both Malec and Wolverton are currently pursuing their teaching credentials. Wolverton is also working on studying abroad in Cuba next year.
Having had the experience of working and living in “the real world” before going to college, Pineux and Wolverton advise for their academic peers to not give up.
“If you don’t get what you want, keep trying and go get it. Failure is a way to learn, failure is acceptable,” Pineux said.
“You’ve got to look at the whole life picture; no one’s going to think you’re a bad person because you failed organic chemistry,” Wolverton said. “When you’re going to school and learning something, it just enriches your whole life. There’s just so much to learn.”
MEGAN ELLIS can be reached at email@example.com.