Older, nontraditional students seek the college experience at UC Davis
On the first day of the quarter, third-year English major Kristin Hogue’s professor began class with an icebreaker activity, welcoming her students to introduce themselves with a fun fact.
“I took a gap year between high school and college,” said the first student. “I’m part of the Band-uh,” said another.
The class continued like this for a while, until all faces pointed towards Hogue.
“I also took a gap year,” Hogue said. “Twenty-two gap years, actually.”
Hogue is a nontraditional undergraduate at UC Davis. She is a 45 year old married mother of five children, four of whom are attending college at the same time as her. Shortly after graduating high school, Hogue joined the workforce as a file clerk at Intel, and continued to work for the company for a decade.
“As I worked my way up through corporate America, I felt like something was missing,” Hogue said. “A lot of people around me had received a college education, and that’s something I didn’t get to complete. So I joined UC Davis full-time in 2003, but my children were so young then. The timing with my family responsibilities just wasn’t right back then. But now it is time for me to finish my education as well.”
Hogue’s decision to return to university and to pursue law school post-graduation was met with much enthusiasm from those in her life, particularly her family. Hogue’s son, Zennin Casl, is a first-year at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. He and his siblings often excitedly share news about their mother’s education.
“A lot of my friends only have one parent that went to college, or sometimes neither of their parents went to college. I’ve met very few friends that have two college-educated parents,” Casl said. “Now that my mom is back in school, it just makes me feel so proud of her.”
Lisa C., a third-year communication major, is also a nontraditional student that returned to university earlier this year. She began to pursue higher education after high school, but her marriage to a member of the military, combined with his frequent deployments and the birth of their children, complicated her college career. Like Hogue, Lisa C. has experience in the workforce, but saw merit in returning to school, so much so that it felt almost like an obligation.
“I want to set an example for my children,” Lisa C. said. “I want them to know that you should always finish what you started, no matter how long it has been or if you had to put it on hold. Since my first day of high school I knew that I wanted to go to college, and that’s why I am here. I am a lifelong learner.”
Her desire to set an example extends beyond her household, too. Lisa C. often feels that she is a role model and mentor to her younger classmates, especially given her age and her familiarity with duties that the average college student has had little to no experience with — like managing properties, filing taxes or raising a family.
Rebecca Salgado, a fourth-year political science major and peer adviser at the Transfer Reentry Veterans Center (TRV) at UC Davis, has found that these additional responsibilities have dynamic effects — both positive and negative — on such nontraditional students.
Older Wiser Learners (OWL), a former TRV program, aims to help re-entry students 25 and older, student-parents and married students find common ground with peers within their demographic, rather than the traditional 18 year old freshman or 20 year old freshman. Active participation in the program waned over the past few years and the program came to a temporary end. However, just earlier this year, several students expressed interest in re-starting the program, and kickstarted it as a student organization instead.
“I think something that OWL students face more than other students is that they have a resiliency. They think, I can do this. That’s really good and it helps them manage all these competing priorities,” Salgado said. “At the same time, I think it’s sometimes more difficult for them to ask for help because they’re like ‘I can do this, I can take care of this on my own’ like they do for their other responsibilities. But I found that when they do ask for help, they’re very willing to listen to advice, very appreciative.”
Salgado feels that she has a lot to learn from her peers in OWL, since they often have a unique perspective as university students because of other challenges that have shaped their experience. Hogue, who has attended OWL meetings in the past, has indeed found herself becoming a mentor in her new friendships.
“Because I’m a married mom, a lot of my experience comes from managing relationships and mentoring people. I’ve developed some friendships here that I like to call mom-ships,” Hogue said. “Sometimes, a girl sitting next to me in class will tell me about a fight with her boyfriend or will say she is having a tough time talking to a professor or [teaching assistants.] I’ll give her advice about how to manage those relationships.”
Still — like the students they are — both women find that they are constantly learning about themselves, their fields and their younger classmates in this new environment. The connection many millennial students have to modern technology and their ease in accessing information has left some nontraditional students on a steeper learning curve. Lisa C. tries to remain confident during educational and social challenges or feelings of inadequacy, reminding herself that no matter their ages, whether 18 or 88, all students ultimately attend UC Davis for the same reason: to learn.
According to Hogue, she often has to work harder and faster to keep up with their pace in the classroom, and she has a deep respect for her peers and their intelligence. She began her first quarter at Davis barely speaking to anyone other than her instructors, but her admiration for other undergraduates inspired her to build a college bucket list.
“I participated in the Fire Katehi walk-out. I had thought that at my age, a protest was something I’d never do. But when I was faced with that opportunity, I took it,” Hogue said. “I want to have as many experiences I possibly can. So I walked out with protesters. I learned a lot about the students and the administration, and how much these students value their ability to protest and the freedom they have to speak their minds.”
However, for a nontraditional student, not everything on a college bucket list is accomplishable. Lisa C. attempted to join a sorority, but found that her married status prevented her from doing so. Nevertheless, she continues to find other ways to integrate herself into campus life as she believes it is vital to student success. Both she and Hogue are eager to gain more than just a degree at UC Davis, and long for the college experience that they never had in their youth.
“My college experience has been all-encompassing. It’s been awesome and it’s been the highest of highs, but it’s also been overwhelming. In some ways, it’s even been terrifying,” Hogue said. “It is difficult to be a nontraditional student at UC Davis because I don’t necessarily share the current generational experience or its culture. But I’ve been really grateful for the opportunity to get in touch with it now.”
Written by: Anjali Bhat — firstname.lastname@example.org