For Joyce Rondinella, the Earth is her classroom. She plans to protect it in whatever way she can and teach others to do the same.
“It is a crucial time for the environment,” said Rondinella, who graduated with a degree in Horticulture in May. “With the education that we have received here at Ambler, we have an obligation to spread the word and use what we have learned for the betterment of the environment.”
Rondinella, one of hundreds of adult “re-entry” students (any student that has been out of school for five or more years) at Temple University Ambler and Fort Washington, came to the Horticulture program already armed with a wealth of knowledge, maintaining a full-time position at Longwood Gardens.
Returning to school as a student working full-time while taking classes part-time, often with “traditional-aged students,” Rondinella said, required “setting priorities.”
“You take it one day at a time and make sure that you have a good support system here and at work — volunteers, students, co-workers. I really felt from day one that your age certainly didn’t matter at Ambler — everyone was very open and easy to talk to,” she said. “It was nice that there was a lot of diversity in ages and backgrounds. My teachers were all readily available and they made time for, and had an excellent rapport with, their students.”
Positioned to become a pilot site for a University-wide initiative to offer increased educational opportunities for re-entry students and working adults (a full 43 percent of the student population at Ambler and Fort Washington is 25 years of age or older) Temple University Ambler and Fort Washington are working to establish the proper framework of programs and services necessary for students who often have several other life priorities to attend to — work, spouse, family, community.
“Adults learn differently than younger students — we become more impatient to learn. We are more focused and more direct in the application of our energies toward a specific goal,” said Temple University Ambler Acting Dean Dr. James W. Hilty. “Ambler and Fort Washington are already hubs for adult education. What we want to do is improve access to our services and make them more convenient for working adults in particular to get registered, pay their bills, park — we want to streamline the administrative process for all students.”
According to Dr. Hilty, making Ambler and Fort Washington even more “adult-friendly” will require programmatic, physical, and organizational changes, “all of which are being examined.”
“There are any number of professional and post-professional degree programs that would be of particular interest to returning adults — Adult and Organization Development, Educational Administration, our business programs,” he said. “Adult education has always been part of the Conwellian tradition. We will be exploring new opportunities and new ways of serving our current and prospective students.”
Simply looking at the demographics in the coming years, re-entry students will play a key factor in the success of any college or university campus, according to James Van Blunk, Director of Admissions and Marketing at Temple University Ambler.
“While the numbers are still good in Montgomery and Bucks County, the number of traditional 18-year-old students coming out of high schools is declining. Adult students, re-entry students, provide a good balance in enrollment,” he said. “What we need to do is take a look at our programs and work toward maximizing availability. With the predictions for the coming years related to the economy and how that will affect working adults, this is an opportune time for people to finish what they started — to pursue or continue their educations.”
Van Blunk said Ambler — already a full service campus for every student — has the infrastructure in place to provide “one stop shopping” for re-entry students seeking an undergraduate or graduate degree to advance their careers or simply for personal enrichment.
“We are Temple. We have world renowned professors and comprehensive programs,” he said. “Associate’s degree programs? Yes. Bachelor’s and graduate programs? We have you covered. Certificate programs? You’re covered there too. We have a great array of programs that can be completed right at Ambler and Fort Washington in addition to unique programs, such as Community and Regional Planning, Horticulture, and Landscape Architecture.”
Phil Albright, President of the Temple University Ambler Board of Visitors who himself returned to the classroom at Ambler in his 50s, said intergenerational education is essential for the future of the Ambler and Fort Washington campuses.
“Baby Boomers are, by far, the best educated generation we’ve ever had. They want to keep learning and what better place for them to do it than Ambler?” he said. “Temple makes it easy to expand your horizons and find something that interests you. Let’s face it; most of us initially went to college because we needed to, to further our goals or start in our careers. Now we have the opportunity to return to a college campus because we want to, because we enjoy it — we can set our own goals in our own timeframe.”
