This is the third 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. Shank will soon take part in the “Money Talks: A Candid Conversation with Florida Students” panel at the 2018 Florida College Access Network Summit.
Part 2 of the “Pathway Series” recapped Shank’s first semester at Rollins College and how she balanced her studies with her day job at Valencia College. In Part 3, we check in midway through her spring term at Rollins.
For her spring term at Rollins College, Melissa Shank enrolled in a pair of classes she believed would help fulfill the general education requirements for her business degree.
“I’m pretty independent in picking my courses,” said Shank, 37. “I use the course audit sheet that tells me all my prerequisites and required courses, and I pick from there.”
But about halfway through a semester’s worth of “Expository Writing: Informal Essay” and “European Baroque Art,” Shank — who had earned both associate of arts (AA) and associate of science (AS) degrees from Valencia College prior to beginning class at Rollins last fall — learned that she didn’t actually need either class for her bachelor’s degree.
Shank became aware of this about two weeks before her mid-March spring break after meeting with an advisor to ask about a class she planned to take at Valencia in the summer.
“While talking to my advisor at Rollins, she said, ‘You didn’t tell me that you had an AA,’” Shank said. According to a statewide articulation agreement, any student who earns an AA degree from a Florida College System institution (like Valencia), and transfers to an Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF) institution (like Rollins) is considered to have completed the general education requirements of the receiving ICUF institution.
Shank learned her AA degree from Valencia hadn’t been included in her initial transcript to Rollins due to a slight delay in her second associate’s degree being awarded.
“There was a problem with one of my courses (at Valencia) that was supposed to be subbing in for another course that didn’t go through the system,” she said. “There was no fault on anybody’s part, it was just a clerical issue.”
Shank decided to stick with both of her spring classes, even after finding out they were not required for her degree. In fact, the “Informal Essay” class at Rollins is among her favorite college courses.
“It’s phenomenal and it teaches writing the way that I like to write. Instead of trying to find the largest synonym we can find, we write about our experiences.” said Shank, who calls Stephen King her favorite author. She’s somewhat less enthusiastic about European Baroque Art, but similarly determined to conclude the course. “I decided to keep it because I’d already completed more than half of it, and I wasn’t going to have my time or energy be wasted just because I found out that I didn’t have to take this course I’m interested in.”
Although all her gen ed requirements have been fulfilled, Shank still plans to mix in electives to go with the classes required for her business degree.
“I usually look for courses that pair well together and that increase my understanding of each of them,” said Shank, who secured a combination of grants and scholarships from Rollins to go along with state and federal financial aid to fund her pursuit of a business degree. She’s confident that she’ll be able to afford to take any class that interests her. “I am resourceful and know how to search and apply for scholarships. My first years at Valencia taught me how to look for money for school.”
While Shank is enjoying her two classes, her full time job as an administrative assistant at Valencia, still means she can’t be as involved in extracurricular activities at Rollins as she would like to be.
“I still read all the emails about the things happening on campus, wishing I could go to them,” she said. “But most of them happen at noon.”
But Shank certainly isn’t complaining about her day job.
“I love working in academia,” Shank said. “I’ve always loved to inspire other people and I’m able to do that in the job I am in right now. I can give students the form and function they need from a staff perspective and I can also give them some tips and tricks to get through college from a student’s perspective.”
Shank also continues to share her knowledge with her daughter, Amber, who turned 17 recently.
“College is an everyday conversation for us,” Shank said. She added that her daughter plans to work once she finishes high school while pursuing a postsecondary degree at her own pace. “I believe in being prepared, but I also know that not every kid is ready to go to college right after high school.
“I did tell her that if she wants to keep living with me after high school, she has to take at least one class per semester.”
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.
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