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The Road Less Traveled

Martha Roege works with a microscope in class.

Martha Roege has worked in a manufacturing plant, captained a riverboat and spent 14 years in the U.S. Merchant Marine.

She is a certified scuba diver who’s licensed to work on any ship deck on any body of water in the world, and she helped to break down barriers for female deckhands in a male-dominated industry.

But after working on a research vessel in Hawaii, Roege decided to dock herself at Cal U.

“While I was working on that ship, my love transformed from what was happening on top of the water to the amazing world below,” she said. “It was a very pivotal point in my life.”

Now Roege has successfully navigated her first year in Cal U’s fisheries and wildlife biology program, and she has her sights set on a bachelor’s degree.

Flexible options

Like Roege, many nontraditional students on campus are fulfilling educational goals that were postponed, interrupted or simply realized later in life.

Whether they are starting a degree program from scratch, finishing up a degree or taking courses for professional advancement, nontraditional students find a warm welcome at Cal U. 

“I didn’t have the opportunity to attend college was I was younger, and I never thought I would be able to be a part of a university like Cal U,” says Roege.

“I have worked for other people my entire life. I wanted to do this for myself.” 

The convenience of evening and online classes makes all the difference for students like Jessica Reams, a  business administration major who does most of her coursework at Cal U Southpointe Center in Canonsburg, Pa.

“I decided to attend Cal U because of the flexibility and convenient location,” she says. “Being the mother of three, a wife, a full-time employee and a full-time student, I have very limited time. Flexibility is essential for my success.” 

Reams schedules online courses whenever possible, but that takes self-discipline, she warns. “It is really difficult to study and complete homework in the summer with family and friends stopping over for swimming and cookouts!”

Support systems

Starting school later in life can be challenging. So can returning to college after years or even decades away. But Cal U can help ease the transition. 

“From the application process to checking on transfer credits to assisting them along the way, we really do a lot to help nontraditional students,” says Ellie Nesser, assistant to the dean in the Office of Admissions.

“These students really strive to be successful, and we end up creating a family-like atmosphere.”

University staff can assist with scheduling and credit transfers. Tutoring is available, and career services are a lifetime benefit for students and Cal U alumni.

“The University was extremely accommodating and waived many of the general education requirements because of my life experience,” says Gregg Bucy, a secondary education major who served in the U.S. Navy for more than 25 years.

“There were times when I wanted to quit, but my wife talked me out of it,” he adds. “You definitely need people behind you to succeed.”

Unlike young adults who move directly from high school to college, nontraditional students often have careers and families to consider.

“I am very thankful for my support system,” says Reams. “My husband is especially helpful, doing anything I need him to do so I can study or take an exam. Sometimes I miss seeing soccer games or dance practices, and it breaks my heart, but I am setting an example for my children.”

Older students sometimes worry about fitting in on a college campus, but Bucy waves off those concerns.

“Don’t be scared about the culture shock,” he advises. “The professors here are fantastic and always willing to help out. There are just so many options on campus, it’s hard not to find students and professors you can relate to.” 

Bucy works in the Office of Veterans Affairs a few days each week. It gives him a spot on campus where he can always find someone to talk to. 

“I have made friends all over campus, from traditional students to staff,” says Roege.

“Everyone on campus wants you to succeed, and they all are willing to help. The people at Cal U are amazing.”

Chasing the dream

Despite their unique backgrounds, many nontraditional students echo a common theme: They are accomplishing something they never thought would be possible. Each one has a dream.

Bucy hopes to become a high school counselor, so he can guide students through the college selection process.

“When I was in high school, no one ever gave us advice about college,” he says. “I want to be that person and help impact the lives of students.”

Reams is contemplating a master’s degree, so she can advance at independent oil and gas company EOG Resources Inc.

“I landed a good job with a company that I love, giving me an opportunity to work in a field in which I had no previous work experience,” she says. “My employer has encouraged me to carry on with my goal of continuing education.”

Roege is fascinated by marine biology, and she envisions working as a scientist on a research vessel.

She encourages others to pursue their dreams, no matter what stage of life they have reached. 

“It should light a fire in you when people tell you that you can’t do something,” she says.

“The road may be difficult, but you can use that fire and the wonderful people at Cal U to help you succeed.