The Road Less Traveled: Nontraditional Students Discuss Experiences

(Photo by Rachel Fechter)

Denise Ellis

Grabbing the Bull by its Horns

Senior Denise Ellis has been on her own since she was 15. She was an eighth grade dropout and a teen mom. She’s now 49, has six children, four grandchildren and is in pursuit of a double, possibly triple major at Truman State University.

Ellis moved to Kirksville 10 years ago and, after her youngest son graduated from high school, she was motivated to get her GED and eventually an associate’s degree from Moberly Area Community College.

Now, Ellis said she leads a very busy life, often struggling to balance her work schedule, taking care of her niece and nephews, and her classes.

Despite her hectic schedule, Ellis said attending Truman is opening up a new chapter in her life.

Ellis said there was a lot she did not get to do by not graduating high school and going to college when she was young. While Ellis faces struggles with balancing school and other aspects of her life she said she is happy with her life.

“I wouldn’t change [my life] at all,” Ellis said. “Not one millisecond. Out of all the trials and tribulations and all of the hard struggles … I have my six children, and I have my four grandchildren, and if I were to change just one millisecond, I would not have those beautiful people in my life.”

Ellis said she wishes office hours and tutoring sessions for some of her classes had more flexible hours that catered more to non-traditional students. Despite this, Ellis also said going back to school in her late 40s has been worth it because of the people she’s met and the things she has learned at Truman.

“I’ve been homeless, scrounging for food, scrounging for a place to live, and I’ve been at a higher income and doing what I wanted to do, but I was happy at neither place,” Ellis said. “…Yeah, I’m below poverty level, I don’t care, because I’m learning. I found out that there’s only so much you can do. You can either sit and wither away or you can grab the bull by its horns and kick its ass. It’s the best decision I’ve made.”

Ellis said her advice to those her age or older who might be considering going back to school is simple.

“If we can do it, [they] can do it … it is never, ever too late,” Ellis said. “That’s what I have found. I don’t care if you’re 90. Come on, come join me.”

Juliette Miller

Combating the Fear of the “it”

Junior Juliette Miller said she likes to say leaving her home in the Bahamas to come to a liberal arts school in northeast Missouri at the age of 44 didn’t make her brave — it made her insane.

Miller is an international student who said she was drawn to Truman State University because she felt it created an environment for students who wanted to learn and was not the stereotypical party school.

Miller said after she finished high school, she studied to become a chef. Miller said her plans were put on hold, though, when she got married to her husband and had kids. She said she always wanted to go back to school but wasn’t willing to do online classes or be separated from her family. She said she finally waited until her midlife crisis when her two children were both grown and out of the house before she decided to pursue a computer science degree at Truman.

After she gets her degree, Miller said she plans to go back home to the Bahamas and to become the main financial provider of the family, allowing her husband to quit his job.

“It’s hard to be away from my family,” Miller said. “I’ve been married 25 years and the deal I have with my husband is we’ve done the whole kids thing, now he’s going to support me through college, and when I graduate he can quit and do whatever he wants.”

Miller received an associate’s degree in 2007 in the Bahamas but said coming to Truman and being a full-time student at the age of 46 has been a challenge especially because teaching styles have changed a lot. Her biggest struggle right now, she said, is tackling calculus and some of the other STEM classes she’s in.

Miller said despite these challenges she is never afraid to ask for help and take control of her own learning.

“The way that we learned [was] A-B-C-D-E and now they teach it in a way where they do a lot of transformations,” Miller said. “A-D-F, they don’t explain, they skip steps.”

“One of the advantages to being older is that I’m no longer afraid of the ‘it,’” Miller said. “It’s when you’re afraid for no reason… I speak to some of the other students who are younger and they are experiencing some of the same things I’m experiencing, but they won’t go to the teachers. They won’t ask the questions. They won’t say what needs to be said. It’s the ‘it.’ If I was younger I think I might have more problems with that myself.”

Miller said she wants to make the most of her life by going back to school, starting a career and doing something she loves.

“People say ‘oh, going back to school at your age is so brave,’ but it’s not,” Miller said. “… the closer you get to the end of your life, the more you realize we’re all going to die. Am I supposed to be taking that easily and gracefully? The whole beauty of being human is we get to choose. You don’t have to go back to school — that might not be the path for you, but life is about choices. Make those choices. Don’t let life choose you. You choose life.”

Brynn Yarham

Going out of Order

(Photo by Rachel Fechter)

Senior Brynn Yarham said she likes to say she didn’t do things wrong, she just did things out of order.

After graduating from high school in spring 2010 and waiting to take a semester of computer science the following spring at Ozarks Technical College, Yarham decided she needed to take a different life path — Taekwondo.

Growing up, Yarham said she was the shy kid who read books during lunch instead of talking to people. Once Yarham’s parents and older brother signed up for Taekwondo lessons in fall 2011, her life went in a new direction.

“One of the biggest noticeable changes that I have seen in myself over the last couple years — it’s hard to say if it was going to happen on its own or if it was because of Taekwondo — but I was given enough responsibility that I kind of had to figure out what I wanted to do with it,” Yarham said. “I learned pretty quick that I wanted to be responsible, and I wanted to do well with what was handed to me, so I became much more extroverted. I became much more outgoing. I made a much stronger effort.”

