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Grace FlemingCollege After Thirty

by Grace Fleming

Mary Leonard wears many hats. The most important, she'll be the first to tell you, is the one that designates her the mother of two great kids. But after spending a few years in the military and reaching the age of thirty(ish!), Mary decided it was time to focus on herself and fulfill her own aspirations; it was time to pursue her dream career in medical research. And she wanted to have a good time, too.

Although many re-entry students think campus life is for kids, Mary was not fazed by age parameters. She began to involve herself in clubs and organizations soon after enrolling at Armstrong State University, a distinctive urban institution in historic Savannah, Georgia.

"College life has so much to offer students of all ages, and there are lots of older members in the clubs," Mary says. "We tend to take charge and play that parental role." Mary is the Recruitment Officer for the Honors Program and plays saxophone in the ASU concert band. As if that's not enough to keep her busy, she sings in the concert choir, and you may even find her performing on stage. This past summer she was spotted playing Bertha in Pippin, an ASU Masquers club theatre production.

And Mary is not alone in her campus involvement. "We've had a constant flow of outstanding nontraditional students working on stage as well as backstage," said Dr. Peter Mellen, director of Masquers. "And they have a wonderful time."

Today, all across America students like Mary are filling up classrooms in record numbers. And re-entry students are taking active rolls in foreign language clubs, honor societies, professional organizations, and even sports. "Re-entry students shouldn't be intimidated by their differences," Mary says. "They should embrace college life. Have a blast!"

"Don't get me wrong," she adds. "It was a little unnerving, walking onto campus and feeling like everybody was staring. But now I know it was my imagination. There are plenty of older students returning to college these days. They're everywhere!"

Professors aren't complaining about the ever rising average age of students. They have long enjoyed the substance that nontraditional students bring to the campus. Dr. Richard Nordquist, professor of English and author of Passages: A Writer's Guide, insists adult learners are some of his best students. "They are better than that-they're simply the lifeblood of this university," he declares. "They are focused and they stimulate and often challenge the faculty. They make this a better place to learn."

Nordquist adds that he teaches primarily during the evening so he is more likely to have classrooms filled with adult students. "I began teaching nontraditional students twenty-five years ago on a military base," he says. "Now it's a necessity."

If you're ready to change your career, enrich your mind, or even embark on a whole new life plan, maybe it's time to get back into the classroom. Here are a few guidelines to help get you onto the campus and help you enjoy the entire college experience.

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