The second time around

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November 15, 2004 // UPDATED 4:39 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Bao Ong
Bao Ong

Whether recovering from layoffs or simply aiming for a more fulfilling life, unconventional adult students thrive at Downtown schools

Jason Marx

Computer programming student

It's difficult enough studying HTML, reading Hawthorne and maintaining a 3.4 GPA at any age. Jason Marx, 33, however, does all that at the Dunwoody College of Technology, 818 Dunwoody Blvd., as a computer-programming student while taking care of his three daughters -- all under the age of 11-- and working part-time at an Oasis gas station in Circle Pines on the weekends.

"I just hope to get a job quickly once I'm done with school," Marx said, adding that the need for a bigger paycheck and financial stability for his family contributed to him going back to school. "I'm going to do what it takes to make things better for my family and myself."

Marx hasn't always been so focused in his life though.

Growing up, he loved to read books all the time. In fact, he enjoyed reading about subjects that interested him so much that he would often skip school and go to the park to read.

At age 15, Marx dropped out of Columbia Heights High School. He never graduated from high school but earned his GED that year. At 16, he went to Anoka-Hennepin Technical College to be a mechanic.

He did well, and his family bought him an Amtrak ticket to travel around the country as positive reinforcement. After one year at the community college, however, Marx decided the program wasn't for him. He used the ticket to travel about and ended up living in Sacramento, Calif., for nearly six months. Marx described himself as rebellious and "a little too wild with the drinking" during this time.

After a series of odd jobs, Marx worked for five years doing asphalt work around the Twin Cities and most recently took an entry mailroom job at Swenson Anderson Financial Group in Downtown hoping to advance through the company. He quit after two years with no advancement opportunities in sight.

"I was just kind of 'dead-end jobbing' it," Marx said. "The alternative to not going to school was the same life as before. It just seemed to really make sense [to further my education]."

So 17 years after last stepping into a classroom, he became a full-time student at NEI in Columbia Heights, which combined with Dunwoody in January 2004.

Now, between classes and studying, Marx takes his children to karate and dance lessons, prepares dinner and helps with house chores while his wife, Jennifer, works nights as a waitress.

Marx said the most difficult part of going back to school was knowing what to expect. He never attended college full-time before and it took him a few weeks to adjust to the new environment.

"It's so different from what I was doing for so many years. It's a nice change," Marx said about his decision to go back to school. "There wasn't the monotony of doing the same thing over and over again."

Going back to school hasn't been cheap. Marx estimates that he will have taken out $20,000 in loans by the time he graduates.

He hopes to move from his trailer in Blaine in a few yeas and then make a down payment on a house.

"Every day I feel like I'm giving myself more possibilities and opportunities by going to school," Marx said.

Marx hopes to graduate within the next year.

Charlene Postigo

Individualized major

When Charlene Postigo started her first semester at Metropolitan State University, 730 Hennepin Ave. S., at the age of 54 two years ago, she didn't fear sitting next to a student who could possibly be the same age as her children. Rather, Postigo trembled with fear when she found out that she had to take a math class. After all, Postigo attended Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., to study art for three years -- avoiding all math courses possible.

"I had confidence in myself, but I didn't know what to expect," Postigo, now 56, said.

Postigo, who is a business services manager at the International Diabetes Center located in the Park Nicollet Institute in St. Louis Park, passed the math class. She currently has a 3.85 GPA. That's not too bad for a married woman with three children who hadn't walked into a college classroom in more than 30 years.

At her current job, where she has worked for 17 years, Postigo serves as a liaison between patients and insurance companies. Her work also involves public speaking about diabetes at conferences spanning the entire country.

Postigo, who lives in Coon Rapids, decided not to go back to school while her children were young. Once all her children had entered college -- one daughter is working on a business degree at Metropolitan State University -- Postigo began to think about going back to school. She said she wanted to have credentials behind her name when she spoke at conferences for work.

Postigo chose Metropolitan State University because she could design her own major; she wanted to build a program that exposed her to a wide-range of topics and go at her own pace.

Postigo took only one class each semester her first year to ease into the college courses. Since then she's enjoyed the variety of coursework.

For instance, Postigo enrolled in a women's health issues class where students with backgrounds from countries such as Vietnam and Chile shared their experiences. She found the perspective of older students to be invaluable to her job in the healthcare industry.

Postigo said besides going to a school Downtown being convenient, she found instructors who worked with older students to be more understanding because of their life experience. She also said the class sizes are smaller and are conducive to more discussion among students.

