ECC welcomes people of all ages and backgrounds to become a student

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ECC welcomes people of all ages and backgrounds to become a student

A 67-year-old student, Joyce Smith, is taking her first ECC class this semester.

A 67-year-old student, Joyce Smith, is taking her first ECC class this semester.

Victoria Crowe

A 67-year-old student, Joyce Smith, is taking her first ECC class this semester.

Victoria Crowe

Victoria Crowe

A 67-year-old student, Joyce Smith, is taking her first ECC class this semester.

Victoria Crowe, Staff Writer

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Just like most community colleges, Elgin Community College has students of different ages and from various backgrounds. Some of those students are coming back to school because they need a certain degree for a new job they want, and many of them come back just to find things to fill their time and stay busy.  ECC advisor John Popik has advised quite a few nontraditional students.

“Although a majority of ECC students are ‘traditionally aged’, meaning from 18 to 22 [years old], we have had many students who are older than that,”  Popik said. “All advisors have had some mature students, as I like to call them.”

Popik mentioned that everyone comes back to school for a different reason, but there are many common ones that he has seen.

“Some are taking courses out of personal enjoyment,” Popik said.  “They really just want to learn about a topic for personal interest.  Some have become unemployed and are seeking training to find a job. Some are tired of their current careers and are looking for a change.  Many have had life situations where they find they need a change, such as getting a divorce or having children now out of the house and they now have more time to devote to school.”

Popik believes that ECC fulfills its purpose of gathering likeminded individuals that are willing and ready to learn.

“I think all of us have a couple of students who decide to go to college once their kids attend ECC,” Popik said. “ECC truly is a community college, where community members [attend] for different reasons in addition to our students who start right out of high school.”

Joyce Smith, a 67-year-old student, is taking her first ECC class this semester, which happens to be fiction writing.   

My career has been as a copywriter in the advertising business,”  Smith said. “I’ve worked for a handful of ad agencies and I’ve also freelanced, working directly with clients. I had reached and passed what many would call ‘retirement age’ and was thinking about how to make a graceful exit. That finally happened a year ago, and I was free to pursue other things, including my personal writing.”

Smith’s desire was to find a class that would help her reach new heights in her writing career and reveal new ideas she wasn’t aware of before.

“I happened to meet a local author and told her of my desire for a great writing class, one that would move me toward possibly getting something published,” Smith said.  “She remembered the name, Rachael Stewart — one of the most insightful writing teachers she’d ever come across. So, I found Rachael Stewart and ENG 213.”

This experience for Smith has proven to be much different for her now than when she was in school many years ago.

“I believed I’d be challenged,” Smith said. But I couldn’t have imagined what a rich experience I was in for. “[Professor Stewart] is giving from the heart and the students are really good, seriously good writers, and kind, thoughtful people. I’m hoping to have at least one piece of writing ready to send out to publications. In fact, a fellow student has challenged me to submit a piece before the class ends in May. Beyond that, I’m hoping to believe in myself more than before and stay committed to living the writing life.”

Patricia O’Brien, professor of sociology, has had plenty of experience with students that begin their journey at ECC a bit longer after high school.

“During my years of teaching, I have had quite a few nontraditional students,” O’Brien said.  “I have found them, unequivocally, to be highly motivated and eager participants in the learning process.  I believe that, for the most part, they are in school because they want to be.”

O’Brien teaches a number of classes at the college, including family violence, and has some experience with some of her nontraditional students being survivors of such violence.  She also was one of the founders of a battered women’s shelter in Chicago and was a part of the Chicago Battered Women’s Network.

“I think that it is reasonable to say that nearly every class is populated by at least one student who is a survivor of some form of violence,” O’Brien said. “I have been involved in this area for more years than I care to count. Since I have been at ECC, I have been involved with the Crisis Center in a variety of capacities. Teaching [family violence] is an extension of the work I have been doing for many years.”

According to O’Brien, students decide to take the family violence course for a number of different reasons.

“Sometimes the people who take the course do so in an attempt to sort out their lives, find some alternative paths [and so on,]” O’Brien said. “Some people take the class to be better able to help family or friends as they attempt to navigate the world of abuse.  For other students, what starts out as a class, morphs into a career. Helping students of any age or life experience acknowledge and recognize what is going on in their worlds is a privilege.”

ECC truly is a community college that welcomes students from all different ages and backgrounds to seek something new in their lives that they haven’t quite found anywhere else.