Being a non-traditional student at Witt is both an exciting experience and a daunting one at times, but three of those students are not allowing the challenges to keep them down. All three have already overcome life challenges that would have made some people give up. Not these three. Despite having faced serious health challenges, single motherhood and job losses, these three women are determined to succeed and they are all successful students who cannot wait to don their own cap and gown as many Witt students will do in the near future.
Deborah Hall-Vietz, 54, an honors graduate who came from Edison Community College in Piqua, Ohio with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Social Work, is now a Witt student majoring in Organizational Leadership, a degree she began pursuing last fall.
“The campus is beautiful and the people friendly,” Hall-Vietz said following her first semester at Witt.
Her favorite class so far has been Business Ethics and Leadership and she is now busy finishing her second semester here.
There are challenges to being a non-traditional student at Witt.
“The commute is hard, especially when you have a group assignment and have to meet on a day you do not have classes, unlike the traditional students who can walk to class, I have a 45-minute drive one way,” Hall-Vietz said.
There are numerous challenges that Hall-Vietz has overcome to be a Witt student.
“Too much to mention here, but, recent job loss, raising my kids as a single parent, some health issues, but nothing serious and I am getting older and I have found it takes more effort to learn and retain information, but I’m doing it,” Hall-Vietz said.
While Hall-Vietz said she was a bit uncomfortable after her arrival at Witt, she has adjusted.
“At first, I felt out of place and uncomfortable and I got some strange looks,” Hall-Vietz said. “Now at least, in my classes, the traditional students are used to me and are very friendly.”
“We (non-traditional students) have a lot of experience and wisdom to share,” Deborah said, but added, “there is not an age that is irrelevant that other ages can’t learn from us, even if we don’t always agree.”
Transitioning to life at Witt has been made easier because of the financial assistance she was able to receive and the help of great professors.
“I have had a lot of help getting the funding needed and getting my classes scheduled,” Hall-Vietz said. “The professors are great, too. I’m not treated any different than traditional students.”
She added that the professors “answer questions and are available when needed.”
One of her favorite experiences so far at Witt has been the traditional students.
“I do enjoy being with the traditional students,” Hall-Vietz said. “They have so much talent and passion to offer and I get a better understanding of my own kids that are their ages.”
But Hall-Vietz added, “I do wish there were more non-traditional students in my classes or some classes specifically just for us.”
Hall-Vietz has some thoughts about how Witt could make things more accessible for non-traditional students.
“Since we have to commute, giving us the very first pick of classes would help tremendously so our classes are not so spread out which means we have more days to commute or longer days because they are so spread out,” Hall-Vietz said.
While her goal is to earn her degree, Deborah is taking it slowly.
“I can’t look that far ahead,” Hall-Vietz said. “It overwhelms me knowing I have to take classes in subjects I’m not strong in to get my degree. I’m taking it one day at a time and enjoying the experience.”
Hall-Vietz is not sure how she will use her degree yet.
“I’m not definite about how my degree will be used,” Hall-Vietz said. “I’m praying about it and asking God to show me and open doors to meet the needs of my community. I’m hoping to help low income families with car maintenance and repairs at an affordable price, because that is a huge obstacle to getting and keeping employment.”
Hall-Vietz knows one thing: she is not giving up.
“I am determined to do this not just for myself, but for my kids as well, to better provide and to inspire them to be all God created them to be,” Hall-Vietz said.
Hall-Vietz has advice for Witt’s traditional students.
“Put your all into your studies now, because it is harder as you get older and most importantly, walk as close to Jesus as you can, because you are always going to need Him,” Hall-Vietz said.
Renee Kennedy, a non-traditional Witt honors student who travels to Witt from Cincinnati several times a week, will graduate from Witt in a few weeks with a degree in environmental science and a minor in art.
Already a registered nurse, Kennedy said the “small class sizes and the availability of professors for questions pertaining to classes” has been important to her. “I have enjoyed all of my classes so far; I don’t have a favorite.”
