Old Dogs, New Tricks

A blog for non-traditional students

Moving Day

Just a brief explanation for the new location of my blog:  I was unable to overcome the technical glitches that plagued my earlier posts, so I picked the blog up in its entirety and moved it to this new, streamlined site.  I will be posting my thoughts on another type of moving-day topic – the graduate and family housing situation – later this weekend.  I’m working on pulling together some more specific information and a couple links.

So welcome to the new site and if there’s something you want to talk about – TELL ME!!! 🙂

*** Danielle


January 10, 2009 Posted by | Student Life, Technology | Leave a comment

Working Vacation

I have to stop apologizing for my extended absences – maybe by not having them.  Fall quarter ramped up during the last three weeks and I ended up working on projects every day for ten hours at minimum and barely made my deadlines.  I’m truly beginning to appreciate the difference in being a senior from previous years – turns out higher level classes involve a lot more work than I remember. 🙂

Speaking of work, here I sit during my winter break posting to this blog – as a way of avoiding doing work around my house.  I passed up the annual family trip to Florida with my parents and son, in theory because someone had to take care of our pets – can you board goldfish?  In actuality, I stayed here to a) enjoy the solitude of a house without my mother barking orders or my son popping his head into my room every fifteen minutes to tell me he’s bored and b) to catch up on all the household chores that I had to ignore this past quarter.

So far, I’ve mostly tried to relax and played a lot of video games, but I have managed to get my own laundry done, unpacked a few boxes from the recent clearing of my storage unit and even do a little homework – yeah, that’s right, I’ve got so much reading for the next quarter that I needed to start during my supposed vacation.  Here’s the thing that very few traditional students can truly appreciate about being an older student with family obligations and homes to take care of:  The world doesn’t bend to your needs simply because you’re busy and have other obligations.

So while my younger classmates are winging off to family vacations or traveling to Miami to root for our Bearcats (more on that later), I’m at home trying to simultaneously relax and catch up on three months worth of chores AND get started on homework for next quarter.  Part of what I’m doing during these three weeks isn’t just for me – my son’s bedroom is beginning to overflow with stuff because he has boxes of school papers going all the way back to first grade; he’s in fifth now.  The remnants of my former domestic life are no longer costing me $80 a month; instead they are cluttering up my parents’ already-full garage. 

I consider my awareness of the impact of my actions on other people as a sign of maturity; four years ago, I probably would have felt picked on if someone fussed at me for inconveniencing them.  I freely confess that I retained my youthful obliviousness of the needs of others well past the time when it was age-appropriate.  So when I see signs of this “me, me, me” attitude in my younger peers, I both empathize and worry for them. 

One thing that has surprised me about these youngins is how often they really put forth the effort for assignments in classes that they view as important.  While it would be great if they appreciated the importance of all their classes, I actually think it’s admirable that they increase the amount of energy they expend on something other than partying and text-messaging each other.  Maybe that’s a sign of impending maturity in them – maybe five years from now, they’ll be forgoing some long-awaited vacation in order to fulfill their responsibilities.  Hey, a mom can dream right?  After all, I view my younger classmates as a window into the future for my own child, and any indication that they aren’t complete hedonists makes me feel a little better about sending my boy off to college someday.

*** Danielle

January 10, 2009 Posted by | Generation Gap, Maturity | Leave a comment

‘Tis the Season

Finally, the end of the quarter is in sight – I’m looking forward to being able to take a breather from the non-stop work I’ve had this fall.  And who doesn’t look forward to the holidays – family, food, presents… Of course, that’s the downside too, especially for we student parents – where do we get the money in this nutty economy to put some boxes of fun under our trees for the little ones?

 I’ve been desperately trying to avoid thinking about this, but with the biggest shopping day of the year less than a week away, I’m out of time.  A shaky economy does have it’s perks – like a tank of gas for less than $15 – but it makes me wonder if it wouldn’t be better to skip the brightly colored baubles and instead stick my money in my mattress or some equally crafty financial plan.  I feel guilty spending $10 on a prescription – what will it be like if I drop $50 on a video game?

