This is Me: Breaking tradition

As a wife, mother and grandmother, Debora Timms is considered a nontraditional student. The Granby native hopes to balance her hectic life while attending classes in order to earn her bachelor’s degree in print journalism.

By on February 25, 2015
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It’s 6 a.m on a Wednesday on a cold February morning in Granby. Debora Timms, 47, checks her phone for emails and messages before she faces the day. Timms tells her two children living with her it’s time to get ready for school.

Timms is known as a “nontraditional student.” Age, especially any age over 24, is often the defining characteristic of a nontraditional student, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES). Adult students often have family and work responsibilities as well as other life circumstances that can interfere with completion of higher education, according to NIES.

Timms is classified as a senior, expected to graduate in December 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in print journalism.

“I always knew I wanted to write,” Timms said. “But I never did anything with it. When I was younger I never went to college, I had children, I actually worked in accounting and finance for a long time and then probably about maybe about 15 years ago I got more interested in politics and social issues.”

She would rant to her husband about current events and he simply said, “well, do something about it.” She didn’t know what he meant at first, but he pointed out that she loved to write so she should write about things that matter to her.

“So that was kind of what sort of started it,” Timms said. “But my kids and other things – I just didn’t have the money to do it.”

Before Timms considered sitting in the classroom again, she spent 20 years living in Australia. She first moved there with her first husband who she met in Connecticut.

“Finally, after we moved [to the United States] which was about a little over seven years ago now, I just decided to give it a go and just try to go to school.”

For more than 20 years, nontraditional students have made up close to 40 percent of the college population, according to American Council on Education (ACE).

Timms started her educational career in North Carolina. She first received her associate degree from Randolph Community College in Asheboro, then attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, and will finish her undergraduate education at Quinnipiac on the Mount Carmel campus.

Deciding to get her degree from Quinnipiac wasn’t an easy decision to make.

Timms grew up in Connecticut. she had friends and family here. She wanted to be close to them and still get a good education.

“I wanted to move back up into this area so I just had a look at the schools that had print journalism majors, obviously, because that’s what I was interested in,” Timms said.

Quinnipiac isn’t the only school that offered print journalism as a major, Timms said. They offered it at several schools in the area, including a couple of state schools.

After receiving an acceptance letter from both Quinnipiac and Central Connecticut State University, Timms decided to try a private institution. She had already attended a state school and community college online. Plus, Quinnipiac offered a master’s degree if she wanted to proceed and do that program as well.

“Quinnipiac seemed to have a really good program, a good reputation and I got a really good financial aid package, so at the end of the day I wanted to try a more private school since I was going to pay the same amount of money [as a state-run school] anyway,” she said.

Starting at age 24, students filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) are evaluated based on their own earnings and may be eligible for additional funding, some of which doesn’t have to be paid back, as opposed to traditional college students, reported U.S. News and World Report in 2013.

FAFSA awards are based on an applicant’s income from the previous year, but certain life events can alter a student’s financial circumstances, according to U.S. News and World Report.

The Federal Student Aid website also helps nontraditional students who are seeking financial assistance by providing a checklist of things to do before applying for aid. The FASFA form is not the way it used to be when nontraditional students were applying to colleges and universities, said U.S. News and World Report.

Because most nontraditional students have been out of the classroom for years, they may lack mathematics, writing and technology skills a typical student would have coming right from high school, according to University North Carolina Wilmington’s Non-Traditional Student Organization (NTSO).

Nowadays, internship and job postings are found on the Internet, especially on professional networking sites such as LinkedIn, and on other social media sites, like Twitter.

“I probably don’t use [LinkedIn] as effectively as I should,” Timms said. “Generally, I tend to not do very much on it for the most part.”

Transitioning and using new forms of communication can sometimes be difficult, according to University North Carolina Wilmington’s NTSO.

It’s like you look at something and think, “well, I’m not really sure how to use this,” Timms said.

Timms doesn’t see her being older than her peers in the classroom as a drawback. She instead hopes the fact that she has a lot of life experience will put her ahead of her classmates when she tries to find an internship and eventually a full-time job.

“I have a better idea of who I am and what skills I can bring to the table, so I’m kind of hoping that will work in my favor,” Timms said.

Timms may have the experience that most traditional students lack, but one thing those students have is time.

It can be hard for students to juggle homework, readings and extracurriculars. Timms has to consider all of that plus her family responsibilities and work.

“There are never enough hours in the day,” Timms said.

Timms isn’t stressed out by her schedule. She may be on campus three days a week, and on Wednesdays in particular she is here from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., but she has learned to deal with balancing school, family and coursework.

The ability to learn things, be back in a classroom and participating in class discussion are a few of her favorite things about being a student again.

“The ability to do that and focus on it is a lot of fun–well, it’s a lot of work–but it’s a lot of fun,” Timms said.

It is mid-afternoon on a dull and dreary Wednesday in February. Timms has two journalism classes before she takes the hour-long commute home to her children.

Traditional students don’t have to take that drive home. Traditional students don’t have to manage a career, home and classes to the same degree.

Last semester, Timms’ children had some issues, but the professors were accommodating.

“Sometimes [the children] want attention, they need to have things done, they need help with their homework or we’re trying to discuss things at the moment,” Timms said. “We’ve been settling in and my husband is still working in North Carolina trying to transition so he’s not here, it’s just me.”

Timms offers some advice: take advantage of the opportunities when you can. All of those experiences to travel and get out, get involved and do things are perfect when you don’t have a lot of commitments.

“I would hope that young people really become active and find passions,” Timms said. “Get out there and learn about things beyond just themselves.”

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About Kellie Mason

Associate Arts and Life Editor