Mature student finds the right place

Teresa Workman

On a hot July afternoon, the Mount library was not busy. My daughter and I approached the service desk slowly, unsure if we were in the right spot. “Excuse me,” I said. “Is this where we get an ID card?”

“Yes,” the librarian said kindly. “You’re in the right place.” She turned toward my daughter and smiled. “Welcome to the Mount. I’ll take your picture today, and you’ll be able to pick up your ID card the first week of school.”

My daughter hesitated, shyly turning to look at me. The librarian continued. “Is this your first year? What program are you taking?” she inquired pleasantly. My daughter continued to look toward me.

“She’s not the student,” I replied. “I am.”

So began my studies as a mature student. Going back to school in my forties was not an easy decision, and not one I ever expected to make. But once I made the choice to study public relations, things moved quickly. I met with Department Chair, Dr. Amy Thurlow, in May, 2012. The first week in September I walked into a classroom filled with students closer in age to my children than to me, causing me to wonder if starting an undergrad degree at this stage in my life was a wise decision.

It was.

Lifelong learning
I’ve worked in the public relations field for 25 years. Discovering that I’ve been doing things all wrong was not something I looked forward to. It is empowering to realize that I’ve done many things right, and enriching to learn that there are theories and strategies and valid reasons to support decisions and choices I have made largely on instinct. I’ve learned about new communication theories that have been tried and tested since I was last in school, including Grunig and Hunt’s theory of two–way communication. I’ve also learned that there are some issues I could have handled better. That’s okay, because I’m here to learn.

A study completed at Brock University in 2013 surveyed seniors over the age of 60 about the psychological effects of lifelong learning. The study authors, Miya Narushima , Jian Liu & Naomi Diestelkamp, interviewed almost 700 respondents and concluded that lifelong learners reported a high level of psychological well-being. An interesting finding showed that psychological well-being increases the longer a person continues learning in the same topic.

Not Alone
It turns out that I am not alone in my quest for knowledge as a mature student.  The Association of University and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) publishes an annual report of trends in higher education. Data collected over the past 30 years shows that although the percentage of undergrad students over the age of 35 has remained consistent at two per cent, the number of students jumped from 11,000 students in 1980 to almost 20,000 in 2010. This jump reflects a similar increase in undergrad students of all ages. In the Mount’s own hallways, I often see mature students. Two hundred sixteen of us are registered as mature students, including 61 over the age of 35.

Role Model
I’ve also learned that teaching by example works. It helps me learn, and it’s good for my children to see me learn as well. The AUCC report highlights the three main elements that influence a student’s decision to enroll in university. While family income and high school grades are important factors, the report indicates that the greatest influencer is parental education. Since beginning university in 2012, my dining room table has been host to many interesting conversations. I’ve used what I’ve learned to help my son create a top notch 4H speech on Al Capone. My daughter helped me study for a French exam. Whether this experience encourages either of them to attend university remains to be seen, but the family bonding time is priceless.

The wonders of technology allow me to do most of my research and assignment work from home so I am only on campus two days each week. This is convenient for my family and allows me time to continue working while I study. When I’m on campus, I often drop in to the library. It’s comfortable, quiet, and the staff is a tremendous resource. I also like to touch base with the library staff member who made me feel so welcome on that first day. The one who helped me see that I am truly in the right place.