 I’ll admit this may be ageism on my part, but I don’t think that most of my traditional peers comprehend how scary this whole economic turmoil is.  Maybe it’s just because they didn’t grow up with grandparents who could remember in detail what it was like to live during the Great Depression – I feel like we more mature learners have a better grasp on the potential disaster that could be coming.  Of course, I’m not exactly an economist so maybe I’m blowing the whole thing out of proportion. 

 I know that one area of common ground I share with my younger classmates is the fear of what this will mean for my future employment opportunities.  Although it will depress some of my professors, the primary reason I came back to school was to get that prized piece of parchment that’s the key to more profitable employment.  Now I’m left to wonder if I’ll end up having to go back into the dreaded fields of retail and hospitality – that fancy term for restaurants and hotels. The horror!

 Compounding my fears for the future, my journalism professors are becoming obsessed with “informing” us about the straits of magazines and newspapers.  They say they don’t want to discourage us from continuing on in our chosen field, but they want us to be aware of what we’ll be facing.  All we hear is “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”  I’m sure other majors aren’t faring much better.

 In the end, I really think the non-trads feel the pressure of the wonky economic twists and turns more than our younger peers.  We already shoulder a lot of the burdens that college is preparing them for, so, while the current crisis might make them worry about the future, we old farts don’t have the luxury of thinking that far down the road.  The potential troubles they might see down the road are knocking on our doors now – so we have the added “fun” of coping with finals and trying to parce out our measly cash reserves for Christmas shopping and our utility bills.

*** Danielle

January 10, 2009 Posted by | Maturity, Student Life | Leave a comment

Feeling Like Methusaleh

For anyone new to the blog, let me say welcome.  And on that note, I’m starting to wonder if I’m all alone out here – am I speaking your language or am I totally off base?  Speak up – use that snazzy little comment box down there!!!

Here’s a familiar, yet depressing, scene in my classes: the professor is explaining something, perhaps why celebrities don’t normally bother suing tabloids for libel, and after searching for a good example, settles on something that happened over 15 years ago.  Midway through describing what happened the professor will toss off a comment like, “Of course, you all are too young to remember that.”  At which point, my head bangs on my desk and I choke back a groan.

There are many variations on this theme; I’ve had professors refer to their entire class as young people under the age of 25, I’ve tried to contribute some insight to a class based on my slightly larger body of knowledge (like talking about how interesting Geraldine Ferraro’s comments on Hilary Clinton were in light of Ferraro’s own place in campaign history) only to be faced with blank stares from my classmates or, maybe the worst experience so far, actually having a “professor” who is significantly younger than me – although I imagine this is a far more common occurence for non-trads older than myself.

Of course, I’ve also faced the reverse problem – the professor uses some current event or public figure as an example and I have no idea who or what they are talking about.  This is particularly embarrassing for me because I’m a journalism major and should keep up with the news more, but there are only so many hours in the day – ultimately, I sacrifice knowledge of the hottest new hip-hop artist or the most recent escapades of Paris/Britney/Lindsay/etc.

Nothing can make you feel like an old fart as a discussion of your musical interests.  While I still manage to have some more up-to-date interests (Nickelback, Daughtry, Staind), the majority of my musical interests run to what is now classic rock – I shudder even as I type those words.  I have to resist the urge to smack myself in the forehead and say, “Doh!” when a classmate comments that they like The Police too – their parents used to play them all the time.

And maybe it’s a sign of maturity on my part – rather than becoming an old stick-in-the-mud – that I can’t stifle a groan when someone starts talking about the latest Will Ferrell or Jack Black movie.  My comedy interests come in two flavors: stand-up and romantic.  Outside of those, I appreciate small doses mixed in with more dramatic material – I’m a West Wing-snarkiness junkie.  Of course, my dislike for sexual pie humor or lame single-entendres only further underlines my distance from what is … um … hip? … cool? … happening? – I went too far there, I know that’s out of touch.

