July 26, 2016 | Amanda Greenhoe

If you make your way up the Commons Dining Hall stairs around lunchtime, you might find a room of students with an older average age than their twenty-something counterparts, but no less enthusiasm.

For the past five years, Calvin has made a targeted effort to support adult learners through special programming, most revolving around fellowship and food. During a recent adult learner lunch, students gathered to talk about everything from their military stories to a new litter of puppies, an upcoming speech pathology test and the career change that brought one student to West Michigan.

This rich community of adult learners provides members encouragement toward achieving a common goal—furthering their education—while balancing common challenges of adult responsibilities that often include families and careers. Yet each student holds a unique story, and even a lunch conversation can’t begin to scratch the surface.

Take Maria Cochran, for example. The driven education major will tell you she took “only” seven credits for the semester, which is no small feat considering her high impact roles co-teaching preschool at Grandville Christian and parenting her children, Kathy and Damian.

Cochran’s husband, Paul, was less than six months from his own graduation day when he passed away unexpectedly. But Cochran never forgets the promise she and Paul made to each other to continue their education. It’s that promise, and her experience at Grandville Christian, that inspired her to pursue an education degree at Calvin. Still, it’s not an easy task.

“One of my biggest challenges has been trying to manage everything. Being a single mom is hard, but it is even harder when I add being a student, teacher, and the head of the household,” Cochran said. But she hasn’t walked the struggle alone. “God has provided me with many people who support me,” she shared. “One of my favorite Bible verses is, ‘I can do everything through Christ,’ and I know the power of God is what keeps me going every day.”

Cochran says that attending adult learner lunches is a chance to hear stories from students facing similar situations, “people who have busy lives outside of school, but are still motivated to continue with their goals.”

I want to show my children that I am a strong woman who can achieve my goals.”

Bob Crow, the director of commuter student life and assessment, realizes an adult learner’s schedule is often even busier than that of a traditional student. “Adult-learners tend to lead very complex lives,” he said. That’s why, in addition to lunch gatherings, Crow has organized breakfasts, bowling nights and sporting event outings—additional opportunities for students to gather.

From Crow’s perspective, this kind of recreation is not separate from learning, but integral to it. “Learning is best done communally,” he said. “When you share things in common with others, it enhances the learning environment.” 

He’s quick to point out that adult learners also enrich the college in many ways, including bringing their unique perspectives to the classroom alongside traditional students. “Their stories are powerful, complex, deep,” he says of adult learners. “I have seen wisdom and perseverance and courage and delight … and a deep desire to learn.

To learn more about studying as an adult learner at Calvin College, visit calvin.edu/admissions.

More stories to tell

Calvin’s student newspaper, Chimes, recently highlighted the impact of adult learners. Learn more about how adult learners enhance the Calvin community, and read the inspiring stories of two refugee students.

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