Lifelong Learners Gather at Conference
Returning students add a new dynamic to Penn's campus
From rock bands to shaking hands, the “non-traditional” students of five Ivy League universities came together this past Saturday.
The second annual 2014 Ivy Returning Students Conference was hosted at the Kislak Center on the sixth floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library. Participants included members from Penn’s College of Liberal and Professional Studies, Brown’s Resumed Undergraduate Education Program, Columbia’s School of General Studies, Harvard’s Extension School and Yale’s Eli Whitney Program.
The conference was spearheaded this year by President of the Liberal and Professional Studies Student Association and LPS senior Cory Boatwright , who calls himself “the only bald person on campus who is not a professor.”
Boatwright jumped at the opportunity to host the conference at Penn. “By providing a place where we can have a community, we can help solve each other’s problems,” he said.
Conference attendee and President of Brown’s Resumed Undergraduate Student Association Will Hewson pinpointed getting back into a student’s routine as one challenge that some returning students face. “We didn’t just spend the last 10 years getting really good at school, so there can be a little bit of a shock competing against ‘professional students,’” he said.
Hewson mentioned, however, that the conference mitigates the shock by bringing together people who are facing similar situations. “It’s working,” he said. “People from different schools are chatting, and there’s a lot of energy to it.”
The LPS Student Association’s 200 active members aim to install a framework within which returning students can create a more traditional undergraduate experience.
“Much of [university] infrastructure is set up to support full-time residential undergraduates, and so it is a given that students are developing their lifelong networks,” Vice Dean for Professional and Liberal Education Nora Lewis , who spoke at the conference, said . “That is every bit as important or more important for our non-traditional students.”
Several attendees said that creating a synchronized community between traditional and returning students is imperative, both at Penn and at other institutions of higher education. Returning students contribute unique perspectives to the classroom and on campus, they said.
Boatwright, the first member of his family to go to college, exemplifies the diverse perspectives of returning students. Originally from Portland, Oregon, Boatwright served in the United States Air Force as an Aerial Combat Videographer before coming to Penn.
Military veterans — “serving as diplomats on the ground” — are one of many kinds of non-traditional students who add to campus diversity, Lewis said.
The passion and drive of returning students is evident, according to LPS senior Selena Oleck , the Social Coordinator of LPSSA. “Because LPS students have life experience, and many of us have held full-time jobs, we have a different perspective on being here,” Oleck said.
“Most of us are here because we want to be here. Having that desire helps us bring a different perspective to the traditional classes that we are in,” she added.
Among the attendees of the conference was Student Body President of Columbia’s School of General Studies Hannah Germond , a sophomore in the School of General Studies. Germond suffered an injury in a car accident that crippled her career as a concert pianist. She decided to “find another way to use [her] skill set and put [her] passion elsewhere.” After 12 years of teaching music and a stint as a city council member in Indiana, Germond found her way to Columbia.
“After I ended my career, and because I was performing at such a high level, I wanted the same excellence out of my education,” she said.
While the conference may eventually include a variety of universities, it was founded on the existing spirit of cooperation between the Ivies, Boatwright and Oleck said.
Aside from creating solutions and relationships that are mutually beneficial within the student community, the conference included administration in an open forum on better integrating returning students.
“We’re trying to let the administration know that we’re here. Not only are we vested in our own success, we are vested in the success of LPS and Penn and the broader community,” Boatwright said. “We’re all in this together.”