Making the decision to return to school after many years, or even just a few years, can be a daunting endeavor.
For many re-entry students, there is a great deal of trepidation “just getting the process started,” Van Blunk said.
“It’s a big step, but something is trigged within them that says ‘Do this and do this now!’ There are some very common questions — ‘When or how soon can I start?’ ‘How long will it take me to get my degree or my certificate?’ How much will it cost me?’” he said. “Reentry students want personalized guidance. They want to have someone to help them negotiate the Temple system so that they can do what they need to do.”
Admissions, Advising, Financial Aid, and Student Services at Ambler and Fort Washington “are already used to working with a broad range of students,” Van Blunk said.
“From traditional students to transfer students to returning students, there are a lot of people with a lot of skill handling their specific needs already on campus — a large portion of our student population already is working adults,” he said. “What we are developing now is a model to successfully recruit, attract, and enroll adult students that the rest of the University can follow. We want Ambler and Fort Washington to be the first place they think of to continue their education — a place where they have gotten what they wanted and more, both programmatically and in the services that we are able to provide.”
When returning to the classroom, working adults often wonder whether they can juggle a full-time career with family commitments and still find time to attend class and study, said Wendy Lebing, Assistant Dean for the Quality Assurance/Regulatory Affairs (QA/RA) master’s degree program offered at Temple University Fort Washington.
“They may be concerned by the length of time needed to complete the program, wondering whether they will lose their motivation along the way,” she said. “They may worry about the financial commitment.”
Lebing said Temple University Ambler and Fort Washington seek to make programs such as QA/RA “as convenient as possible for working professionals.”
“Students don’t have to take a leave of absence to complete the degree. They can take courses at their own pace, selecting one or more a semester,” she said. “They can explore the program by taking up to three courses before formally applying. Since classes are offered throughout the year, they may start in the fall, spring, or during the summer.”
Individuals at Ambler and Fort Washington have the opportunity to sample the wares as non-matriculated students — students who have not registered for a specific degree program. This gives students the opportunity to determine which course of study is the best fit for them. Certificate programs of five or six courses in several fields also provide students a chance to “get their feet wet,” said Van Blunk.
Before making an important commitment, people need to ask themselves ‘Why do I need this degree?’” said Susan McCaffrey, Assistant Director of Student Services and Disability Coordinator in the Office of Academic Advising and Career Development at Ambler.
“Often an individual will think they need a degree in the area they are presently working when that is not necessarily the case,” she said. “There are so many opportunities available — they really need to weigh their options carefully.”
Non-matriculated students are able to enjoy all of the amenities that Temple University Ambler and Fort Washington have to offer, such as access to Temple’s entire library resources; the ACT (Ambler Campus Technology) Center; athletic facilities, dining options, study areas, wireless networking, and more.
Temple University Fort Washington in particularly is “a very adult-friendly campus” according to Marylou Delizia, Director of Temple University Fort Washington, offering convenient parking, more comfortable room logistics, and staff available later in the evening to assist students and faculty.
“During the week, most of the programs at Fort Washington began after 6 p.m., which takes into account the schedules of typical working adults, and there are several weekend sections available,” she said. “Our graduate programs are completely organized around the needs of adult students. The MBA and QA/RA programs have proven particularly successful with professionals.”
For adults interested in returning to school to start or complete a degree, Ambler provides a full range of possibilities — numerous bachelor’s degree programs may be completed at the Ambler campus and students can begin courses for all of the University’s more than 100 majors. Fort Washington offers 7 graduate programs in addition to hundreds of non-credit programs every semester, which include non-credit certificate programs in everything from interior design and home gardening to computers and wedding planning.
Student Services, Advising, and Admissions at Ambler provide the “one-on-one contact that adult students are seeking when they decide to return to college,” said McCaffrey.
