Nontraditional students find success at SUNY Oswego

They might attend school part time or they might work full time while they go to school. They may be financially independent or have dependents of their own. They might be a single parent or they may have never earned that high school diploma.

The National Center for Education Statistics defines this group as “nontraditional students,” and they are a growing part of the SUNY Oswego graduate community.

At SUNY Oswego, nontraditional students return for their master’s degrees for a variety of reasons; they may need it to advance their career, to learn new skills after time out of the workplace or to facilitate a career change.

Three of SUNY Oswego’s nontraditional graduate students are on their way towards fulfilling their career aspriations; Robert Birdsall, a graduate of the chemistry master’s program, is now pursuing his Ph.D. at Purdue University; Kim Laurion, a Vocational Teacher Preparation graduate student, is on her way to a full-time teaching position at Monroe Community College; and Vincent Intondi, a history master’s program graduate, is now a tenured history professor at Seminole State.

Whatever their reason for returning to their education, nontraditional students often share one thing – initial reservations about returning to school. 

“Returning to academics after a decade in the work force left me with some degree of uncertainty,” Birdsall said.  “I still had a desire to learn more about chemistry, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to commit to a five-year Ph.D. program.”

Laurion shared similar nerves. After working as a dental hygienist and adjunct professor at MCC since her graduation from the University of Buffalo in 1985, she was offered a new opportunity that required an advanced degree.

“I was 52 years old when I decided to go back,” she said. “When the opportunity opened for me to teach full time, I knew if I wanted that position, I was going to need a master’s degree.”

Intondi graduated from SUNY Potsdam in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in economics after he was encouraged to earn his degree in a field that was “financially stable.” He entered the job market with student loans and found himself searching for opportunities in fields he was genuinely interested in.

“I knew that if you said to me you can do what you’re truly passionate about, it would be writing, teaching and studying history,” Intondi said.

He knew that earning a graduate degree in liberal arts was a long-term commitment not just in time, but in cost.

“I decided to go back for my master’s and didn’t have a lot of money living in upstate Syracuse. I knew that I had to go for the whole truckload, go for a doctorate,” he said. “It frightened me not just in terms of my age, but financially.”

Standout graduate programs

Laurion wanted more than an easy degree, so as an Oswego native, she first looked for graduate programs in her hometown area.

“I didn’t want just a generic master’s degree in education online somewhere, and SUNY Oswego’s VTP program was more suited to the technical career I was planning for,” she said.

Intondi was also looking for affordable master’s programs. He was turned off by the overbearing nature of many Syracuse area universities, where professors seemed to put their own interests ahead of their students.

“SUNY Oswego was able to offer a balanced atmosphere between academic studies and off-campus commitments. As a continuing education student, I needed that flexibility to transition from my previous career to full-time academia.”
Robert Birdsall
Doctorate Candidate, Purdue University

“A lot of the time when you go to look at a program, the faculty will try to sway you into what they want you to do,” he said. “I didn’t want to be a number in a 300 person lecture hall or a department where it was very cutthroat.”

Both Laurion and Intondi agreed that the affordable SUNY tuition was instrumental in continuing their education.

“I knew immediately I had made the right decision to attend Oswego and on the bright side, it saved me some money for my doctorate,” Intondi said.

“A lot of nontraditional students choose state schools because they know about money and they’re going to make the most of their dollar,” Laurion said. “If I had chosen a private school, it would’ve been triple or quadruple the cost.”

Tuition at SUNY Oswego starts well below the rates at other Central New York and Syracuse area schools. Tuition for full-time students $8,870 per year and $390 per credit hour for part-time students.

Compared to other Central New York graduate programs, SUNY Oswego offers numerous financial aid options to assist students as they pursue advanced degrees. There are over 100 graduate assistantships, fellowships and scholarships offered with different departments on campus.

At SUNY Oswego, Intondi found the opportunity to study his own interests and prepare for his future plans with help from the faculty.

“Oswego is a little gem in upstate New York, these are professors that could be at any big name school,” he said. “I still think of the things they taught me and instilled in me to this day.” 

The inclusive environment and the outside opportunities at SUNY Oswego often aid in the transition from workforce to education.

“SUNY Oswego was able to offer a balanced atmosphere between academic studies and off-campus commitments,” Birdsall said. “As a continuing education student, I needed that flexibility to transition from my previous career to full-time academia.”

Laurion said she hadn’t felt in her classes at SUNY Oswego the initial awkwardness that worry nontraditional students when they return to school.

“We get along really well, the younger ones coming off their bachelor’s admire us because they know we know what we’re talking about because we’ve been working, and the older ‘non-trads’ stick together and socialize and help each other,” she said.

Successful futures

All three feel their time at SUNY Oswego has prepared them for future success.

As a Ph.D. candidate at Purdue University, Birdsall will continue his study of analytical chemistry with a focus on chromatography. The skills he learned as a graduate student at SUNY Oswego will be a valuable asset as a doctorate candidate.

“Participating in the teacher assistant program allowed me to help undergraduates understand the subject better, and participating in a rewarding research project helped develop my skills as a scientist,” he said.

Intondi used his master’s degree to go on to earn a doctorate from American University and later work as the director for the American University Nuclear Studies Institute as well as teach. He gives his students advice that greatly differs from the advice he once received.  

“I always tell my students to study what they are passionate about,” Intondi said. “If you’re going to school for this long, this is the time to find yourself, you never know what will inspire you and fundamentally change your life.”

Laurion is expected to graduate from the VTP program in May 2013. Although she waited years for the right opportunity to pursue her master’s (she will be teaching full-time after she earns her degree), she continues to value education.

“What your degree could do 20 years ago, it can’t do now,” Laurion said. “No education is ever wasted. I find being a ‘non-trad’ a very good thing.”