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Wendy Smith and her son, Max, who's holding a mini Goldy Gopher doll

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 Center), 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.