Cathy is a 56 year old grandmother of 8
and is completing her degree online through
USG eCore at Dalton State College.

Asked to picture a college student who makes up the majority population attending classes and most would describe that person as being "fresh-out-of-high-school" or in the 18-22 year old range. Perhaps up until the year 2000, that picture was (mostly) accurate. But these days, college students are older and have either not attended college or are returning after an absence. The nontraditional student now makes up 73% of all students enrolled in undergraduate programs.

The broad definition of an adult learner or "non-traditional" student is anyone who is 25 years old or older. But age is just one of the descriptors that captures an ever expanding group (some 8.4 million) of adult students who often have family and work responsibilities as well as other life circumstances that have interfered with their educational goals. 

Those who fall into the nontraditional learner category meet at least one of the following common characteristics: They
  • have delayed enrollment into post-secondary education
  • attend part time
  • are financially independent of parents 
  • work full time while enrolled
  • have dependents other than a spouse
  • are a single parent
  • have a G.E.D. or High School Equivalency certificate  

Why the growth in nontraditional student population? Many professionals realize that career growth, higher earnings and the chance to maximize their potential are either slowed or are non-existent without at college degree. 

Given that so many adults are furthering their education, the importance of the University System of Georgia's efforts to provide quality, flexible opportunities—such as distance learning, accelerated course formats, and prior learning assessment (PLA)—is profound. These programs are increasingly commonplace today, allowing for greater access and completion rates. In fact, the Lumina Foundation found that the number one factor contributing to an adult learner's persistence and achievement in Higher Education is the availability of online courses and resources.

What does this mean for those out there considering starting or returning to college later in life? It means you are not alone - you are actually in the majority right now! So brush off that thinking cap of yours and join the 8.4 million other adults who are advancing taking charge of their futures through higher education. 

Need help getting started? Georgia has a great resource for adults returning to school called Go Back. Move Ahead. Here, you can browse all of the adult-friendly programs in Georgia, and get in contact with a representative that can help you navigate the enrollment process. 

What is your title and what is your current non-eCore job?
I'm currently an Assistant Professor of English and the Teaching Matters Conference Coordinator at Gordon State College.  I teach composition, poetry, American literature, world literature, and special topic courses.

What are the two main reasons you teach through eCore?
I am passionate about online education because it provides opportunities to some people who would not otherwise be able to earn a degree. Yet, convenience and easiness cannot be confused; one of the other reasons that online education is so rewarding for both students and teachers is because of its rigorousness. Online education requires more--and continual--dialogue between each (and every) student and the professor. In other words, a student is simply unable to sit in the back of the classroom and remain unnoticed; participation and growth is not only encouraged, it is required.

What do you do differently now than when you first started teaching through eCore?
In my first class, I kept most of my dialogue with students about their ideas restricted to the "hidden comments" section of the gradebook. I would generally respond to discussion posts but really interrogate ideas; but, I realized this is not how I taught in traditional courses and my students (and I) were "missing out" on dynamic discussions. So, now, I try to incite more discussion between students and critical consciousness by asking questions, helping students develop their ideas, and "playing devil's advocate"; and, I focus more heavily on writing and grammar in my comments (in the gradebook).

What would you do to your eCore course if you had a "magic wand"?
Students' computer would actually blink, dance, and sing--like an alarm--every day when they have committed to log-in and engage the course :-) Then, if they still ignore that, I will come on the screen and begin trying to motivate them--reminding them why they are enrolled in the course (and college). And, voila, everyone's "on the right track" for success again!

What's one of the coolest things you do in your eCore classes?
Honestly, I pride myself in creating a community; I want all of my students to feel comfortable discussing ideas and questions with each other and myself. I also like to think that I allow flexibility while maintaining the course's integrity. Something that I instituted a couple of semesters ago (and it seems to work effectively) is to provide a deadline for portions of the units' assignments; for instance, all activities to help write an essay are due one day (but graded as soon as each individual student completes the smaller assignments)--before the actual essay is submitted. This allows students with complex scheduling concerns to complete their work when it's most convenient--and it encourages students who enjoy "working ahead" to do so. So, while "hard deadlines" still exist, there is flexibility that students are not penalized for having intense work and/or family schedules.

Other than yourself, who do you think is a simply fabulous eCore instructor, and why?
I'm so fortunate that I can't count because I must mention a few individuals on the eCore team that I believe are absolutely fabulicious! Christy Smith, Ashleigh Paulk, Reynard Van Tonder, Michael Harris, and (last, but certainly not least!) Brett Miles--I cannot sing their praises enough! They are passionate about helping both students and teachers reach their potential; and, no matter how silly my questions are, they never make me feel like I'm bothering them...even with the incredible amount of work they are responsible for!

Tell us a secret - something about yourself that few people know.

I'm easily startled, which entertains my friends. I love viewing scary movies, especially sci-fi and supernatural thrillers--but I'm afraid to watch them by myself! And, it doesn't matter if I've seen the film before...I will still scream, jump, and cling to whomever is brave enough to watch the film with me!
Dress appropriately for the interview. 
Much information is available regarding interviewing and how to be a top notch interview candidate, but one must avail toneself of the most relevant information. Knowing the phases of the interview process and some key strategies will help you better prepare and will ultimately put you on the "short" list with potential employers. Seems simple, but you have to be diligent with all 3 phases of interviewing (before, during and after).

Preparation is twofold. Thoroughly research the organization, specific department, and the job role. This requires significant time and energy. At the same time, you will be doing some self-reflection to determine if this is a proper fit for you. Prepping the resume for EACH  job that you apply to will help you define and determine your skill sets to see where you may be lacking for the industry or job, and can also help you appropriately articulate your strengths. You know your resume is done well if you get called for an interview. You should spend ample time reviewing interview questions so that you are comfortable with how to "sell yourself."

Ask yourself if you "look the part," during the interview. Are you equipped with Skype, conference calling, or other possible mode of connection with the interviewer if that is part of the process?  Have you paid special attention to proper grooming, hygiene, dress and manners for the face to face interview? Are you leaving a positive impression on everyone you have encountered in the process, including the administrative assistant who checked you in?

After-the-interview practices can carry you over the top as a candidate and can, in some cases, salvage a poor or botched interview experience.  The same day that you have a phone or face to face interview - sit down and pen a hand-written thank you. Purchasing a box of 10 generic thank you cards at the Dollar Store to have on hand for all professional encounters will demonstrate proper etiquette and gratitude for time each person spent with you. The thank you should be sincere and mention specific talking points discussed during your call or face to face meeting. With a quick website search - you can locate the correct spelling of the persons' names with whom you spoke, their titles, and a mailing address.  An email can also be sent and is absolutely better than no acknowledgement at all.

For more detail on these and other interviewing tips click here to view the 15 minute archived webinar. The internet is full of great material that covers all aspects of the phases of the interview process. Plus, be sure to check in with your home institution's Career Services Department for direct assistance with resume assistance, interviewing practice, employer networking opportunities and career fair information.

Success can be yours! "Success is where preparation and opportunity meet." Bobby Unser