Non-traditional students share personal perspectives on student life

Non-traditional Student Week was held last week from Oct. 31 to Nov. 4 at the University of Maine. A series of workshops and events, such as a bake-off and family trick-or-treating, were held to celebrate UMaine’s non-traditional students

Non-traditional students are those who pursue a bachelor’s degree while already managing many other life roles, such as marriage and parenting. They can be undergraduates who are 24 or older, who came to college several years past their high school graduation, or who came back to university for their second degree. Over 15 percent of UMaine undergraduates are considered non-traditional.

“Non-traditional Student Week is is all about raising awareness that there are non-traditional students on this campus,” Barbara Smith, staff associate for student affairs, said. Smith works with the Commuter and Non-Traditional Student Programs (CNTSP). “Not everyone rolls out of bed at Knox Hall and walks to class in the morning,” she said.

Smith has worked for Student Affairs at UMaine for 35 years. In the past, she worked with traditional students as a director of Residence Life. Although the skills she learned there are transferrable, Smith shared that the situations and issues that non-traditional students have are more intense.

“The problems that you try to work through with an 18-year-old who recently moved from home are different than those of a 35-year-old mother of four who is starting her first shot at college,” Smith said. “You’re worried about your sick kids or whether the furnace is going to fall apart, rather than you not getting along with your roommate. Many of them [non-traditional students] are working 40 hours a week and have a full-time class load. Some of them are married and parenting. They commute to campus. I don’t know how they do it,” Smith said.

Located on the ground floor of the Memorial Union in the Wade Center, the Commuter Lounge is a place where commuters and non-traditional students can meet people with similar experiences.

“I love talking to new people and sharing advice,” Amy Dias, a student employee for CNTSP, said.

Dias, 25, is a mother of two and a non-traditional student herself. She chose UMaine by the recommendation of her sister who also went to UMaine. Dias lives in the university park, on-campus housing for students with families. Dias also utilizes UMaine’s children’s center for both of her children.

“Family services here have been amazing,” Dias said. “Non-traditional students are definitely like a second family. You rely on each other on different things, even babysitting. I’ve only been here for few years and everyone is so friendly. New non-traditional student coming should feel like they are always welcome here.”

Before starting university, traditional students reside on campus for several days to go through summer orientation. However, that is not usually an option for non-traditional students.

“You’re certainly not going come for orientation and stay overnight if you are a 30-year-old mother of two,” Smith said.

CNTSP holds a shortened orientation for non-traditional students that does not require staying on campus for the weekend. During orientation sessions, student get a chance to meet other new non-traditional students and review resources and programs available to them.

There are several regularly scheduled programs at CNTSP such as What’s on Wednesday (WOW) and First Friday Bagels. Tim Hortons donates bagels every first Friday of the month and people can grab a bagel starting from 8 a.m. until the last bagel is gone. More than 150 people come to this popular event.

“For commuters and non-traditional students, food is money,” Smith said. “They are on a very tight budget. A free meal is a big deal. Free means I get to eat lunch today. Non-traditional students decide do they eat lunch today or do their kids get to go on a third grade field trip,” Smith said.

Six students work 15 hours a week and staff the CNTSP office. Five of them are non-traditional students and four out of the six have other jobs as well.

Molly Masters and Tristan Strack-Grose are both non-traditional students and parents of their two-year-old son. Masters utilizes the family room located on the ground floor Memorial Union.

The family room is equipped with a baby changing table, kids toys, a rocking chair and more. For mothers who need to breastfeed or pump while on campus, this space provides quiet, comfort and privacy.

“Family room is a great resource,” Masters said. “My son can take his energy out, play with toys and not be in an academic building filled with noise.”

Masters believes that it is important to have events such as non-traditional student week.

“We have a different perspective, not that it’s vastly different, since every student has some sort of a background. There’s an interesting diversity brought by non-traditional students. We often have other responsibilities like children and marriage. I think traditional students who live on campus can benefit from having conversations with us,” Masters said.

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