Yarham said she was able to get a job cleaning the Taekwondo school which helped her pay for lessons as she moved higher up in the ranks of the Martial Arts school. Eventually, Yarham became a certified instructor and a third-degree black belt at her Taekwondo school.

Yarham said she eventually went back to OTC and took classes part time. Yarham said while she did earn her associate’s degree and is now securing a bachelor’s degree in theatre at Truman, school has taken her a long time to finish.

“Most people think of the associate’s degree as a two-year degree…,” Yarham said. “It took me about three years because I was also working at the time and it will take about 3 ½ years for me since [arriving at Truman] to get my bachelor’s degree. So I’m spending 6-6 ½ years in school for a bachelor’s, which is not great.”

Brynn said she sometimes wonders where she would have ended up in life had she gone to college right after high school.

“Knowing that I am older than everyone else, there’s that feeling or perception that I’m sort of just getting started towards real life while other people are already figuring that out …,” Yarham said. “I did have other things I did, [like] developing skills in Taekwondo, that a lot of people do not have. I put in a lot of the same effort just in a very different field in a very different setting. The thing I have to remind myself of is that I didn’t do things wrong, I just did things out of order.”

Yarham also said she feels like waiting to go to school has had its own benefits as well.

“The thing that I do like about the fact that I waited is it feels much more like I’m going to college for myself, not because I’m expected to,” Yarham said.

Bill Brazeal

Puting One Foot in Front of the Other

(Photo by Rachel Fechter)

Senior Bill Brazeal walks upstairs to his dorm room on the second floor of Centennial Hall.

“Hey, Bill!” others on the floor greet him.

He misses his family sometimes — a homesickness most college students feel at one point or another. The difference is Brazeal is 49 years old and has a wife and two kids back home in Springfield, Missouri waiting for him to get his degree.

Brazeal said when he was growing up, his family didn’t have the money to send him to college. He said because he did not believe college was an option for him, at the start of his senior year of high school Brazeal joined the Marine Corps. While he was in the Marine Corps, he got married and had a son and a daughter. After serving as a sergeant in the Marines, Brazeal had various jobs including working as a mechanic at a rock quarry, a fleet mechanic for tractor trailers, building houses and building diesel engines.

Brazeal started at Truman in fall 2016, even though he said going back to school was not actually his decision.

He said he came home one day from work to find his wife had enrolled him

“I came home from work one day and my wife was sitting down at the computer enrolling him in his classes.

Brazeal went to OTC in Springfield where he received three associate’s degrees. At OTC, he also joined Phi Theta Kappa honors society and eventually became an officer of the organization. He got a full ride scholarship through Phi Theta Kappa, allowing him to go to Truman.

While being immersed in the dorms and his classes with younger Truman students, Brazeal said he’s enjoyed seeing his younger classmates and peers come into adulthood.

“As a grown person and someone who’s a little older, I’ve had life experiences [and] had those points in life where I felt like I couldn’t move on and the whole world’s against you,” Brazeal said. “College can sometimes feel that way to young people, so I try to tell them that college is a lot like life, you just gotta keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.”

Matthew Blaue

Taking Second Chances

(Photo by Rachel Fechter)

Senior Matthew Blaue reached a point in his life where he was looking down the barrel of a gun. Rather than succumb to the challenges in his life, he channeled them into his faith and became an avid learner and creative thinker.

Blaue is currently 37 years old, lives in Missouri Hall and is studying linguistics at Truman.

ate University. Growing up in Independence, Missouri, Blaue said when he was in high school, college was not an option. He said his GPA was poor, and while his family loved him, they had a bit of a dysfunctional dynamic and going to college was never encouraged. Instead he took a job as a dishwasher at an Italian restaurant — the first of many jobs.

Next, Blaue said he went to trade school in Houston, Texas, for automotive technology because he liked cars. He then worked in a warehouse and for the parks department. Eventually he joined the Boilermakers Union for five years, becoming an apprentice and eventually a journeyman during that time.

Blaue also said he was suicidal and abusing drugs and alcohol during that point in his life.

“I eventually just got to where I had nowhere to turn, no one could help me, and I got down on my knees and gave my life over to Christ,” Blaue said. “I realized … there was a God who loved me and wanted me to do things that were better for myself. I started reading. My intelligence level at the time was basically just kind of work with my hands, so I was reading different books. It helped me with my imagination. To be able to think about other things and what was in my environment. A little bit of an escape in a way.”

After turning to religion, Blaue began a quest for knowledge and a more meaningful life. Blaue said he began taking better care of his body, did martial arts and eventually made a trip to Israel volunteering with Bridges For Peace, an organization that tries to bridge the gap between Christians and Jews.

Blaue said he wound up living with his aunt who encouraged him to go to college. Blaue took her advice, and graduated with an associate’s degree from Metropolitan Community College, Kansas City Longview. Blaue said he was then drawn to getting a bachelor’s degree at Truman because they had the linguistics program he was looking for.

Blaue — now nearing the completion of his degree — when he looks back, he wishes he would have gone to college a bit sooner in life because being older makes it that much harder to learn new material.

Blaue also said being an older student means he has less time to figure out what he wants to do with his life.

“You don’t have as much time to make mistakes, to fool around,” Blaue said. “Being younger, you can pick a major and commit to that major, but then later say, ‘I don’t know if I want to do that,’ and it’s OK because you have a few extra years. But a little later in life, you only have this much time before you have to get back into the workforce.”