Her alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m., giving her just two hours to feed and let out the dog, prepare breakfast for her family, get class materials together, pack a lunch, put gas in her SUV, and drive the 45-minute commute to UW-Whitewater. By the time her first class starts, she has been awake and busy for four hours.
This is a typical morning for Rochelle Day, a non-traditional student.
According to the UW-Whitewater non-traditional student blog, a non-traditional student is one who isn’t a recent high school graduate. These students could be fathers, mothers, graduate students or have prior military experience.
Day attended MATC in Watertown, where she received her associate degree in 1991. After working her way up to becoming an assistant director of Information Systems at The Mirage Resort and Casino in Las Vegas and running her own business for 12 years, Day considered the possibility of going back to school.
She weighed the opportunity heavily; harboring doubts on whether going back to school would be an option for her. After receiving some encouragement from her great aunt, Day made the brave decision to attend UW-Whitewater and work toward her bachelor’s degree in management computer systems at 50-years-old.
“Confidence was a huge factor for me,” Day said. “It’s a constant second-guessing of ‘what did I get myself into?’”
One of the biggest struggles in the classroom for Day, and other non-traditional students as well, is receiving different treatment in class. Sometimes it works in her favor and sometimes it can go the other way, Day said.
Students and professors tend to assume Day is familiar with certain topics and concepts solely because she is an adult student. A personal difficulty for Day was using a graphing calculator, something she had never learned before starting school at UW-Whitewater.
Another classroom struggle for non-traditional students is small groups. Many non-traditional students feel the other students think of them as their parent, therefore not wanting to engage in much conversation with them.
“I don’t mind striking up a conversation with my younger classmates,” Day said. “I think it is hard for them though to see us as classmates and not as adults.”
It has been 30 years since Day was in high school. She has had to relearn a lot of concepts updated since she graduated. Day said, at times, concepts that take a traditional student 30 minutes could take her up to three hours.
After a day filled with classes and squeezing in homework at every free moment, Day makes the drive back to Watertown, usually re-listening to lectures through podcasts or listening to audio books.
Once home, she prepares dinner for her family, starts laundry and lets out the dog before she heads to work. Day teaches night classes on keyboarding and Microsoft Word basics at MATC on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Once she is done teaching, Day goes home to do her homework and grade papers, sometimes not starting until 10 p.m. She calls it quits at 1 a.m., whether she is finished or not, and wakes up to her alarm clock the next morning at 5:30 a.m to start the process all over again.
“I don’t have any free time,” Day said. “I wish I could drift to sleep instead of collapsing to sleep at night.”
Because of her intense schedule, Day doesn’t have the time she desires to spend with her husband of 23 years, Al, and her children, Sara, a sophomore at UW-Whitewater, and Josh, a junior at Lakeside Lutheran High School.
“There isn’t really a balance at the moment,” Day said. “My husband and I keep saying ‘we just have to hang on a little while longer’ to each other.”
Student services coordinator of adult non-traditional students, Lynn Smith, works with students to ease the transition back into the college environment.
“There are so many demands on time for these students,” Smith said. “They are here to learn and are intrinsically motivated, and that is what makes them successful.”
After surveying many of the 750 non-traditional students at UW-Whitewater, Smith found most of the students find online academic support groups and advising help important to their success. The most common struggle in classes for non-traditional students is areas concerning math and computers.
The non-traditional student blog is a fairly new place for adult students to bond with one another. Smith oversees some of the activity on the blog and says Day, who is a regular blogger, will be a key piece in the blog’s future success.
“Rochelle is just dynamite,” Smith said. “She is so selfless and is willing to be a mentor to other non-traditional students to help in any way she can.”
Smith said she hopes the blog will serve as an avenue for non-traditional students to connect by sharing tips and tricks, and blogging about their experiences.
“You are really missing out on a great opportunity if you don’t get to know these students,” Smith said. “They are great people and are so fascinating to talk with.”
Despite the many difficulties with juggling schoolwork, a job and family life, Day said she enjoys being a student again.
“I would like to not feel so odd, and I know that’s an unrealistic expectation,” Day said. “I have always felt like a fringe element of sorts.”
After both of Day’s parents passed away in 2008 from cancer, Day learned how many people die alone while in a hospice home. She would like to use her knowledge of technology to set up wireless cameras in the homes so residents can have face-to-face communication with their families.
“I have the technology and I know how to create these kinds of connections electronically,” Day said. “I could create something that would allow people in hospices to not feel so isolated.”
Day has three semesters left at UW-Whitewater and said she is excited to use her talents to better the lives of others while doing something she truly loves with passion, big dreams and incredible drive.