But maybe that’s the beauty of mixing non-trads with their younger counterparts – it’s a fairly simple way to mix the two mind sets and possibly lead to a little extracurricular learning.  Maybe I’ve encouraged some of my younger peers to broaden their musical horizons (not likely) or opened up a new world of movie entertainment (my answer to the Blades of Glory fans has always been Clue – a far classier movie).  And certainly I appreciate the pointers on what’s new in the world of pop culture – it helps me keep a step ahead of my adventurous 11-year-old son – soon to be a teenager.  There’s another shudder – better stop before I fall out of my chair.

*** Danielle

January 10, 2009 Posted by | Generation Gap, Maturity | Leave a comment

Living Vicariously

It looks like I may have finally overcome my technical difficulties – we’ll see how it goes the next couple entries.

Ah, college life – images of frat parties and crowded football games still float through my head at the words – and that’s after over two years back on campus.  Maybe it’s just rose-colored glasses, but I still have fond memories of what my first college experience was like.  Sometimes I long for my carefree days of wild parties and big plastic containers full of the mystical “jungle juice” that smoothed out the edges of those crazy days.  Listening to my younger classmates talk about their exciting evenings, and even bemoaning the hangovers that follow them to class the next day, I feel like I’m not that far removed from the fun of my youth.

However, at the same time, I find myself – inwardly at least – shaking my head in disbelief at the antics that my classmates get up to.  I’ve discovered I’m turning into my own mother – the horror! – and have to restrain myself from reprimanding the wayward youth that sometimes show up to classes more than hungover – still buzzed from the night before.  But my motherly instincts still can’t smother my enjoyment of their wild stories and wish for the freedom to be able to stay out all night, drinking and dancing with my friends.

I often wonder what those very same classmates think about me when I make a passing comment about being in bed by midnight every night.  I try to ignore that sneaking suspicion that they think, “Man, I’d hate to be that old!”  Instead, I share some of my own youthful indiscretions, in some strange need to compare myself to them – make it seem like I wasn’t always such a stick-in-the-mud.

Ultimately, while I sometimes miss the days when I had no responsibilities beyond homework and returning my best friend’s emails, I’m glad that I’ve learned the lessons that I have.  Although, I wish I had been able to figure out that all-night partying isn’t the best way to get ahead without spending so many years in debt up to my eyeballs and no job to speak of.

Maybe that’s what I secretly long to share with my more traditional counterparts – that having a good time is great but it should never be more important than taking care of your responsibilities.  That could just be the mom in me but I really wish there was a way to impart that wisdom without sounding like such an old fart.  I’d love to be able to save someone the aggravation and heartache of learning all that stuff the hard way.  And that’s the worst part of being the “grownup” – I finally realize that there is no way to teach those kind of lessons – some things people just have to experience for themselves.

*** Danielle

January 10, 2009 Posted by | Generation Gap, Student Life | Leave a comment


Technical difficulties, plus my entire weekend without the ‘net inspired me to talk about tech and how non-traditionals look at its widespread use on campus.

Okay, I admit it – I’d be lost without my emails and cellphone  – I know since my Zoomtown crashed last Friday and was down until Tuesday.  It wasn’t until I was rushing around with my laptop trying to find a free WiFi hotspot on Sunday that I realized how ridiculously dependent I was on my computer.  That realization turned to irritation as I thought about why I was so desperate to get online – I had three classes with projects due this week that required extensive use of the internet, plus I needed to try to straighten up this blog. 

