Degree Seekers Cross Mountains
'Coming back to school means taking risks'
It is an icy-cold Monday evening in early February. The day’s high was 21 degrees F, the low 8 degrees. With a harsh wind whipping around campus, it feels like we’re below the low.
It’s the kind of evening where few leave the comforts of home without good reason.
Inside a large classroom of the EMU campus center, “cohort #50” of the Adult Degree Completion Program (ADCP) is meeting for the first time.
Before introductions are made, they appear to be people with little in common. A Swedish-blond coed looks like she belongs among the usual 18- to 22-year-old undergrads who populate the campus during the day.
Several women look old enough to be her mother.
The woman in that corner looks Hispanic. The three sitting in this row – could be mother, father and son – seem to be African American.
Nobody looks particularly at ease. Well, almost nobody. The woman at the podium in the front has a big smile and is speaking with enthusiasm. At the back a row of women wearing EMU nametags also seem relaxed.
'future is unknown'
ADCP Prof Starts Scholarship Fund
E & M Auto Paint & Supply of Harrisonburg, Va., recently established an endowed scholarship fund for Adult Degree Completion Program students in memory of Richard M. Whitmore, who died at age 51 in 1999.
Whitmore family members, who own E & M, have committed $20,000 to the fund and are trying to raise $30,000 more to meet the minimum of $50,000 required for an endowed scholarship fund at EMU.
Richard was the brother of Terry L. Whitmore, ADCP professor and one of the founders of the program.
“My younger brother is someone who would have benefited from ADCP,” wrote Terry in an appeal to join his family in contributing to the fund.
“Because of choices he made early in life about family, business and community service – and because of a generous spirit and commitment to serve others – he missed an opportunity to complete his own education. He never completed college.”
Terry is hoping that the Richard M. Whitmore Endowed Scholarship Fund will enable individuals who are strongly motivated to complete their degrees though they lack the funds to do so.
To contribute or for information on starting an endowed scholarship fund, contact a development officer via 1-800-368-3383 or www.emu.edu/giving.
Beryl Brubaker, EMU provost, addresses the group: “Coming back to school means taking risks. The future is unknown and will most certainly require a great deal from you.
“There will be new challenges. You may be wondering if you can succeed. This most likely means you are feeling anxious.”
In the next few minutes, Brubaker assures her audience that “you can succeed in completing this program.” Their mission is to pick up the shards of past college studies and to finish what they started, even if long ago, earning a bachelors degree from EMU in one of two subjects: (1) management and organizational development, as the students in cohort #50 plan to do, or (2) nursing.
This cohort of 17 persons will meet one evening a week, 6 to 10, for 15 months straight. (An ADCP program for nurses, taking them from R.N. to B.S.N., takes a bit longer – about 18 months – and is offered at EMU’s Lancaster, Pa., site in addition to Harrisonburg.)
Brubaker stresses that ADCP is designed to enable them to succeed: with “a cohort of supporters in seats around you…these people will help you stay the course when you feel like quitting”; and with course content that draws upon their own life experiences.
This class will be “less telling, more doing; less lecture, more discussion; less teacher- driven, more student-driven,” Brubaker says.
The African-American woman in the second row turns out to be Jo Carpenter, present tonight with her “support system,” husband Roscoe and 18-year-old son Roscoe Jr., a freshman at EMU.
“I need to advance in what I’m doing,” says Jo, a family service worker with Head Start. “I always put my family first. I wanted Roscoe Jr. to succeed. But now it’s my turn.”
Darlene Mitchell, standing nearby, nods understandingly. “It wasn’t required to have a degree when I started working, but now I need that paper. I have a 2-year-old and a 14- year-old. I sat out 10 years with my kids.
“Then I tried to go back to school at [another university], but it wasn’t convenient. I was in class with kids and the classes were scheduled at inconvenient times. Even parking was a problem. I don’t have time to spend walking from a parking lot over here to a class way over there.”
Last-Ditch Attempts to Get Bachelor's
For Mitchell, ADCP is almost a last-ditch attempt to get her bachelor’s degree after dropping out of Virginia State University in 1989.
Carpenter’s experience wasn’t too different – she had tried getting a degree at a women’s college but “I was so much older. I was in class with girls that could be my children. Don’t get me wrong – I love young people…they can teach me a lot. But I also wanted to be around some folks like me.”
Program director Sue Cockley says 93% of those who start ADCP finish it. Graduates have ranged from 25 to 70 years. Fewer than 10% have been Mennonite.
To call these students motivated is an understatement. On this freezing day, Ginger Estes spent more than an hour driving to this class from her home in rural Rappahannock County, crossing two mountain ranges. She will need to rise by 5:30 the next morning to drive a school bus before spending the day in a high school classroom as an aide.
Estes came because she knows three other women from Rappahannock who finished the program and because her supervisor, Karen Alexander, urged Estes to “go for it.” In fact, Alexander drove with Estes tonight for moral support.
Another Rappahannock person along for “moral support,” Edie Clark, likes what she heard this evening so much, she walks out with an application packet in her hands.
“I think we may see her in next week’s class,” Cockley says with a smile.
Indeed, the next week Clark is there, making the cohort settle at 13 women and 5 men, aged 24 to 59.
In recent years, about 25% of EMU’s bachelor-degree graduates earned their degrees through ADCP.
For more info on EMU’s Adult Degree Completion Program:
Toll free: 888-EMU-ADCP
Phone: (540) 432-4983
Fax: (540) 432-4444
For info on the ADCP nursing program in Lancaster, Pa.:
Toll free: (866) EMU-LANC
Phone: (717) 397-5190.