“When someone hasn’t been in school for years there are going to be fears to overcome — ‘How can I compete in the classroom with all of these younger people?’” she said. “Traditionally, adult students do better than they ever could have imagined and their grades soar.”
In 2006, Marc Adelman, who graduated this year with a degree in History, returned to the classroom for the first time in 42 years. He chose Ambler, he said, for the intimate atmosphere and one-on-one attention. It “fit my lifestyle,” he said. He was also able to still use the bulk of his credits from his first “tour of duty” at Temple.
Adelman was a Dean’s List recipient to boot.
“When I got the letter, I thought it was a bill! It never even entered my mind that I could be eligible for the Dean’s List,” he said. “When I started two years ago, I really didn’t know if I’d be able to take a test or take notes or if I could even sit in class. I didn’t know if I had the technical know-how — I had only started e-mailing and Googling just a little while before. One of my first instructors asked me if I knew what Blackboard was. I said ‘Sure, where’s the eraser?’”
In his first few days, his professors, fellow students, and advisors helped place him at ease with the full realization that he was right where he belonged.
“I was uneasy at first. With many of the other students, they’re 20 and I’m almost 70. They wondered what I was doing in their class,” he said. “In my third semester, and even toward the end of my second, there was a transition. They would come up to me and ask me advice, what I thought about a test — they would talk to me and me to them. It is a very healthy environment for those that want to be educated.”
Outside of the classroom, Ambler also provides ample opportunities for community involvement and networking.
“Our adult students have the same opportunities to get involved with any student organization on campus and, historically, they have done very well when they do get involved — age is in no way prohibitive,” said Dr. Wanda Lewis-Campbell, Assistant Dean for Student Life. “Some of the best organizations have been run by adult students.”
Traditionally, adult students have focused their student involvement on professional and academic organizations, such as the American Marketing Association, the Communications and the Society for Exceptional Educators, Dr. Lewis-Campbell said. Adult students have also made significant contributions to the student newspaper, radio station, and literary magazine.
“The professional and academic organizations in particular provide a greater connection to their major in addition to exposing them further to the field and providing networking opportunities in the industry,” she said. “Our traditional-aged and adult students really feed off of one another — they make excellent study partners because they each bring something to the table. A student who is just out of high school can help ‘break it down’ for someone who hasn’t had math or science in 10 or 20 years. Our adult students are very committed and reliable and make excellent organization members — it’s a reciprocal relationship.”
According to McCaffrey, Advising, Admissions, and Academic Services are working hard to develop new ways to connect and serve returning students.
“We are developing a simple check sheet and a mini-workshop involving one-on-one training for re-entry students to initiate them in how to be a Temple student, on how to navigate the University — TUPortal, how to access an E-bill, how to utilizes the services in the library, how to register for a course, how to view their roster. Our Career Development office also works directly, and quite naturally, with people who are changing careers,” she said. “We also offer phone and e-mail appointments as additional alternatives to traditional advising and registration meetings with students.”
In the near future, McCaffrey said, “I think we can also expect to see more military veterans returning to campus.”
“We have to be ready, we have to have the necessary accommodations available to meet everyone’s needs,” she said. “I certainly know we will be welcoming.”
Thomas A.Vargas, entered and graduated Temple’s Criminal Justice program at Ambler after four years of active duty in the United States Marine Corps.
“I think serving in the military allowed me to learn how to take things a little slower and have a more open mind. I stay at ease and don’t allow myself to become overwhelmed — you take everything one step at a time and everything falls into place,” said Vargas, who intends to become a Border Patrol Agent for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency. “I loved the student to teacher ratio and the involvement and engagement between students and faculty Ambler — the campus dean is right there in the classroom teaching!”
Vargas said Ambler and Fort Washington — for both re-entry and traditional students — “is a very personalized experience with the whole staff looking out for you.”
“I think the old saying that it takes a village to raise a child is the truth,” he said. “It takes a lot from the community to develop one person and the campus community here at Ambler is willing to invest that time in you.”