Midlife in College: One Year Down

About this time last year I was looking into questions I had for my daughter, Nicole, who was going to be a senior the next school year and thinking about going off to college at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, Alaska. While looking at the website, talking to registration counselors and admissions qualifications, I thought to myself, I can go back to school too. It would be fun! Wouldn’t it? It could be my little mid-life crisis. Instead of buying a fancy sports car, I could go into debt going back to college.

Without hesitation I filled out my application online and got started on the necessary steps of getting admitted. It took weeks to track down “official” transcripts from the colleges that I have attended and even my high school one from way back in 1989. I had to take Accu-placer exams and see if I even qualified for financial aid.

Over the next couple of months things came together and I started looking at fall courses in what I thought would be a biological sciences degree. I quickly changed my mind when I realized that there was way too much math and the requirement of having to take a foreign language.

I wandered over to the Eugene Short Hall on campus and saw a flyer for the Health and Physical Education Department’s (HPER) degree program with a concentration in outdoor leadership. That was something I would really enjoy doing. I love to spend time outdoors and as a business owner I think I am a pretty good leader.

I made an appointment to see an advisor and waited for my transcripts to be accepted.

By mid-July all of my transcripts were in place and I had over 90 credits that transferred. That is great with the exception that most of the classes were taken at Portland State and they were on a quarter system back in the early 1990s so many of my courses did not meet the requirement for full credit. For example my English Composition class transferred at 2.1 credits versus the required 3 at UAA. Many of the other courses did not transfer as requirements for my degree program in HPER. That’s okay. There was no way that I remember algebra from way back in 1989!  I would have to take it again. Many people go back to school for a second bachelors degree right? Maybe I am just crazy.

The great thing about all of the credits transferring into UAA it allows me to register with junior (class) status which helps dramatically when you are trying to get into a class that is only offered by one instructor like many of the HPER classes are.

By late August I was registered in five classes for 15 credits.

On the first day of classes, here I was 43 years old in classrooms full of students who were young enough to be my kids. I felt, and still do, feel a little awkward. I will talk more about that later…

In the fall term I took:

Introduction to Health and Physical Education. This was my first class in my new degree program and the first class as a returning student. When I entered into the classroom I felt like I was in high school again. The room was small the chalkboard was replaced by a whiteboard. From the very start the class became a challenge. Our instructor’s husband had passed away just a couple days into the term and several instructors filled in for her up until about the third week, which just so happened to be right before a major exam that included 5000 years of history of health and physical education! The class also required a lot of time outside of class doing what they called “community engagement” which means volunteering time in our community. We were required to have 12 hours of volunteering at two separate places. I chose to do mine at the food bank in Wasilla and a physical educators conference in Anchorage.

Throughout the term I began to question myself as to my choice of degree program. This course spent a lot of time on two aspects of physical education and health; becoming a PE teacher at a school or a predatory program for physical therapist. Neither was I interested in.

Overall, I learned a lot and began to work closely with a couple of students in group activities. It was soon apparent that I would be spending years with a lot of these students so I might as well make a couple of friends.

Final grade: B

General Psychology. This was a great class. It was taught by a local psychologist who works with military veterans dealing with PTSD and we quickly formed a good rapport. It was also a very awkward course because it was taught at the Alaska Middle College so I was in a classroom not only with young college freshman but also high-acheving high school students. We clashed several times in class discussions and it was a apparent that the age gap was wide, especially one day when we were talking about fashion and talking about the Peter Pan Syndrome!

Final grade: B

History of the United States. I started this class a week late because at first I was enrolled in a Intro to Logic class that was taught online by an instructor in Oregon that had a pet opossum. Need I say more? On the first day I arrived at class my history instructor voiced her displeasure with students who enrolled late and I made the snide comment, “I am paying to be here so its my choice on if I registered late or not.” I got a sideways glance. Carry on.

This course was great. My instructor was a retired colonel in the military and who spent time in Iraq as a terror integrator. Her lectures were full of passion and her story telling of history was in a way that I have never heard it before. I learned so many things that were not taught in my high school history classes, at least that I can remember. Even though we clashed on several occasions, especially on my long papers on Native American oppression, the Salem Witch Trials and the catalysts of the American Revolution, I really enjoyed the class.

Final grade: B

Technical Writing. This was an online class and the class that required the most work. All semester it seemed like we were writing endless memos for our assignments! Who writes memos any more, any way? I have been in business for twenty years and I have never written a memo. All in all it was a great class, really. I really liked the instructor and had great dialogue with my fellow students on our weekly discussion topics.

What was most remarkable was that when the instructor send us our final exam she accidentally sent us her copy with all of the answers! So we got lucky and didn’t have to take the final exam, after all.

Final grade: A

Music Appreciation. This is the class that actually started it all. Early in the summer, before my transcripts were even in and before I was officially admitted as a student, I decided that Nicole and I would take this course online together. This would give her a little bit of a head start next fall because she would already “be in the system” and allow her to do things a little quicker as an upcoming freshman.

I loved this class. It was online. Most of the class was spent listening to long pieces of music and we were required to answer questions about each piece each week as part of our assignments. The course spanned entries of music from the classical period all the way through rock-n-roll and show tunes.

Toward the end of the term, however, our instructor had some really bad health problems and was unable to complete the course so the music department chair had to come in and finish up the course. We did not have a final exam and a lot of the last portion of the course work ended up as extra-credit.

Nicole ended up doing very well too. I was proud of her in navigating her first college class, an online one with a few problems as well.

Final grade: A

In mid-November it was time to register for the spring term. Not knowing what to expect from the upcoming sled dog season I was cautious as to what I signed up for and knew that mushing was more important than classes and I knew that I couldn’t spent the time studying, in class and driving into Anchorage, like I did in the fall.

Nevertheless I signed up for 16 credits and I ended up dropping two classes and auditing another before the spring semester was complete.

As we moved into winter break I felt confident in my decision that I could do this school thing all over again. Even though I have been out of the classroom for almost twenty years, I had a great support system in Michele and Nicole and I actually enjoyed the time in classes and the mental stimulation that the course work provided. I knew the three week break between classes would be time spent on the sled runners and getting ready for racing season. That is until a training run on Thanksgiving Day changed all that. I knew my finger was broken but I did not go to the clinic to get it checked out until the semester was done at school The x-rays confirmed a pretty nasty spiral fracture of my middle finger on my left hand and it would make the upcoming mushing season difficult and it even affected my classes in the spring semester too.

Coming tomorrow: Midlife in College: One Year Down, Part 2