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Creating a Strong Support System for Non-traditional Students

Oct 25, 2017
Helping students embrace their Oregon Tech experience

TOP2017Getting through college can be difficult for many students, but non-traditional students face unique challenges that threaten their enrollment every day. In addition to the challenging coursework, non-traditional students often have partners, full-time jobs and children to care for. At Oregon Tech, many non-traditional students find support and encouragement through the Tech Opportunities Program (TOP), which provides academic and personal support to help students navigate college.

TOP is the Oregon Tech's TRIO program that offers comprehensive support services to students enrolled in bachelor's degree programs at the Klamath Falls campus. Students who qualify for this program are low-income, first-generation, or students with disabilities.

To help orient students into their 2017-18 academic year, TOP hosted the first annual Non-Traditional Student Welcome. The event provided students with an opportunity to get to know one another, hear from an inspiring keynote speaker, and listen to a panel of current and graduated non-traditional TOP students sharing their stories.

TOP2 2017The importance of family support networks was recognized during this inclusive event, as students were encouraged to bring their children and partners. Free child care was provided during the event, and one child commented, “It’s like a family date night!”

As a non-traditional student herself, TOP Coordinator, Angela Archer, and her team have key insights into the specific challenges these students face. Archer shared, “It is exciting to honor this group of students. As a non-traditional student myself, I fully understand the commitment and dedication it takes for these students to be here. They balance numerous roles and responsibilities; they do it often without complaint or accolades. We know the value that they bring to Oregon Tech, the experience, diversity, and knowledge that comes with each of them.”

Uplifting messages were shared by Barb Conner, who delivered the keynote address. A former non-traditional student herself, Barb took time off from school before graduating from college and is now the Director of Retention at Oregon Tech. She stressed the importance of students acknowledging the life experiences and skills that they bring to others. She encouraged students by saying, “…draw on the strengths that brought you here. Be strong. Be the ones who ask questions.” Conner explained that as older students, students coming from hardships, or students with disabilities, non-traditional students can be role models for their fellow students. “You’re already the role models because of your experiences. Other students will begin to take your lead and you’re going to lead them into a great place. Be the ones whom others look at and say, ‘I want to be like that.’”

During a panel discussion Christina Rubidoux (graduate of TOP, current Oregon Tech employee with the ROCK), Kim Clark (former TOP student, now in the Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy program at Oregon Tech), Lyle Ahrens (partner of Kim Clark), Michael Roberts (current TOP student), Travis Thomas (current TOP student), and Sally Sutton (ASOIT Non-Traditional Student Representative) spoke with the group about their experiences and provided tips to help the students succeed. Roberts shared, “Whatever your support structure is, you just have to push forward. My motivation is to complete my degree and not be a statistic.” Sutton also provided a tip for the group, “I treat school like a job. No matter what, I’m here 8-5, even though I have a family.”

Travis Thomas summarized the work TOP does this way: “TOP is a great program that has people who are willing to do whatever they can to help students. The advisers are always ready to help with a student’s problem or even just sit and talk about how their day is going. The TOP program is a big help for me because whenever I would have questions about what classes to take, the advisers would always have good suggestions. Being in the TOP program helped my transition from community college to university to be so much smoother, and I'm very grateful for all of the support I have.”

Students can find out more about TOP by visiting www.oit.edu/top.
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