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StoriesJackie Geilfuss ’14

Navigating Lesley as an Adult Learner

“You are not alone. You are not a failure. You CAN do this. Give yourself permission to succeed, and do it on your own terms,” says Jackie Geilfuss, BA in Liberal Studies.

Helping Adult Learners Find Their Passions, Finish Their Degrees

Adult undergraduate students come to us from a variety of circumstances. They are beginning or continuing their bachelor’s degree when they are older than the 18–24-year-old range that is typical for first-year, full-time college students. Many haven’t been in a classroom for years.

They are working full- or part-time, and many have children or care-taking responsibilities. They are successful professionals who had never needed a bachelor’s degree before, but got great jobs with a high school, technical, or an associate’s degree. Now, they need one for career advancement or to find a new job in the same field.

Here, 357 of the 1,982 undergraduates (20 percent) who enrolled in Fall 2015 were adults pursuing degrees online, through our partnership with Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and along side our traditional-age students in campus-based programs in Cambridge.

Many of our students are like you, sharing the same doubts about going back to school, but also having work and life experience that will contribute to academic success.

Jackie Geilfuss earned her Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies, a campus-based degree completion program, with a self-designed specialization in Sociology and Gender Studies. We talked to Jackie about her educational journey, and as she tells her story, she offers wisdom and encouragement to others who may be considering going back to school.

When did you start your college education, and how did you end up enrolling in a program here?

I started as a traditional student at a local state college, right out of high school. I spent six years exploring my passions, but I struggled to find one program that satisfied all of my interests. I changed my major multiple times and seemingly picked up a new minor each semester. I would take a semester off and then go back. I became a commuter, took classes part-time, and started working full-time.

After six years without much progress, I dropped out and gave up on my plans of getting a college degree. Then after several years away from school, a friend told me about Lesley’s Center for the Adult Learner. He had a similar story to mine, but there he was, back in college and thriving!

What challenges did you face as an adult learner and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge was balancing my work, personal life, and schoolwork. I didn’t have the same endurance for all-nighters like I did at 19. I couldn’t blow off commitments if I had schoolwork. I needed to plan my weeks and carve out time for essays and projects. To be successful, I needed to be intentional about my time and practice self care.

“The students in our bachelor's degree completion programs bring a wealth of experience, understanding, sensitivity, wisdom, and innovation to the classroom. Students who come back to finish degrees are highly invested in cultivating learning experiences that are rich and meaningful to them through a tailor-made approach.”
Julianne Corey, Assistant Director for Academic Advising, Lesley Center for the Adult Learner

What did you like the best about your program?

The bachelor’s completion program can be customized, so I was able to take courses that were relevant and interesting to me, allowing me to be more academically successful than I’d ever been. I designed my entire program, which included traditional daytime undergraduate courses, night classes, online courses, accelerated weekend courses, an independent study with fieldwork, research assistantships, and teaching assistantships.

Exploring all of these course options helped me realize that I thrived when I was in the classroom and got much more out of class discussion than online discussion forums; however, I was grateful for the availability of online courses when my work schedule was more demanding because I was able to complete my coursework on my own schedule rather than work around when a class met.

What Lesley courses or experiences did you find the most meaningful?

The Girlhood, Identity, and Girl Culture course gave me hands-on experience working with adolescent girls, something I’ve continued since graduating. After being involved with that for two years, Dr. Rutstein-Riley, fellow Research Assistant Kate Elmes ’13, and I presented at the National Women’s Studies Association’s (NWSA) annual conference in Puerto Rico that year, which was made possible through a sponsorship from Lesley's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. It was an honor to present at the same conference as girls’ studies scholar and Girlhood inspiration, Ruth Nicole Brown, and to hear renowned feminist author bell hooks.

How did your degree prepare you for your career?

After taking the Girldhood course, I stayed on as a research assistant for the course while volunteering with my church’s Youth Group. I’m working part-time as the Youth Leader of Old South Church in Boston, and full-time for Akamai Technologies as a Continual Service Improvement Specialist for the IT Helpdesk. While my day job may not seem connected to my coursework, I’ve found meaningful ways to apply my sociology and gender studies background and my work with Girlhood, including volunteering with Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit organization working to close the gender gap in the technology and engineering sectors.

What would you say to someone who was considering going back to school for their bachelor's degree?

Lesley was committed to my success from the moment I attended an Open House. With the support of caring advisors, professors, and staff, I was able to thrive in courses, gain recognition through scholarships, and finish with confidence in my academic abilities that I hadn't felt in over 15 years. I hope there's someone out there who can identify with my experience, but now know that they'll have the support of the Lesley community behind them. You are not alone. You are not a failure. You CAN do this. Give yourself permission to succeed, and do it on your own terms.

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