By Steve Harmic, Penn State DuBois
DUBOIS – In the midst of economic downturns that have caused unemployment rates to soar, professionals at Penn State DuBois continue to refine the services offered to help people train for new careers. Understanding that the student experience can be unique for people who are returning to the classroom after being in the workforce, the campus has established programs and services to help adult learners make the transition.
“We start off with a special orientation just for adult learners,” said Director of Student Affairs Rebecca Pennington. “We want them to come to the regular orientation too, but we also encourage them to come to the separate adult learner orientation, which is just a little more focused on the specifics for them. We go through all of the services offered to them, step by step.”
Pennington said things like computer skills are given special attention, since students of a non-traditional age may not have had the exposure to new technology that the average 18 year old freshman has had. “We go over everything related to computers and the systems we use, right down to how to turn on the machine,” she said.
Pennington said the adult orientation may be an eye-opener for some who are nervous about becoming a student again. She said, “A lot of them worry that they’ll be the only 30 year old, 40 year old, or 50 year old on campus. Then they walk into the orientation and see there are a lot of others like them.” In fact, according to Pennington, one-third of the students on campus are adult learners, which are defined as students age 25, or older.
The Center for Undergraduate Excellence (CUE) is one of the first stops that students of any age can make to get help with academics and more information on the campus. The center offers tutoring in a wide range of subjects, in addition to general help and information. CUE director Diane Gigliotti-Spratt said, “They can come here to find out all sorts of information. We’re another resource for them to find out how to navigate the campus, navigate the Penn State system, and a way for us to be as accessible to students as we can be.”
Gigliotti-Spratt said 20 percent of the visitors they get at the CUE are adult learners, who often return regularly for assistance. She said they come back because she and the tutors stress that it’s okay to ask for help.
“No question is stupid. There is always support,” said Gigliotti-Spratt. “Most often they just need a little push in a positive direction, and someone to help give them a little confidence and show them that they can be successful.”
Anne Ziegler, of Ridgway, is an adult learner with an 18 year old daughter who is also starting off in college this year. She is a regular at the CUE, explaining, “The CUE is such a great asset, and what it offers makes it more comfortable to be here. It’s part of what makes this campus really welcoming.”
Ziegler just closed her own nail salon and, looking to make a change, returned to school to earn her business degree.
“It’s a major decision to go back to school as an adult learner,” she said. “But you have to remember that you’re not the only one doing it. We’re all doing it together and with support from other adult learners and people on campus, you can do it. You don’t know what doors might open up for you. It is a real growing experience, and you learn a lot about yourself.”
Spring semester classes at Penn State DuBois begin January 10. For more information, call (814) 375-4720.