Nontraditional students finding education, second chances at DSC

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Enrolling in college at middle age may seem scary at first, but it also provides opportunities to put life skills into play when balancing home and school.

Though study habits need to be reignited, planning and prioritizing may come easier. Juggling a family and a job can provide skills to organize and make returning to school more successful.

Michelle Hulse, a sophomore integrated studies major from St. George, is a 49-year-old full-time student at Dixie State College. 

Hulse is a mother of four. Two children are out on their own, and her 12 year-old twin daughters still live with her.

“I have wanted to come back for 30 years, but life got in the way,” Hulse said. “My son is a biologist, and he helped influence me to come back.”

Hulse decided to come back to school after the economy weakened, and it was hard for her to sustain employment. She felt her time could be better spent educating herself, so she enrolled in college.

Her day starts off at 5 a.m. getting her girls ready for school. She arrives at DSC at 10 a.m. and stays on campus until 2 p.m., studying and catching up on homework between classes.

Going home does not mean the end of the day. There is more studying and tending to responsibilities at home.

“Going home means doing more homework, helping kids with homework, and doing all the mom stuff,” Hulse said.

Hulse feels she influences her children on how to manage time and form good study habits. She enjoys being a student and is enthusiastic about her education.

Sometimes circumstances beyond control, such as a disability, will steer someone toward enrolling in college.

Dave Gaspardo, a sophomore integrated studies major from St. George, is a 52-year-old disabled veteran attending DSC full-time. 

Gaspardo spent most of his high school years in shop classes before joining the Army. He was raising a family when he became disabled.

Gaspardo is raising two foster children and is interested in social work.

“My ultimate goal is a degree in social work,” Gaspardo said. “I have been a foster parent for 11 years; I would like to take it the next level.”

Gaspardo has two adopted daughters at home. He wakes up at 5 a.m. and gets his children off to school. He comes to DSC and attends classes until 3 p.m.  He gives himself a four-hour block of time to study and do homework before returning home to be a father and husband.

Being a parent takes precedence over being a student, but Gaspardo has found an easy balance between the two roles. Even though his education in high school was more vocational, studying has come easy to him.

“I never studied in high school, so even though it’s new it’s not hard,” Gaspardo said.

His experience as a student at DSC has been time well spent, awakening and exercising his brain.

While successfully raising children is rewarding when children move out, pursuing an education in lifelong interests can also be rewarding.

Jan Benson, a sophomore art major from St. George, decided to return to school full-time at the age of 40 when her children left home. She is working on her general education and has sprinkled her schedule with beginning guitar and art classes.

“I was going to major in art when I was young, and I kept hearing the term ‘starving artist,’ and I thought that’s not good,” Benson said. “Now I am more relaxed, and if I don’t succeed at art, there are other things I can do.”

Though she didn’t need glasses in her youth, Benson now uses them for reading. It’s the only time she feels older than the rest of the students in her classes.

She also feels at this age doing homework takes a lot longer.

“My children are college students also, and it doesn’t seem to take them as long to do their homework,” Benson said.

Benson likes to be healthy and is taking both weightlifting and fitness classes to integrate her time on campus with her personal interests.

Being relaxed and managing time between home and school is what is needed to be an effective student.

Being in the workforce, raising children or both can give the experience and skills needed to manage time and prioritize schedules when attending school later in life. 

Hulse is comfortable about her college experience, because there is at least one person in every class of hers that fits the non-traditional mold.

“I’m glad to know that I’m not a black swan in a pond of white ones,” Hulse said.