Despite pursuing her degree at the University of Minnesota, Wendy Smith still finds ways to spend quality time with her son, Max.
A student parent finds success
By Susan Warfield
November 6, 2007
Wendy Smith is a nontraditional student in almost every sense of
the term. She's 38 years old, married, the mother of a 3-year-old
son, and a transfer student from Minneapolis Community and
Technical College (MCTC). Smith has certainly taken the road less
traveled in both her personal and academic life. Although she began
college at the University right out of high school, she lacked
focus and struggled academically during her first two years. It
wasn't until she reentered college at MCTC at age 36 that she found
a heightened sense of commitment to her academic success. Smith
earned excellent grades and eventually transferred back to the U.
In the interim, she worked for many years, got married, and became
a mother. Smith says that having her son increased her motivation
to succeed academically and become more serious about her future
career options. "Being out in the workforce without a degree for so
many years, you see how limited your options are, and how that not
only impacts you but your child's future as well," she says.
"I see younger students worrying about dating,
their looks, what parties they are being invited to," Smith says.
"I have already done all that, I have my husband, my child, my main
life relationships are established, and I can focus on other
things, like school and my career."
November is Non-traditional Student Month at colleges across the
nation. On the Twin Cities campus, several events are planned for
this week, beginning with today's Student Parent Visibility Day and
continuing with information booths in Coffman Union focusing on
first generation college students (Wed.); older than average
students (Thurs.); and veterans (Fri.).
"It is estimated that the University of Minnesota has several
thousand student parents in undergraduate and graduate programs,"
says student parent Lisa Coleman. "The Student Parent Visibility
Day is a campus-wide event that highlights the important
contributions that students who are also parents make to our campus
and to campuses across the nation."
The life of a nontraditional student
Smith is not overly self-conscious about her age or about being a
mother. "I have actually encountered situations where I am older
than my instructors," Smith jokes, and admits that it can be odd at
times being the oldest one in the class. But in most aspects, her
life experience, age, and parenting status are positives, and she
feels she is under much less "social pressure" than typically aged
students. "I see younger students worrying about dating, their
looks, what parties they are being invited to," she says. "I have
already done all that, I have my husband, my child, my main life
relationships are established, and I can focus on other things,
like school and my career." Still, it is not always easy having
added responsibilities, and Smith acknowledges that she has far
less free time than most of her fellow students. "My time is not my
own," she says. "I can't just eat quickly and go study. I have to
make sure everyone in the family is fed, groceries are bought, that
my son gets tucked in at night. My 'downtime' is often the only
quality time I have with my son, so I am up late studying after he
is in bed, or trying to get as much done on campus as possible.
"Overall, though, I see it all as basically positive. Even the
other student parents I meet at the SPHC (Student Parent HELP
, who are younger than me and typically aged, seem more
mature and academically focused then some of the non-parenting
students I meet in my classes." Smith feels that the fact she was
the first in her family to attend a four-year university is a
benefit as well. "I don't take college for granted; it was not a
guaranteed thing for me ever and so I appreciate it so much more,"
she says. "It is not something someone is making me do." As for her
future, Smith laughs when she says she can see herself being a
"professional student." She loves to learn, is engaged with all
aspects of her collegiate life, has an on-campus job, is active
with the SPHC, and is seriously considering going on to get her
doctorate degree. Her major is linguistics with a minor in teaching
ESL and she's thinking of teaching English abroad. Smith has also
considered law school, and will soon be taking both the GRE and the
LSAT in order to keep her options open.