He dropped out of school not once, but twice.

He worked in a lumber mill until there was no more lumber mill.

He was employed by an aluminum fabricator until his plant went overseas.

He jumped out of a perfectly good airplane 30 times in one given day, set an Oregon record, and lived to talk about it.

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He drove 140 miles round-trip virtually every day of the week from Roseburg to Eugene in all kinds of crummy weather to pursue his goal.

He earned his high school degree at 25, and then his associate’s degree and just this past week his Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism with an emphasis on Public Relations.

Meet Ronn Crow, 45, former drop out, then “non-trad” student and now graduate of the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC).

“I never thought I would get a bachelor’s degree,” Ronn said. “This is a huge weight off my shoulders.”

Patty Jenness, 48, never did and never will jump out of an airplane, let alone doing it 30 times before the sun goes down.

She did give birth to four daughters; adopted two more, eventually adding three sons-in-law and three grandchildren (and counting) to her household.

For most people, raising six daughters (whatever happened to her husband, Andy’s, Y-chromosome supply?) would be a job well done.

After accomplishing this goal, she sat down with Andy (one of my M.A. student colleagues) and talked about next steps. Patty made the decision to go back to school.

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Applying and signing up for classes was a snap. She loves information and follows current events, so SOJC was a natural for her. As it turned out, there was the mental struggle and doubts that would turn out to be the biggest hurdles.

“Did my brain still work right?” Patty recalls asking herself. “And what is this old lady doing in the classroom?”

Patty articulated the doubts of many non-traditional students or “non-trads.” How would they be accepted by the perky millennial crowd in their late-teens and early-20s, the ones who can barely remember the 20th Century?

As it turns out, she didn’t need to worry. Patty graduated this past week from SOJC with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism with an emphasis in Public Relations

Stephanie Martin turned 46 this week. She has been pursuing her bachelor’s degree for six years, first as a community college student and now at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. She can envision, walking up on the platform in her cap and gown to receive her diploma.

“I can see myself balling on stage, just like a three year-old girl who stubbed her toe,” Stephanie said. “It has been a long-slow road to hell. It has been hard, real hard.”

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Stephanie was divorced with her young son, Zachary, and was stuck in a dead-end position. She was approaching 40 and there just had to be more in life.

She reflected how she hated her Indiana high school, and she recollected her thoughts about her short stints at Ball State and Indiana University as “a waste of time and a waste of money.”

As Zachary turned five, Stephanie started applying for student loans and grants. She took her first steps at Lane Community College and then transferred to the University of Oregon. The latter was the hard part.

She believes that community colleges are naturally more adept at addressing the needs of “non-trad” students than major universities that are more inclined to focus on the needs of Millennials and foreign students.

“I asked myself, ‘What am I doing’?” said Stephanie. “I came back each night in tears. Nobody seemed to care about the older students.”

And now, she can see the finish line. She can envision herself making presentations and demonstrations for corporations. This soon will be possible because of her upcoming degree.

The author of Almost DailyBrett was a non-trad student as well, going back to pursue his M.A. degree at 54 years-young. The average grad student is 29. Think of it this way, it is not uncommon for professionals to take a sabbatical from work – particularly in this economy – to attain an advanced degree.

The same cannot be said for those who have the courage to return or enter college in middle-age to sit in classrooms with late teens and early 20s students for the purpose of attaining an undergraduate degree. Three celebrated examples are Shaquille O’Neal (LSU), Joe Namath (Alabama) and Isiah Thomas (Indiana).

There are a wide variety of reasons that propel these mature students to get back on the academic track.

For Ronn Crow, federal Trade Adjustment Assistance as a result of the Alcan Cable offshoring provided the needed capital and another opportunity.

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For Patty Jenness, her husband, Andy, was pursuing his master’s degree and the nest was emptying (her daughters range from 20-27 years of age).

For Stephanie Martin, it was a realization that she was going nowhere fast in her dead-end job. She just has too much talent, not to do better.

It should be noted that I had the honor of teaching upper-division public relations to Ronn (two classes), Patty (two classes) and Stephanie (one class). Each of them was always there, attentive and ready to learn. In fact, Stephanie insisted on going first when it came to making a presentation. She does not suffer from Glossophobia.

The three of them are all different, but in many ways they are all the same.

They are non-trads.

They are courageous.

They are overachievers.

Almost DailyBrett wishes them the absolute best in their exciting careers and lives.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcan

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trade_Adjustment_Assistance

http://www.jcomm.uoregon.edu/

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