Regular Undergrads: Old Approach Still Works, Too

August 9th, 2011

David Muscan

David Muscan '11 earned his nursing degree at age 36.

Adult learning at EMU doesn’t begin and end with the Adult Degree Completion Program – older students regularly enroll in the university’s traditional undergraduate programs. Sometimes it’s because they’re after a particular degree not offered through ADCP. Or because they lack sufficient college-level credits (ADCP students must start the program with at least 60 semester hours of previously earned credit). Or because they’re simply interested and able to become fulltime students later in life.

It was all of these factors that put Keith Zimmerman ’10 back in the classroom. Zimmerman, who was 37 when he finished his degree in biochemistry, became a father at age 17, forcing him to put his college plans on hold. After supporting himself as a massage therapist for nearly a decade while his children were young, Zimmerman began at EMU as a nursing student.

Before long, he switched gears to biochemistry after a general chemistry course rekindled his interest, dating back to junior high, in biomedical research. One of the highlights of his undergraduate career was a research project with biology professor Greta Ann Herin examining the NR1 and NR2b NMDA receptors (“really fascinating” stuff, Zimmerman claims).

Several months after finishing his senior year – also, as it happened, daughter Alyshia Zimmerman’s (class of 2013) first year at EMU – Zimmerman took a job as a research assistant in the Laurie Laboratory at the University of Virginia, where he’s exploring the use of the protein lacritin to treat dry eyes. “I’m finding this job extremely fulfilling,” he said. “This is the job that I’ve wanted since the eighth grade.”

The college experience as an older student isn’t without its challenges. David Muscan ’11, who was 36 when he graduated with a nursing degree, said he sensed that professors sometimes had higher expectations of him than younger students. Muscan, originally from Romania, came to EMU in 2007 from Hungary, where his work as a missionary for the previous decade had kept him too busy to finish college. Now working as a nurse at Rockingham Memorial Hospital, Muscan said that a few other older classmates made the non-traditional undergraduate experience seem easier, and that through his classes, he made close friends with students aged 18 to 50.

Forty years before Muscan finished, Wayne Lawton ’71 completed a non-traditional college career of his own. After a decade in ministry in various locations across the country, he landed as a pastor in Waynesboro, Virginia. Soon afterwards, in 1969, Lawton began at EMU. (Thanks to previous college classes, he only needed a little more than a year of classes to earn his degree.)

In an email sent to Crossroads Lawton recalled a time when he sheepishly approached a math professor for help with his studies. The professor, Wilmer Lehman, replied, “When you pastor a church, do you mind people coming to you for help?” When Lawton said no, Lehman responded, “Well, I don’t mind helping you.”

“I survived the course, and even passed,” said Lawton, now pastor of Cedar Hill Community Church in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.

Lawton, who has taken occasional classes through Eastern Mennonite Seminary since finishing college, said he’s thought about capping his non-traditional education by finishing up his seminary degree, well into his seventies. “Life isn’t over yet,” he said, chuckling.