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Older was better, for me - going back to college in your thirties
The "non-traditional" student
I quit college in 1991, when I turned 18 years old, just before the second semester began; I hadn't realize that college wasn't my destiny at 17 years old.
I quit not knowing I was registered for five courses, all for which I received failing grades except an "incomplete," for classes I'd never been to. But, I needed to make money, so I went to work.
Laid off after eight years from the local telephone company in 2004, I married in 2006. Once settled, and with no children, we decided it would be a good time for me to go back to school. Five months later I was enrolled as a full-time student at the same state university I'd quit.
Go big and then go home
I signed up for classes during the peak hours; I wanted to get as much of the college experience as was possible. I wanted to be on campus as much as possible. The only difference was my age, 32, and that I didn't live on campus. But I looked young enough to fit in, and most students thought I was around their ages. On average, they thought I was 19 to 24 years old.
In six months, I became a student-worker for three and a half years in the Academic Computing department. This kept me on campus in-between classes and during summers. My job was based in the computer lab in the library. Soon I became a supervisor and later the assistant to my boss.
After taking a basic course in sociology, I thought I wanted to get into the sociology program. I began taking sociology requirements along with university requirements. I took refresher courses as prerequisites in order to take courses that would actually count as credits toward my degree. I took Saturday classes for the first two semesters. I took six courses some semesters. I had a plan - to graduate in four years when the advisor and almost everyone else with an opinion insisted it couldn't be done.
It took me a while to get over the fact that my past grades from 1991 were going to affect my current grade point average, but I felt confident still, and ready. A concerned history professor I told my story to was able to have one of the failing grades removed. I still had a lot of work to do in order to bring up my GPA, but I was up for the challenge.
The second semester, I began taking the intensive writing courses which were requirements. If I was to become a sociologist and conduct research, I knew I would want to be able to write about my work and communicate my ideas clearly.
The Cindy experience
There were three required intensive-writing courses. "Intro to Journalism" was my first. The course changed my life, and my decision on a major.
The professor was and still is my favorite in the journalism department. She was firm, she didn't treat the students like children. I cried the first day I took her class. I went to her office to speak with her before the next class and I have the greatest respect for her teaching style. Her expertise has and will continue to have a huge impact in my life.
The Professor, Cindy Simoneau
Some of us students, along with Cindy, which is how she prefers to be addressed, would joke that she was equally strict with everyone. She's simply passionate about journalism and she cares about her students. She wants her students to know everything she can possibly teach them about journalism in the "real world."
She helped me figure out what I wanted to do and accepted me into the journalism program. I will forever be thankful to have had her as an academic adviser and a mentor, by force. I was drawn to Cindy.
Why a fashionista chose journalism
In my business, which is fashion and entertainment, I wanted to learn to express my ideas clearly. The journalism curriculum was intense, with lots of technological aspects, such as using broadcast and video equipment and software programs. Deadlines were strict and content was important.
I took in every bit of information I could. The program was very involved. One semester I was taking four intensive writing courses at one time because they were electives I wanted to take.
The attention to detail and the work that goes into putting together a good story were sometimes tiresome and trying challenges, but I was still falling more in love with what I was learning. Not because I wanted to become a news-anchor or a reporter, but because I was learning a wealth of information that would benefit me for a lifetime.
I learned an important lesson about proofreading and editors' powers when a story I'd written was published in the university newspaper. The managing editor added hers and a staff writer's name to my story as if they'd contributed. I went to the professor who directed the newspaper and he confirmed that she had no right to put their names on my story due to their lack of contributing anything of value.
Too late, it's already printed
The default opinions editor
I volunteered, after no one else would, to be the opinions editor in 2009. The position paid a modest stipend and no one else would volunteer. I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn how a newsroom works. I stressed to the team that I would need lots of help. I received minimal help, but this was because the one young man who helped me wasn't there a lot. I learned a lot through trial and error, which was fine with me, although frustrating.
I'd made many mistakes as a writer and copy editor. I was new to the programs and formatting, and everything else involved with being an editor. I needed six to seven 500 to 800-word opinion editorials each week to fill the three-page section I was responsible for.
I solicited contributions, and when I didn't get any I would have to write the editorials myself. When I was done my pages were proofread, as was every section. I thought I was thankful for this, but it was another lesson.
Is the joke really on me?
I couldn't believe the amount of mistakes the managing editor allowed to be printed in some of my editorials. One obvious math mistake was the joke of the newsroom at the meeting following the issue. It was even joked about in class. "How did you come up with that number?" That's what everyone asked. I thought, "How could you print it without calling me first, so that I could clear it up?" That wasn't the only mistake I found after reading some of my printed work.
In journalism, some say you should never read your work after you've turned it in to the editor, that it's no longer yours. I say read it, because it's your name. I spoke up about changes being made to my section after it had been proofed and approved, but at a meeting some of the editors nonchalantly admitted that changes were made sometimes after I'd gone home.
The experience brought me back to a lesson relearned: If you want something done right, do it yourself.
It also taught me a new lesson; I want to be in charge of my work when name is on the line, or the byline. It's a lesson I'll hold on to in all of my future endeavors.
They said I wouldn't do it
So, I've earned a bachelor of science in journalism - in four years. People say everything happens for a reason; I say that sounds redundant - it's simple cause and effect. I know that everything happens exactly the way it is supposed to happen, and at 17 years old, for me, college would have been a total waste of information, money and most of all, time - which would have probably been a lot more than four years.
I earned a 3.8 GPA in journalism and a 3.4 with everything combined. I have sociology and history cognates. The saying, "If I'd known then what I know now" came to mind almost every day during those four years. I felt I had an advantage because I knew then what I didn't know when I was 17.
© 2013 Riquee