'Become who you know you were meant to be'

April 12, 2023

The UM-Dearborn organization Association of Nontraditional Students provides a fun and welcoming community that connects students with resources and opportunities tailored for adult learners.

Photo of adult learners sitting at a table in the University Center

First day of school jitters — that mix of excitement and the unknown — are a common experience for most students. But April Marvin’s first day of college anticipation was a bit different. Working full time, Marvin returned to college to complete a bachelor’s degree 20 years after her high school graduation.

Marvin worried that younger people would judge her. And she didn’t know how exactly she’d be able to balance her adult responsibilities, term papers, group projects and homework.

That was a couple years ago. With Marvin’s graduation taking place later this month, she now understands how adult learners and people juggling multiple responsibilities fit in at UM-Dearborn. “I am here to tell you that UM-Dearborn is a place of solace for people like us,” she said. Read more about Marvin’s return-to-college experience.

By saying “people like us,” Marvin means students often known in college circles as “nontraditional” –  older than age 23 with responsibilities that may include caregiving or parenting (or both), working a full-time job while in school, and financially independent.

To support these students in meeting their goals, the campus organization Association of Nontraditional Students, provides a welcoming community that connects students with campus resources and opportunities tailored for adult learners. Marvin is a member.

Originally established in 2013 by Becky Richardson and the late Susan Lowe, both adult learners at UM-Dearborn, the group became inactive when most of its members graduated and the pandemic set in.

But knowing the importance of relating to the struggles and successes of others — and sharing your own — Richardson, along with graduate student Penny Kane, re-established the group this semester. 

Richardson, who graduated in 2018 and is the university’s SOAR program assistant, said the organization and the friends she met within it helped her immensely on her road to graduation.

She recalls one particularly difficult semester when life changes were affecting her family. Richardson didn’t think she had the mental strength to complete a final paper. The night before the 10-page paper was due, she had written only one sentence.

“Everything seemed to be falling apart and everything seemed so small compared to that. So I just stared at the screen, crying,” Richardson said. “Then I reached out to (ANTS member) Susan. She texted back right away: ‘You wrote one sentence, You can write two.’ Susan believed I could do it. That was the push I needed at that moment. I wrote that paper and turned it in on time.”

She continued: “When there are so many competing responsibilities, it’s easy to get discouraged and not prioritize your own goals, like finishing school. The people in their organization get that and work to build each other up.”

ANTS typically meets every other Friday and they offer a remote meeting attendance option. They do a Google poll before meeting to find the best time for members because they want to be mindful of the outside-campus responsibilities their members have.

Kane, ANTS president, said members are currently planning programs focused on topics members feel will best support nontraditional students, like Google Suite tips and tricks, available scholarships, free or inexpensive ways to get laptops and other important resources, and more. 

Interested in joining? Email Kane.

In addition to practical news, Kane said a highlight of the organization is the emotional support it provides. “We want to address needs as they come along, so the programming will change depending on what people want to learn. But what won’t change is how we are here for each other,” she said. “We want to hear how it’s going for you. If it’s going great, share how you are making it happen. If it’s not, people will help lift you up. ANTS has people who have been there — and we want to help.”

ANTS members Kelly Turner and Tamir Bell agree that ANTS offers a strong support system, which includes a group chat where members share accomplishments and provide encouragement. Bell said, “It is so important not to give up on yourself, your dreams, your education or on others.”

Another way the ANTS members are helping? They are offering free professional clothing options to students for interviews and work. ANTS is hosting a pop-up clothing shop from noon to 6 p.m. today, April 13, in the Renick University Center’s Kochoff Hall. All items are free.

In addition to the complementary professional clothing and accessories, there will be fashion consultants on hand to help people put together the right look for the job.

The event, developed by ANTS member Jessica Calderon, is to help all students update their clothing options. Everyone is welcome, not just nontraditional students. A parent of two children, Calderon — who is a UM-Dearborn Human Resources coordinator — said caregivers often spend on themselves last, which can impact their closet.

When someone is confident in their appearance, it often translates to how they carry themselves — which can set someone apart during an interview, she observed, adding that promoting confidence is a key part of the ANTS mission.

“With ANTS, there is a newfound excitement in myself, with an amazing support system motivating me to finish and earn my degree,” said Calderon, a junior majoring in business studies and communication. “I can't wait to walk across that stage with my head held high and hands holding up a degree.”

For Marvin, that nerve-wracking first day is a thing of the past.She now knows how UM-Dearborn supports students who juggle caregiving, work, health and more.

The student keynote speaker for the Class of 2023 Commencement on April 30, Marvin said she wants people to know there are a variety of helpful resources on campus to support students while earning their degrees. And, for adult learners, one of those is ANTS.

“We wear that nontraditional badge proudly because it comes with some impactful life lessons,” she said. “I’m so happy to be a Dearborn Wolverine. It’s been a great environment to learn, grow and become what you know you were meant to be.” 

Article by Sarah Tuxbury.