Posted on February 1, 2011
Focus on Values – A Mercy Institution Helping Mature Women Realize their Dreams
Georgian Court University, a small liberal arts university sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy and located in Lakewood, NJ, has served women students for more than 100 years. With a Women’s College undergraduate day program and a University College with coeducational undergraduate and graduate programs, Georgian Court’s focus on core values as the “roots from which Georgian Court University’s activities, decisions and behaviors flow” creates a campus that is welcoming and supportive of Mature Students. The Newcombe Foundation has partnered with Georgian Court University in providing scholarships for Mature Students since 2007.
Francie has two great loves in her life: children and education. So it’s no wonder that she thrived in her career as a full-time nanny for more than 20 years. But after spending two decades preparing six girls and two boys for adulthood, Francie is focused on her own future, and hopes one day to shape the minds of hundreds, if not thousands, of children.
Francie is active with several campus organizations and wants to work with young children.
“Our future is dependent upon the children and the education we provide them,” says the 41-year-old Georgian Court University education major. The aspiring teacher is one of a dozen Charlotte Newcombe Foundation scholarship recipients who are working to realize their dreams of a college degree at Georgian Court. Each has a unique life story, but they all attribute their success at Georgian Court to the same thing: challenging coursework, academic support, caring faculty and staff, and a campus environment that makes women feel like they can do anything.
Mature women succeed at GCU
Georgian Court continues to be an institution of access, choice, and a hospitable learning environment for many Mature Students. The university is cognizant of the unique needs of adult learners and works diligently to ensure their success. Mature Students are an integral part of GCU student life, participating in study abroad programs, service learning, student mentoring, academic tutoring, and the GCU Student Government Association. In addition, the university’s signature Women in Leadership Development program teaches students to lead in all aspects of their lives, both personally and professionally. (Click here for more information.) The Career Development Center tailors seminars and workshops for mature women, and GCU’s federally funded TRIO program is highly supportive. Through TRIO, adult learners take advantage of supplemental instruction, tutoring, financial literacy, book vouchers, and scholarships.
Most significant, however, to Georgian Court’s success in meeting the needs of Mature Students is its transformative values-based educational approach, incorporating the Mercy core values of respect, justice, integrity, compassion and service inside and outside the classroom.
One of the signs that appear along a path on Georgian Court’s campus, reminding students of the core values incorporated into a values-based approach to education.
This commitment manifests itself through “wrap-around” services focused on the needs of each individual and a professional staff that listens to, respects, and cares about each student. Turning fear to confidence, inspiring students to reach beyond their original goals, encouraging continuation of an education made difficult by personal challenges, GCU’s special concern for women is an outgrowth of these values. Consequently, many mature women attribute their success to the university’s steadfast commitment to these Mercy core values, and to the GCU mission of providing women with educational opportunities.
Telling the story: the impact of a values-based education
Lauren was 18 she began working as a legal secretary. Immediately after high school she took a job, started making money, and began living her life—a life that soon included a husband, children, and her role as a stay-at-home mom. As her youngest prepared to enter kindergarten, Lauren knew she wanted more. In 2007, she returned to the classroom for the first time since 1985. After a few semesters at a community college, she transferred to Georgian Court. “I was intimidated at first, because I wasn’t your traditional student,” she says. “GCU seemed more like a regular college and I was scared to death.”
The feeling passed. “Everyone at GCU made me feel comfortable from the very beginning. I’ve had a great experience because there’s a good balance in terms of how professors deal with the 18-year-old set and the nontraditional student, too.
“Initially I had all these things going through my head about not fitting in—I’m not young, I’m not Catholic—but it’s been great,” says Lauren, who recently completed her student teaching in a local second grade classroom. Now, the woman who once feared failure is fiercely proud of her accomplishments and the example she is setting for other mature women learners. Like Lauren, GCU Spanish major Demarasanai had doubts about returning to college. In 2003, she was a junior at the University of Puerto Rico and was close to becoming a teacher. Suddenly, her family had to move – for medical reasons – to the U.S. mainland. They settled in New Jersey where Demarasanai was caught off guard by high tuition costs. Her confidence waned because she didn’t speak English well, and she put college on hold. “When I came here, I was scared,” says the mother of two. “I wondered how was I going to teach kids something in English when I couldn’t speak it properly myself.” Meeting Katherine Quinn-Sanchez, Ph.D., chair of GCU’s World Languages program, changed that.
“She inspired me,” Damarasanai says of her Georgian Court mentor, and adds that other faculty members have been welcoming. “My dream was to be a Spanish teacher, but Dr. Quinn-Sanchez encouraged me to dream bigger. Now I want to be a professor.”
Kelly was a 36-year-old mother of two boys when her husband suddenly died. A few months later, she lost her paralegal job and was collecting unemployment. She’d always wanted to teach, and a training program at a nearby community college seemed to be the perfect second chance. She completed her associate’s degree, and transferred to Georgian Court.
“For me, going back to school hasn’t just been something to do—it got me back to being around adults and it’s kept my mind busy,” says Kelly. “I really believe that if I hadn’t gone to school, I wouldn’t be emotionally and mentally where I am today.”
Now 43, Kelly says she owes much of her success to the nurturing and understanding faculty at Georgian Court. “There have been times when I looked at an assignment or a deadline and thought, ‘How am I going to get that done?’ But my professors pushed me. They’ve been very supportive.”
She’s also quick to point out that her journey hasn’t been easy.
“There have been times when I thought, ‘Am I doing the right thing? Should I just go get a job at a food store?’ But my girlhood dream was to become a teacher, and now it’s finally coming true. I have to finish this for my kids. I have to show them that this is what you need to do in life: you strive for a goal and you attain it.”
At 16, Kiasha had her first child. She dropped out of school in 10th grade and it took 22 years to pick up where she left off. By then she was a mother of eight, and had experienced her share of life’s hardest knocks—drug abuse, depression, welfare and more.
“At some point I got tired of being sick and tired, and that’s when I changed my life,” says the Georgian Court social work major. In 2006 she earned her high school diploma. The very next day she began community college classes, and as soon as she completed her associate’s degree, it was on to GCU.
“This has been one of the best institutions I’ve ever attended,” she says. “Not just in terms of the academics, but also in terms of the spiritual elements, too. Even driving through Georgian Court’s gate where you see the signs for the Mercy core values—that means a lot. Those values are exactly what I’ve seen in my advisors, my instructors–even in the career services center!”
A self-described “high-energy” person, the 41-year-old grandmother of five is involved on campus. She’s active with the Social Work Club, the social work honorary society, the Commuter Club, and does homeless outreach work.
“I work hard to try to make things happen,” she says, “and I believe that when one door closes, another opens. At Georgian Court, I’ve found that there are plenty of resources in place to help you succeed.”
Now a senior, Kiasha is working with her advisors on plans for graduate school and is completing an internship at Jewish Family & Children Services.
Kiasha plans to attend graduate school in the fall of 2011. Her goal is to help people with substance abuse and addiction problems.
“I know I can’t save the world, but with my education, I can help people understand that anything is possible,” says Kiasha. “If I can teach someone not to give up on their dreams or themselves, then I will have reached my goal.”
For more information about Georgian Court University, please visit www.georgian.edu.