Her husband and children have been supportive of her going back to school as well. When she sat in front of the computer to write her first paper since college, they understood she needed the time to work diligently on it. To her husband's liking, she took the summer off.

"There is a time and season for everything. I just enjoy learning at this time in my life," Postigo said. "I'm a much better student this time."

Randi Schmidt

HVAC-R student

In his late 40s and having worked the same job for 10 years, Randi Schmidt expected to be working the same airline industry job for the rest of his life.

However, on April 15, 2003 -- the day his taxes were due -- Schmidt was laid off by Northwest Airlines. He had worked as a subcontractor with Rockwell Collins, a provider of aviation and information technology for aircraft manufacturers, in Mendota Heights.

"It was like a smack in the face," Schmidt, 49, said. "I wasn't quite sure what to do at first."

As a subcontractor, Schmidt worked on aircraft audio systems with Northwest mechanics. As the economy got worse and more work was being sent overseas to countries such as Mexico, Northwest no longer needed subcontractors to work on their airplanes.

That's when Schmidt and his friends thought about going into heating and air conditioning. They figured most households have heating and air conditioning systems that break down at some point and that people wouldn't send their systems to another country to be fixed.

So in July 2003, Schmidt and about 10 of his former co-workers began an accelerated 18-month program in heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC-R) at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC), 1501 Hennepin Ave. S.

The students, ranging from recent high school graduates to peers close to Schmidt's age, attend five times a week for six hours each day. They usually attend class from 2:30 to 9 p.m. Schmidt said MCTC Dean, Jo Peterson, has worked to create the existence of an accelerated program for the laid-off workers.

Since classes began, Schmidt said his schedule has been very hectic because of the amount of information being presented in the class -- topics from basic operations of air conditioners and heaters to how to maintain them. He said most of his grades have been A's and B's because he is able to study about three hours each day.

In the last year, Schmidt hasn't had to work because his unemployment was extended from six months to one year. He said it has been tougher for some of his former co-workers with families to have jobs while studying in the

HVAC-R program.

As of June 2004, Schmidt said he's taken out $7,500 in loans to pay for his education. His children are grown and he is separated from his wife. He's not exactly sure how his finances will work out once his unemployment checks stop coming but he's relieved that he only has to support himself.

"I'll never retire. It's virtually impossible," Schmidt said. "That's something my parents got to do. For a middle-class person [nowadays], it's impossible to do."

Once his unemployment checks stop, Schmidt said he'd probably have to get a part-time job.

"I'll do what I need to," Schmidt said about finishing school. "Once I'm done with school, I just want to get back to work for good."

Debbie Rogers

Pursues her MBA online

When Debbie Rogers, a regional operations manager and vice president at U.S. Bank in St. Paul, decided to earn her MBA, she didn't even have to leave her home. She went straight to her Internet-accessible computer.

"It's something I've always wanted to do," Rogers, who lives in Stillwater, said about getting her MBA through Capella University, an Internet-based university whose offices are located at 222 S. 9th St., 20th Floor. "What's great is that I can schedule my school work around my life."

In November 2002, Rogers enrolled in the two-year MBA program so she could take advantage of promotional opportunities within her company. She said she would love to move to the next senior management level at U.S. Bank, where she has worked for six years overseeing cash vault operations in Minnesota, Nevada, Iowa and western Wisconsin.

Rogers graduated from the University of Northern Iowa in 1990 with a general studies major and business minor. She eventually got married and now has two sons ages 12 and 15. Her husband works in management at a local school bus company.

When her company and Capella partnered together, Rogers decided to enroll because of the discount. U.S. Bank also helped pay part of her tuition through a reimbursement plan.

Before she took her first class, Rogers was slightly nervous about the coursework but she felt that she was better prepared and focused as a "true adult."

Once her classes began, there was no looking back. She takes one six-week class at a time. About 10 to 12 other U.S. Bank workers around the country also formed a study group so they could help each other out on assignments. Capella has students scattered everywhere from Alabama to Indonesia.

Rogers said instructors have been supportive and understanding since she enrolled. When she was in a car accident in April 2003 and stayed in the hospital for a short amount of time, her instructors helped her catch up on the assignments.

Although Rogers doesn't have to miss her son's baseball games, she'll occasionally bring one of her financial textbooks to a game to do some reading. As for homework, she tries to complete about an hour at night or early in the morning. However, as her sons have more homework, there have been times where she goes with them to the library to study.

She has found the coursework to be intense because she chose not to have any breaks in the two-year program.

"Every once in awhile you want a breather, but it all works out," Rogers said. "We can have a big graduation party."