GTPulse: Back To School – Again
Last September, I was on the air interviewing a spokesperson for the Michigan Futures for Frontliners Scholarship opportunity—a sort of G.I. bill program funded by the CARES act—that offers free community college tuition for Michigan frontline workers who don’t already have a degree. I listened intently, asking questions about requirements and funding details, all the while realizing that I was personally checking many of the boxes required for eligibility.
I’m no stranger to NMC. I was enrolled out of high school and left after a semester to enter the workforce. After my son was born, a few years later, I returned to NMC for another semester after serving with Americorps National Service, only to leave once again to focus on my career and my son.
Over the years, I have always identified myself as a lifelong learner. My job as a broadcaster and freelance writer is built upon a foundation of interviews, curiosity, research and critical thinking. In fact, at the start of my career at WTCM, my former boss, Jack O’Malley, said that working in talk radio meant I was literally getting paid to get an education in the world around me. I’ve never forgotten that. However, in the back of my mind, I always hoped that I would someday finish my literal education.
Believe me, I don’t think college is a necessity for every person. In fact, I know people can work their way into a rewarding and lucrative career without a formal secondary education. Skilled trade positions are in high demand and offer both above average starting wages and opportunity for advancement. I happen to come from a long line of contractors and tradesmen. That’s what I love about this particular partnership with NMC and Futures for Frontliners—NMC offers certificates in the skilled trades—like construction— that students can achieve in as little as 16 credits.
But, for me, the road to achieving my goals includes a few years of college. And, this past Monday, at the age of 41, with one son serving in the military and the other a Junior in High School, I headed back to school. Even just a few days in, I’m already learning a lot.
Sympathy for the Zoom School
I am enrolled in both live stream and online classes, which means I’m getting a personal perspective into the difficulties of online learning. Prior to my first day, I spent several hours going through a tutorial that covered the basics of self-paced online classes and live stream classes. As a younger member of Generation X, I pride myself on having some knowledge of technology. But, as the date of the official sign-in drew near, I found myself flooded with anxiety over misunderstanding the tutorial. I checked (and re-checked) my computer to make sure I had the proper systems, software and plug-ins. I purchased a book at the NMC online bookstore and stared at the access code for a good two minutes before realizing it was actually a download code. And, as my first day began, I realized I would require several breaks to avoid succumbing to the dreaded “Zoom fatigue.” When my son got home later that afternoon, I gave him a big hug and said, “I get it now. I do. And, I’m sorry for giving you a hard time about the online schooling you’ve had to do.”
The Secret Wave of the Older Student
A good friend of mine decided to go back to school this semester, too, and we even signed up for the same online class. As we started seeing the online introductions from our fellow classmates, she texted me.
Friend: Omg, there are high school juniors in our Psych class.
Me: I saw that and cried.
It’s true. When I saw the bright faces and introductions of traditional students next to my wrinkles and Mom jeans, I took pause. But, that’s the beauty of NMC. The traditional student isn’t always so traditional. Yes, I am sharing space with people more than half my age, but I am also placed in classes with people older than me. I have military veterans as classmates, and other Mom’s, like me, who waited until their kids were grown to pursue their own dreams. It’s inspiring, really. I count myself lucky to be able to hear perspectives from both young and old. That said, any time I see a 35+ student, whether it’s during a live stream class or just the profile of a fellow online student, I place my middle and index finger to my lips and salute, as if they were my fellow tribute–battling through the unfamiliar terrain of the second (or third) chance jungle.
A Future at Any Age
When people first found out that I would be headed back to college, their responses were all pretty similar. I got any combination of a simple “why,” the more complex, “is everything okay at work,” and the somewhat condescending, “aren’t you a little old.” I know beyond a doubt that my friends and family didn’t intend for their questions to be anything more than simple curiosity, after all, I do have a job that I love. Perhaps, though, the root of their questions came from the same seed of doubt in my own mind: Is it too late? Is there an expiration date on accomplishing goals, or, working toward a new dream? The fact of the matter is that my educational goals will only enhance my current job. My continued learning will only make me a better interviewer, a better broadcaster, a better writer. But, perhaps it is my age—the very thing that make me feel a little anxious about starting something new—that is giving me the wisdom and knowledge to know that it is never too late to pursue something you desire. And, no matter how old you are, you can always change your mind about what you want to be when you grow up.
Notes: Although the Futures for Frontliners scholarship has closed, there may be other opportunities headed your way. If you are 25 years or older, you may still be eligible for tuition-free community college. In February 2021, the state will begin accepting applications for Michigan Reconnect, a new state program that offers tuition-free community college to all Michigan residents who are 25 or older and do not have a college degree. Look for the Michigan Reconnect website in February 2021 to apply, or, contact the admissions department at Northwestern Michigan College.
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