Non-traditional students juggle family time, homework

Sara Macho

New notebooks. Check.

A fresh pack of pens. Check.

Brightly colored highlighters. Check.

Pack the kids’ lunches and get them safely on the school bus. Check.

For many Kent State students, the to-do list may have stopped at the brightly colored highlighters. But according to Adult Student Adviser Joyce Wall, staff member in the Adult Student Center in the Michael Schwartz Center, seemingly “traditional” students are not the only threading in Kent State’s diversely colored tapestry.

There are about 4,000 “non-traditional” students or anyone older than age 24, attending classes at Kent State, Wall said.

Wall, 52, not only works as an adviser to adult students, but she is one herself. Wall waited until her children were grown to return to school, and she is pursuing a degree in library and information science.

“After my kids grew up and moved out of the house, I needed some way to fill my time,” she said.

Now, with her duties at home, school and work, Wall has little time for anything else. As part of her responsibilities in the Adult Student Center, Wall assists adult individuals as they make the transition of returning to school after many years.

The center, which caters to anyone with a non-traditional student lifestyle, provides services such as pre-admission counseling, academic advising, career guidance and help with university procedures, Wall said.

“Though this class is not a requirement for adult students, I offer it as a suggestion,” she said. “Many adult students may be returning to school after a number of years.”

For pre-nursing major Lisa Pancost, 34, of Shalersville, life is far from conventional.

This fall, she is not only taking four classes, but also working two day jobs as an assistant aide specialist and reading tutor at Crestwood Elementary School.

And that’s just the beginning. Pancost also serves as PTO president, Girl Scouts leader, choir member and child liturgy teacher at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Mantua.

“Deciding to return to school is huge step in someone’s life,” said Wall, who also teaches an evening adult student orientation class in Bowman Hall. “Almost every adult student here hasn’t been to school in a long time.”

Vanessa Austin, 37, of Canton has returned to school to obtain a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. She currently works full-time as a trustee of bankruptcy in Canton, but has decided going one step higher than her associate’s degree will make her more valuable to her employer.

“It’s difficult coming back after so long,” Austin said. “My mind doesn’t work as fast.”

Austin, a single mom with a 14-year-old son named Trae, is taking 13 credit hours this semester and hopes to graduate in four years. Trae has had a difficult time adjusting to his mother being preoccupied with college, Vanessa said.

“He plays sports, and I never get to see any of his games because I don’t get home till about 10:30 at night,” Austin said.

Pancost, originally a Kent State student in 1992, left the university to marry her husband, Ed, now 34, and have children.

Fortunately for Pancost, her children, Maia, 9, and Jacob, 11, understand their mom’s decision of attending college classes. It’s Pancost, actually, who is having a hard time with the choice.

“It’s the guilt that’s the toughest,” she said. “I saw my daughter and son for maybe 10 minutes today. By the time I get home, they’ll be in bed.”

When Pancost first attended Kent State in 1992, it was simply because her parents had forced college on her.

“I have a direction now, and I find myself acting more serious than the other kids,” she said smiling. “I can’t help but call the other students ‘kids’ because I feel so much older.”

Contact features reporter Sara Macho at [email protected].