I understand how useful the web is for professors.  It allows them to communicate efficiently outside of class with everyone, covering those who were absent or anyone who couldn’t hear that final instruction over the din of scraping chairs and zipping bookbags (is that an old fart word?).  But since I can’t do anything online while I’m driving back and forth to school and I can’t get online when I’m at my son’s soccer games or visiting my ailing grandparents or at lunch with my extended family… well let’s just say that although I appreciate the convenience of BlackBoard and wikis, I miss the good old days when homework involved a book and some paper – maybe a trip to the library.

Of course, all I have to do to realize the good old days are gone is glance around the McMicken quad between classes as we all rush to and fro.  The number of students with cellphones glued to their hands (or ears, for those lucky few with bluetooth headsets) or bopping along (another old fart slip) to their I-Pods blows me away every day.  I always think about when cellphones were so big they barely fit in briefcases, and the best way to take music with you was a Sony Walkman – the old cassette tape variety.

I remember when pay phones were scattered every people might gather – especially the malls, which had banks and banks of phones lined up along walls near the entrances and rest rooms.  Nowadays, most young people just wrinkle their brow in confusion if you ask them where the pay phone is – “Um, here’s the store phone, and I guess someone pays for it.”

Text messaging has replaced the unavoidable sea of beeping pagers of my youth.  Email is now not a luxury or an optional way of communicating but a vital necessity that we cannot get along without.  Forget about going to the library to research that paper – now we just hop online and peruse article databases while sitting at home in our jammies (alright that’s just little old lady – I’ll stop).

I’m not against life being easier, but something else has changed with our high-speed expectations.  It’s awful, but personal interactions are way less – well, personal – now and it’s particularly bad among our younger classmates.  Grammar is no longer a valued skill, and between spell check and text-lingo, vocabularies are losing substantial words – although they are being replaced, at least in some part, by little nuggets like BFF and AFAIK.

So maybe it sounds like sour grapes, and sure, I’m jealous that I had to learn how to type on actual typewriters (even a manual one) and if I wanted to talk to a teacher about something I had to hang around after class and be late to my next one.  But I worry a lot – especially about my son – that young people today are losing out on a valuable lesson that slower work and production instills in them – patience.  Not to mention the concept of delay of gratification.

*** Danielle

January 10, 2009 Posted by | Technology | Leave a comment

No “I” in Team

Few assignments bring forth such a shadow of dread as the group project.  I understand the principle behind this sort of work; it’s going to prepare students to work with others once they enter the “real world.”  That’s a great goal, but what does it do for those of us who have already been there?  And don’t say that group projects can teach the same principles to non-traditional students as to their traditional counterparts – if mature learners haven’t figured out how to work with others by the time they’ve returned to college, there’s a pretty good chance they never will (and maybe don’t want to).

 I am the first to admit that one big problem I have with group assignments is completely my fault.  I’m a perfectionist – and hence, a control freak – so the idea of relying on someone else’s efforts to get a decent grade makes me extremely anxious.  Of course, if I’m not careful, this concern can come across like I think I’m better than my teammates – which makes the whole social dimension of group work that much more difficult,  But at least, as I’ve learned from chatting with other non-trads, I’m not alone in this anxiety.

 Another serious issue I (and my fellow old farts) face in group projects is the unspoken belief that because I’m a mature (read: old) person, I’ll do whatever anyone else doesn’t (want to) do.  That sort of thinking leads to a lot of slacking off by other team members, but this phenomenon is not restricted to (more) adult students.  Pretty much any type-A personality can expect to shoulder more than a fair part of the work in team assignments.  The major difference for non-trads is how we react to being dumped on like this.  We tend to think of the guilty parties as being immature or “just kids,” which further separates us from our younger classmates.

 For those of us who are both non-trads and commuters, the worst part of group work is trying to meet outside of class with the team.  An out-of-class session might mean a ten-minute walk for students who live around campus or in Clifton, but it means over an hour in the car for me – not to mention the costs of gas and parking.  My reluctance to meet in person is often taken as my being difficult or anti-social (okay maybe it is, just a little bit), but I spend so much time in my car as it is, just driving from Colerain Township to Clifton everyday for my classes, that I’m on the verge of succumbing to road rage.  Or slipping into a coma as I travel the same, monotonous route every day.