But Kennedy has also faced challenges as a non-traditional student, in addition to the long drive to school.
“I feel that there seems to be a lack of information communicated to the non-traditional students in comparison to traditional students,” Kennedy said, as she felt that she was a little lost in the beginning on campus. “I personally guided and acclimated myself to university life. I didn’t receive a tour or a meet and greet. I came to class on my first day and asked a few students.”
Kennedy said the traditional students were welcoming overall.
“When I first started, some were a little quiet and not sure how to react,” Kennedy said. “I think some didn’t notice I was a non-traditional student. There were times when I felt out of place because most of them were familiar with each other.”
But she said today she is just one of the students and enjoys their interaction.
“I enjoy the ability to exchange helpful information,” Kennedy said. “The traditional students are very helpful.”
Kennedy has also appreciated the help of the professors.
“The professors seem to enjoy helping you with any problems and offer additional after hour assistance,” Kennedy said.
Like other non-traditional students, Kennedy has overcome obstacles to be at Witt.
“I have overcome some personal challenges as well as financial to return to college,” Kennedy said. “I was in a major layoff six years ago and [I’m] attempting to recover from [that] setback.”
Kennedy offered advice to the traditional students as she prepares to graduate.
“The gift of free speech is not offered in other countries, but here it is on the top of the list of rights,” Kennedy said. “I would encourage them to participate more in class when questions are presented. Someone might ask a question you have often wondered about, but never asked.”
Kennedy would like to see more programs for non-traditional students.
“Offer a transition experience to tour the campus and receive information similar to traditional student introductions to the school,” Kennedy said. “Incorporate activities around campus for non-traditional students, a group for non-traditional students along with more communication [from the administration] about educational opportunities, internships and student involvement for non-traditional students.”
“I’m looking forward to graduating,” Kennedy said. “I really need to get into the work force with a new career and start making a difference in the community.”
Kennedy added that she will use her degree and her registered nursing background to make that difference.
“My plan is to work in disaster sites evaluating water, air and soil along with utilizing my medical background to assist those in need,” Kennedy said. “I plan to establish a business centered around my major.”
Kerri Tyler, 49, also a non-traditional student, is a psychology major who in spite of serious health problems, is determined to earn her degree, but admits there are challenges that like many other students that may affect that goal. Like many non-traditional students, Tyler learned math differently than what has been taught in more recent years to today’s Witt traditional students coming from high school, making that subject very difficult.
“I have a lot of health problems that are starting to take their toll,” Tyler said. “I also have extreme difficulty in math, especially the statistics I need for my degree. I haven’t even taken the math placement test yet. It is having a serious impact on my getting a degree. I’m not sure I’ll achieve it.”
Tyler has found the Witt traditional students welcoming and “friendly.”
She noted that “in some classes, I have felt out of place because I was the only non-traditional student in the class.”
But she said the traditional students are great because they sometimes offer a “different view.”
Tyler likes the Witt professors.
“All of the professors have been very understanding and most have gone out of their way to work with me,” Tyler said.
Russian is now Tyler’s favorite subject and Russian Society Today has been her favorite class so far.
Despite being a student since 2015, Tyler said there are things no one told her until this year.
“You are left out of the loop,” Tyler said. “For example, I just recently learned that I have access to the computers and printers in the computer lab in Hollenbeck Hall. I also learned that I have a printing allowance on my Wittenberg ID card.”
Tyler recommends that non-traditional students be given a tour of the campus when they are admitted to Witt.
“Supply non-traditional students with information about the various services that are available to non-traditional students,” Tyler said.
Despite the health issues she faces, Tyler still wants to get her degree and start a career. In the meantime, she is grateful to all of the students and especially the professors who have supported her.
Stories like these are the reason Witt can make a real difference in helping non-traditional as well as traditional students achieve their goals. After all, we are all in this together and when it comes down to it, age should not matter. Only the determination to make a difference in the world.