For the majority of us, life takes on a series of stages in which high school is followed by college and then (hopefully) a job and (maybe) marriage. However, for some, life throws a few unexpected curve balls and that order gets a little mixed up.
Reentry students at UC Davis are undergraduates and graduates who are representative of this latter group. They consist of undergraduates who are 25 years or older, graduate students who are 30 years or older and any student who is a parent.
Altogether, they represent 7 percent of the UC Davis student population or about 3,400 students, with an average age of 34.
Shirley Sperry, the reentry student advisor, said many reentry students are in some sort of transition and are all over the board from empty nesters and divorcees to those who just got laid off or are changing careers or those who just never got a chance to go to college.
“They have families, they have jobs, they were bartenders or waitresses and a lot of students think they’re the professor,” Sperry said.
Reentry students span three or four generations, from all socioeconomic levels, and represent all ethnicities and cultures, she said.
“All this is the little microcosm we call reentry,” Sperry said.
But what are some of the issues that reentry students face when going to a school where the majority of the students are not old enough to rent a car? Turns out reentry students face some of the same worries but also deal with issues that are reflective of their age cohorts and experiences out in the real world.
On most Wednesday evenings, a group of reentry students meet at the break room in the Transfer, Reentry and Veterans (TRV) center at Dutton Hall. It is an unofficial support group in which reentry students gather, network, talk and bond over their similar circumstances.
Deloris Matthews, 48, a psychology major and mother of two, always knew that she would go to UC Davis.
“Whenever my husband and I would drive on our way to Sacramento, I pointed to [UC Davis] and was like ‘Look, there’s my school,” Matthews said.
Matthews, whose children are older and feels that her relationship with her husband is strong, felt that this was the perfect time to go back to school where she eventually would like to get her Marriage and Family Therapist license.
Being a mother, wife and college student all at once, she finds that her interactions with younger students are a little different but overall positive.
“I have some students who will flock to me – maybe because they’re homesick. Others don’t want me involved because they might not want me intruding on their college experience,” Matthews said.
Others in the group agreed that most reentry students are not looking for the same experiences as most undergraduates at a college campus.
Ebony Creswell, a reentry and transfer student from Diablo Valley College (DVC), switched majors several times before transferring to UC Davis at 25, eventually deciding on an anthropology major. Creswell is also pursuing a career in medicine.
Creswell finds it hard to make friends because of the difference in expectations on the college experience.
“Their biggest worry is what am I going to do this weekend. Mine is ‘okay, homework and then maybe go get some wings and a movie,'” Creswell said.
Sheryl Sensenig, an agricultural and environmental education major, agreed and said reentry students are looking for a different type of college experience – one that is perhaps more focused on a goal.
“I remember going into my geology classroom and seeing all these cell phones, Facebook on during class and just feeling that’s my pet peeve,” she said.
Sperry, a reentry student herself who came to UC Davis as an undergraduate at 47, agreed that because reentry students are often the ones who are paying for their own education, the attitudes are different.
“If a class is canceled most students will be excited but a reentry student will feel like, ‘I’m paying for this class and the professor cancels it,'” Sperry said.
As an advisor of reentry students for 12 years, Sperry witnessed the many obstacles that reentry students face outside of school including the issue of having to worry about childcare.
With most childcare services either too expensive or too short in length, some student parents drop off their children at the TRV center for Sperry and others to watch. Some have even brought their kids into the classroom, Sperry said.
Dan Lloyd, a paramedic for eight years before attending UC Davis to major in nutrition science, is a student parent with a one-year-old.
“The challenges are endless and hard to explain. I think the biggest one for me is that I am less motivated to not be home with my family then I was when I didn’t have a child,” Lloyd said in an e-mail interview.
However, through all the challenges that come with being a reentry student, they are worth it.
Creswell remembers feeling worried whenever she saw reentry students in her class as a younger student at DVC.
“[Reentry students] would set the curve because [they] work so damn hard. I’d resent them,” Creswell said.
Sperry finds that many reentry students do rise to leadership positions during their time on campus even while carrying on a full workload in and out of school.
“They want to prove to their daughter, son, children and families that education is a good thing and that they can do it,” Sperry said.
In the end, most reentry students feel very positive about their college experiences and their interactions and friendships with their younger peers.
Angie Lopez, 31 and a double major in Chicano/a studies and community regional development, feels that while most students on campus are younger she can still relate to them.
“They’re probably not as concerned as keeping their roots colored as I am, but they’re my peers,” Lopez said.
JESSY WEI can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.