 I completely get that there is an educational purpose beyond the stated assignment in group projects, but I often wonder how many professors consider non-trads when they design their syllabi.  Thankfully, email and BlackBoard make this sort of project less difficult.  Regardless, the whole concept seems a little out-of-date.  When mature learners were rarities in the classroom, it didn’t make much sense to retool an entire course to suit their particular needs.  But nowadays, it’s not just the non-trads who have other, equally important, demands on their time; most traditional students have jobs – some even have families.

 I guess what I’ve learned from group work is a little outside what my professors probably intended.  Ultimately, I’ve discovered a problem that non-trads share with their younger peers.  No one likes group projects – and they are just less relevant today.  The Internet revolution has made telecommuting not just a faint possibility but an everyday reality.

 Finally, something that the old farts and those darn kids can agree on:  It’s time to say goodbye to the mandatory group assignment.

 *** Danielle

January 10, 2009 Posted by | Student Life | 1 Comment

Who Is a Non-traditional Student?

Before we go any further, let’s figure out what this rather pejorative term means.

 Non-traditional student – A student who is either returning to college or starting college at an age older than typical freshmen. – from the UC human resources department in a list of idioms for new hires (http://www.uc.edu/hr/new_hires/idioms.html)

 Non-traditional students – Students who are older than the typical undergraduate college student (usually aged 18-25) and had interrupted their studies earlier in life OR students of traditional age but attending colleges or programs that provide unconventional scheduling to allow for other responsibilities and pursuits concurrent with attaining a degree (example give include Olympians and professional athletes). – from the Wikipedia entry for non-traditional student (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/non-traditional_student)

– see also mature student, adult learner (also used on the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences explanation of options available to non-traditional students)


My own personal definition of non-traditional student is slightly less precise and a bit less diplomatic:  I generally think of us as the “old farts.”  I know that the age range for non-traditional students is pretty vast and that a 50-year-old undergrad would probably consider me (at the tender age of 33) as a young pup.  Nevertheless, those of us who fall outside the “typical” mold of college students are lumped together like some sort of weird sub-species.

 What unites us is the fact that we all bring to our classrooms something more than just 13 years of book learning.  We’ve got what most people refer to as “life experiences” under our belts.  While the book learning stuff is important for a university setting, a few encounters with the “real world” often proves to be much more critical to a successful undergraduate career.  For those of us who come to college after starting families, we understand what it means to be responsible in a way few high school seniors do.  Others have returned to complete their degrees after spending time in the work force where the importance of deadlines is hammered home much more effectively than any amount of term papers might be able to.

 Still, sometimes this surfeit of “experience” comes with downsides.  Our classmates (and even some professors) expect more from us than other “traditional” students, because we are more “mature” and “should know better.”  (A quick look at my credit history would put this myth to rest rather quickly.)

 And the heaviest burden non-traditional students bring to their college experiences is the additional responsibilities inherent in taking care of yourself.  Alright, I confess that I live with my parents (and son) while I’m completing my degree, so maybe I don’t seem all that different from the youngsters who are here on Mom and Dad’s dime.  But I have my own issues that complicate being a (successful) undergraduate; I’m a (newly) single mother, trying to juggle my son’s soccer schedule and growing piles of homework with the papers, books and lectures from my 18-credit-hour courseload.

 Regardless of the differences between us, non-traditional students do have common interest and I hope to address some of those things that are vitally important to our community.  From the recent changes made by the university that may adversely affect us (loss of dependent coverage in our student health insurance) to the culture shock of learning alongside people who weren’t even born when we graduated from high school, I’ll examine issues from the unique persepective as a mature learner and try to represent the interests of non-traditional students in general.

 *** Danielle Frink, resident old fart

January 10, 2009 Posted by | Student Life | Leave a comment