How returning college students help enrich Georgia State

Georgia State has always been a college that prides itself on diversity—but “diversity” doesn’t only refer to different genders and races. It means different ages, too.

Debby Yoder, a 48-year-old Sociology major, attended Georgia State in the mid-nineties. During that time, she said she was considering majoring in Philosophy, English, or History. Now she’s back to finish what she started—only with a different major.

Candra Umunna | The Signal
Pictured left: Carol Washburn, Art Education student; pictured right: Betty Williams, language student.

“I am now returning to school for several reasons, including the downturn in the economy and my family situation stabilizing,” Yoder said. Unlike some returning college students, Yoder said she is single without the demands of a partner or children. But she says her extended family is “very supportive.”

“They were initially surprised to hear I wanted to finish my degree after so much time has passed but they are very excited for me,” Yoder said.

Returning college students are not only at different stages in their lives, relationships and careers, but they also have to re-adjust to the college life.

“Learning to be a student again was a little bit of a challenge,” Yoder said. But she said the challenge was well worth it.

“I love GSU! I appreciate the diverse student body and think the faculty is amazing,” Yoder said.

Unlike some college students coming straight from high school, most returning students have to commute to school. Yoder commutes from Douglasville.

“It’s a complicated process because GSU has not handled the parking situation effectively…we pay a parking fee to access Turner Field, but…it fills up quickly and people are left scrambling to find a place to park and still make it to class on time,” Yoder said.

As for how her life experience contributes to her academic experience, Yoder says her age gives her a bit of an advantage.

“At times, my age is helpful because concepts are not just something I’m reading about-I lived it and understand it from my own experience…I’ve had more time to put things in context with other world events,” she said.

Rob Kiser, a 54-year-old senior at Georgia State majoring in Political Science, is returning to college for the third time. He has a degree in Aeronautics, spent 10 years in the Air Force, 22 years with the FAA, worked in Air Traffic Control and worked as a pilot. Kiser has a great deal of life experience, but his thirst for knowledge continues.

“When I retired last year, I decided that I wasn’t ready to sit home yet so I wanted to go to law school,” Kiser said.

He has three kids; a daughter attending Marshall University, a a daughter at East Coweta High School and a 9-year-old son. Kiser said he has a lot on his plate. He jokes that he’ll “be working until [he’s] 150.”

Being a veteran himself, he wants to use his Law degree on his passion for veteran’s affairs.

“The V.A. has been real good to me with everything I’ve gone through after the military days and there’s a lot of veterans out there that don’t know what their entitlements and benefits are, so I would like to find a way to help them…. I’m also very passionate about aviation law and environmental law,” Kiser said.

He says his current college career is a bit of a running joke in his household. His kids call him “college boy” and tease him for wearing his old fraternity sweatshirt. He has fun with it ,though. He has better-grade competitions with his daughter who is enrolled in college.

Kiser says his wife has been unbelievably supportive, and occasionally provides him with that extra push he needs to do his schoolwork.

“I couldn’t have done any of this without my wife’s support…she’s just phenomenal, and she pushes me when I don’t want to study,” Kiser said.

Even if Kiser didn’t voice his love for his family every few minutes (Kiser said his kids are “everything,” and his wife is his “best friend”), it’s very apparent. He has a pattern where he goes into school early every morning to study so he can be a father and a husband when he returns to his home.

Like Yoder and another returning college student at the University of Georgia, 35-year-old Loie Chambers, Kiser said the students don’t treat him any differently, other than being mistaken for a professor occasionally. He also says students commonly invite him to be in their study groups.

“I don’t know if I just look old or if I look smart or, I don’t know, but I have a lot of kids coming up and wanting to know if they can study with me,” Kiser said.

He also said his life experience helps him in his academic career and makes it more interesting for him to hear the perspectives of younger students.

“I’m able to look back on things…especially in political science. Being a little bit older, I saw Kennedy shot. You know, I was only a little boy but I remember that. I lived through the Vietnam War, the hippie movement. I was in the Air Force…I spent time in Europe with a lot of crazy stuff with Libya. I’ve seen so much in my lifetime. These kids are learning about this stuff as history. I try to tell them ‘I’ve lived all of this.’ The Civil Rights stuff…I can remember Martin Luther King being shot. My father-in-law was his pilot,” Kiser said.

One of Kiser’s professors actually asked him to speak to the class about his experience. Kiser urges college-age students to think about the future, about being in a classroom where students are learning things that we actually lived through. Then we’ll see things from his point of view.