This is the second in the “Pathway Series” of stories on Melissa Shank, an adult learner in Orlando who is pursuing her bachelor’s degree 20 years after dropping out of high school. Read Part 1 here, which addressed Melissa’s legal troubles during her 20’s and her enrollment at Rollins College. In Part 2, we check in with her after completing her first semester at Rollins.
These days, Melissa Shank starts her day at one college campus and often concludes it at a different one across town.
Shank, 37, began taking evening classes at Rollins College in Winter Park in the fall as she pursues a business degree. Before that, Shank graduated with honors from Valencia College in Orlando with associate’s degrees in business administration and general studies.
But it turns out she wasn’t quite ready to leave Valencia behind. In addition to her evening course load at Rollins, Shank currently works full-time at Valencia as an administrative assistant to the dean of learning support services.
“Valencia is going to be stuck with me,” Shank said with a laugh shortly after the end of the fall semester. Her previous experience as a wellness ambassador at Valencia went a long way toward preparing her for her current job. “Working with students who are coming in fresh, I’m able to give them my perspective as a student and help them as a staff member.”
Shank had a similarly fruitful fall semester at Rollins, where she aced her two business courses.
“It went really great actually,” Shank said of her first semester at Rollins. “There’s a lot of camaraderie and people are on the same page for the most part. Intelligent conversation just flows.”
Shank laments the fact that she couldn’t be more involved with non-classroom activities at Rollins due to her full-time job. However, her first semester at the college has provided some clarity in terms of the sort of business degree she wants to pursue — and the type of businesswoman she aspires to be.
She is extremely intrigued by Rollins’ Social Entrepreneurship and Business program and is considering it making it her major.
“I wasn’t familiar with social entrepreneurship before this semester, but that’s kind of where the world is going,” said Shank, who has previously earned a real estate license and managed several Gold Max cash-for-gold stores in the Orlando area. “It’s looking at business in a different way, which is how I look at business: do something you love that also helps other people love what you do.”
Shank also gained a significant measure of independence this past fall. After living with her mom rent-free the last few years for “as long as she got good grades,” Shank recently moved out of her mother’s house and into a new home with 16-year-old daughter Amber, and a roommate.
“We’ve helped give each other strength, and I’m able to spend more time with my daughter,” Shank said. “I’m able to do things like go rollerblading with her.”
After taking a full-time course load throughout her tenure at Valencia, Shank is still adjusting to the pluses and minuses of attending school in the evening.
“The evening program here (at Rollins) definitely has more people who are working full-time like me,” she said. “But there are also a bunch of millennials that are flipping the switch by working full-time and going to school part-time. It’s a really great mix.”
In fact, the biggest school-related hardship Shank endured during the fall semester probably involved her rush-hour commute between work at Valencia and school at Rollins.
“It’s only about 15 miles, but in order to get there I have to go through downtown and some of the other major areas of Orlando,” Shank said. “If I leave Valencia at 5:15 p.m. for my 6:45 p.m. class, I get there at 6:45 p.m. There have been times when I leave at 6, and I still get there at 6:45.”
This story is part of Florida College Access Network’s “Pathway Series,” a year-long project that seeks to highlight the diversity of experiences students face as they pursue postsecondary degrees. Each student will be profiled at the start of the school year, during the fall, in the spring, and during the summer following the conclusion of their first year.