Unfinished business: Students returning from hiatus get extracurricular help

Emma North, Contributing Writer

Whether it’s a three-year break, or 30, returning from time away from school to finish a bachelor’s can be difficult for students. Known as nontraditional students, they sometimes struggle to connect with the rest of the student body, which is mostly fresh out of high school.

That’s why Glynis Boyd — a 49-year-old student returning to get an English degree after 20-year hiatus — started a support and service group called Retro Rams last semester. The organization helps nontraditional students make connections and find a sense of belonging.

Boyd, like many nontraditional students, started college when she was younger, but did not finish. She decided to put school on hold after she was offered a job with the city in 1997, just a year after she transferred to VCU.  

The plan was always to come back and finish school, Boyd said. When she did in the fall of 2017, she took her time to settle in and started looking for student organizations to join, but struggled to find any. While VCU does have services for transfer, military and first-generation students, Boyd found it hard to find something tailored for students like her.  

That’s when Boyd took actions into her own hands by creating an organization dedicated to improving college life for students with an experience like her own.

“It seemed like there wasn’t really anything that connected with me as an older student,” Boyd said. “Starting out I was just hoping to find some friends, some people I could connect with.”
Boyd’s push for recruitment first started when she presented at VCU’s Pathways to Womanhood Empowerment Summit. Among those pulled into the organization was Christina Davis, a junior studying international relations.

“I found that I could not relate to the majority of my classmates,” Davis said. “I have loved meeting other people in my age group that I can ask questions without feeling old.”

Sophia Entzminger, a junior Spanish major and Retro Rams member, listed the challenges nontraditional students tend to face. Some of them include dealing with new technology, different teaching styles, having to work full time, changing careers, transitioning out of military service and having to take care of a parent or child.  

“While I don’t think all of our fears, concerns and issues are unique,” said freshman business administration major Melissa Denisco-Morici, “I do feel that we have less resources and finding people that we can connect with that are in similar life situations is more challenging for us.”

Last semester, Boyd and other Retro Rams founders presented a list with 10 suggestions to Charles Klink, the Senior Vice Provost for Student Affairs. Boyd said, we discussed creating  a workgroup to ensure nontraditional students involvement on campus and adding component of new student orientation that is designed for non-traditional students.

“More support programs and class time slots are needed for the nontraditional student,” Davis said. “Many older or returning students sway over to the expensive career colleges because they cater to that demographic by offering more night classes and online classes.”

This semester, the Retro Rams are focused on continuing to grow as an organization and finding a sense of community. The organization hopes to help keep these students connected to VCU and possibly provide a scholarship in the future.

“I envision Retro Rams having dual purposes, definitely the support aspect and also becoming involved with the VCU community,” Boyd said. “I think having fun and being social is important but it’s also important to nurture that part where you give back.”

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