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A college degree can increase a person's lifetime earnings by $1.2 million over a high school diploma, but some students who start college don't finish. That's true for nearly 300,000 adults in the Greater Philadelphia region. A new organization—Graduate! Philadelphia—is committed to helping these adults complete their degrees, and Penn State is assisting.
Penn State is providing academic counseling services at the organization's Center City facility, participating in college fairs and helping with other projects. "Through Penn State Abington, Penn State Brandywine and World Campus, Penn State can bring a wide range of academic degree programs and other educational resources to adults in this region," said Penn State Abington Chancellor Dr. Karen Wiley Sandler.
Adult learners at Penn State now have access to a new mentoring program, thanks to a partnership between Penn State Continuing Education and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Penn State. OLLI is an organization that provides social and learning enrichment for mature adults.
For OLLI mentor Dr. Glenn Carter, former director of Admissions and Records at West Virginia University, the mentoring program is a chance to share his experiences attending graduate school in his 40s with someone in a similar situation. "We openly talk about everything—our families, schoolwork and how our lives intersect," Carter said.
Charles Mensch, who lost his job after 36 years with Bolton Metal Products Co. when the plant closed, wasn't ready for retirement, so he enrolled in an associate degree program in information sciences and technology. "Just sitting and talking with someone who understands what I'm going through is helpful," Mensch said.
For more information, call mentoring program coordinator Elizabeth Lasher at 814-865-3443.
The average length of time a worker stays with the same employer is about four years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That, combined with the millions of individuals who have been laid off in the down economy, translates into a highly competitive job market.
“With unemployment climbing, workers have to try to stay one step ahead of what’s needed to stand out on the job,” said Elizabeth Lasher, Penn State Continuing Education career counselor. “It’s important to look at your skill sets and determine what skills are transferrable and what other skills are needed in your current job or for a new career.” While such decisions depend on the individual, going back to school is a way to head in a new direction, added Lasher, who conducts the “Do What You Love; Love What You Do” and “Managing Your Career: Putting a Plan in Place” workshops for adult learners.
Currently, there are more than 20,000 adult learners at Penn State—defined by the University as those who are 24 years old and up who have returned to school after a few years, are active duty and veterans of the military, or are managing multiple roles. Here are stories of three Pennsylvanians who, after losing their jobs, turned to Penn State to prepare for new careers.
From Plant Production Worker to IT Manager
After 20 years at the Corning Asahi Video Products Co. plant in State College, Pa., Keith Hardin advanced from an hourly TV panel production worker to a salaried information technology technician. Then the plant closed in 2003, leaving about 1,000 people out of work.
Even before that, Hardin saw the writing on the wall. “TV technology was changing, going to more polymers and flat screens,” he said. Hardin had started taking Penn State courses while working, with the goal of earning an associate degree to help him advance in his job. When the plant closed, he redoubled his efforts, earning a bachelor’s degree in management information systems in 2007.
While at Penn State, the father of three children served as president of the Adult Learners at Penn State student organization.
Hardin now manages the Information Technologies Group of the Susquehanna Economic Development Association – Council of Governments in Lewisburg, Pa., a regional agency serving 11 counties.
A big believer in returning to school, Hardin has spoken to the Penn State Board of Trustees about his experience switching careers. “I’m ecstatic,” Hardin said of his job overseeing the agency’s computing and networking needs and working with local government agencies. “It’s all thanks to my Penn State education.”
From Newspaper Reporter to Teacher
Elaine Siddons’ family, work and community relationships have always revolved around children. A wife and mother of three daughters, she teaches Sunday school, directs a children’s choir, helps coordinate a preschool program and serves as a storyteller for a community ministry. And at work, with The Sentinel daily newspaper in Lewistown, Pa., Siddons wrote about education.
After working at The Sentinel for 25 years, a newsroom shakeup left Siddons jobless. “It was the best thing that could have happened,” said Siddons, who always wanted to be a teacher. She had already looked into applying to Penn State. “I just hit the ‘submit’ button,” she said.
Returning to college after many years in the workforce was “a little scary, but we made it work,” Siddons said, who credits her success to the support of her husband Bradley, a Penn State alumnus, and daughters.
Siddons, who earned a B.S. in elementary and kindergarten education, was chosen as student marshal for commencement and also received the College of Education’s Outstanding Student Teacher Award.
She now teaches second grade at Lewistown Elementary School. “I love it! I am so thankful to Penn State,” she said. “Now I’m counting on these second-graders to teach me everything else I need to know to be the best teacher I can be.”
From Assembly Line to Cyber Forensics
When Murata Electronics North America Inc. was closing its State College plant, Carol “Buffy” Holt of Julian, Pa., volunteered for a layoff so she could prepare for a new career. The single mother chose a Penn State degree program, because she could attend classes in the evening and participate in the federal work-study program during the day—allowing her to earn money to cover a portion of her educational expenses.
After eight years of assembly line work on electronic circuit boards, Holt needed some new skills, so she participated in Continuing Education programs on writing research papers and basic math. “I didn’t think I could do it,” said Holt, but after successfully completing an associate degree in letters, arts and sciences, she was ready for more. Holt enrolled in the B.S. degree program in security and risk analysis, focusing on cyber forensics—extracting information from computer storage media and guaranteeing its accuracy.
An internship with Reclamere Inc., an information technology asset management business in Tyrone, Pa., gave Holt the chance to work on theft of intellectual property cases and manage a data destruction and recycling project for a company replacing computer equipment.
“Having Penn State on my résumé is important, because it can help open doors to the new career I want—solving cyber and electronic crimes,” said Holt, a spring ’09 graduate.
© 2009 Outreach Marketing and Communications, The Pennsylvania State University
Phone: 814-865-7600, Fax: 814-865-3443, E-mail: email@example.com This publication is available in alternative media on request.
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