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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Re-entry Students: navigating the UC Davis campus

MORGAN TIEU / AGGIE
MORGAN TIEU / AGGIE

Unique stories of community, real-life experiences

Naomi Barcelo received an unexpected phone call one day from a friend she hadn’t spoken to for quite some time. This person had been her note-taker for a past religious studies class, but he didn’t call to talk about academics — he called to ask her if she would teach him how to cook.

“He was tired of eating frozen food,” Barcelo said. “He was like: ‘My mom cooks all my meals, and when I asked her to teach me how to cook she said I [don’t need to know how to do that].’ So I taught him how to cook his basic meals!”

Teaching a young friend how to cook was an easy task for Barcelo, a 51-year-old part-time student and fourth-year anthropology major, as she has quite a bit of experience. Barcelo is a member of the roughly six percent of the UC Davis student population that is categorized as “re-entry.” A re-entry student is defined as a student who is re-entering the education system after taking a break for any number of years; gaps between high school and the time they come back to school can range from anywhere between five years and 40 years.

“A re-entry student is a non-traditional student in the sense that when you think about a traditional student, even a traditional transfer student who goes from high school directly into college, those are students who start here as 18-year-old freshmen,” said Victor Garcia, an advisor at the Transfer Reentry Veterans Center (TRV). “Typically, [re-entry students] are older, a bit more mature and they’ve had quite a bit of life experience.”

After having learned after high school that she had learning disabilities, Barcelo was discouraged at a young age from pursuing college. At that time in the 1970s, there wasn’t an accommodative culture that aided students with disabilities.

“I didn’t know how to read correctly. I never learned how to sound out words,” Barcelo said. “My father said I was too stupid to go to college and to get a union job [instead], so I went and got a union job, and got chewed up by the world. I really needed something more. I [told myself] ‘I can’t keep doing this.’”

It was this aspect of “getting chewed up and spit out” that sparked a drive in Barcelo to improve her life. She had always chosen jobs that allowed her to hide herself and to hide her disabilities, but this had always taken a lot of time and effort. After she got older, Barcelo decided she wanted to go back to school and eventually found herself at UC Davis, her childhood dream school.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Davis, and if I [was] going to go, the second time around, then I [was] going to do it right,” Barcelo said. “The reason I’m successful now is because I have accommodations: I get extra time; I get programs that will read text to me. But [I] also have the life experience of knowing [that] if I want to make more than $15 an hour, I’m gonna need a better education.”

Reentry students are often quickly identified by their age gap compared to 18, 19 or 20-year-old “traditional” students. What isn’t so apparent, however, is how these unconventional students come to campus with a variety of life experiences, as each individual has their own unique backstory. For example, a large portion of the demographic is made up of those who have children, are married, or have mortgage payments.

“Being a student is only part of their everyday life,” Garcia said. “Once they’re done [with a school day], they have to take off the student hat and put on the ‘mom hat,’ the ‘dad hat’ or the ‘partner hat’ or go to work to make sure they’re paying the bills. The student experience [for them] becomes very different as it deviates from what a traditional student and a traditional transfer student may be experiencing because of all these external factors that occur.”

Manny Carter-Jocelyn, a re-entry student and fourth-year psychology major, is not just a student at UC Davis, but also a mother. After graduating high school in 2008 and spending a couple of semesters at community college, she left the education system until 2012. Then, just two months after having a baby girl, Carter-Jocelyn officially went back to school at American River College in Sacramento and then moved on to UC Davis.

“I came back to school because I had a kid, and I needed to get my life together,” Carter-Jocelyn said. “[I wanted to] show [my daughter] what education was about, that mommy could do education too and that I was a productive member of society.”

Carter-Jocelyn runs the front desk and assists with workshops at the TRV Center, but her most significant role is guiding other reentry students who have children just like she does. She offers advice, as well as financial resources, child care resources, school resources and housing resources for other parents.

Transitioning from community college to a place like UC Davis is daunting in and of itself, since most resources are no longer centrally located but scattered across a vast campus. Navigating the quarter system new classroom settings are challenges for any new student, but these adjustments are especially hard for transfer and re-entry students.

“There used to be transfer services, reentry services and veteran services, [but] around 2008-2009 the services were combined because they realized that the one thing a lot of them had in common was that they were all transfer students [of some sort],” Garcia said. “[These transfer students] are coming in basically on their own, and for them to try and break into these social groups, can be very difficult and intimidating. The main thing that we offer here is opportunities for community building, social networking and mainly resource allocation.”

According to Garcia, it’s common for transfer students to feel isolated, and Carter-Jocelyn has learned through experience that being a re-entry student can sometimes feel lonely. Traditional students often form communicative barriers between themselves and students they view as different than them, especially if a re-entry student appears to be older.

“It’s hard [being a student-parent], but it’s definitely worth it,” Carter-Jocelyn said. “I think it’s helpful [for traditional students] to see another perspective, and that the school isn’t made up of 18,19, 20-something-year-olds — that there are people who are older. People who are exposed to us can learn how difficult it is and how lonely it can be for student-parents. It would be nice if people weren’t so afraid of me.”

Although re-entry students may differ from traditional students in their amount of “real-world” experience, re-entry students are more similar to other UC Davis students than they are different. Re-entry students are driven and engaged and take advantage of opportunities because they often approach situations with the goal of getting the best possible education that they can. Reentry students, no matter the circumstances that got them to UC Davis, are connected to other students through shared goals.

“I’m still young!” Carter-Jocelyn said. “I still like to do the things other college students like to do, I just don’t get to do them as often. I’m a normal college student, too.”

Written by: Marlys Jeane — features@theaggie.org

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