Twenty-three of these graduates have a unique understanding of the sacrifice and dedication it takes to earn a Wittenberg degree. The "non-traditional" adult students of Wittenberg's School of Community Education (SCE) have accomplished the particularly extraordinary feat of juggling families, jobs, school and, often, a variety of challenges. Their journey to this weekend's Commencement is anything but ordinary.
"SCE students are highly motivated people who hold a significant job, manage a household and raise kids while meeting the demands of the toughest school in the region and finishing their programs in a brief span of years," said Paul Parlato, dean of SCE. "They embody the top-tier out of the wide range of people who began their studies elsewhere."
Taking the bus to campus for all of her classes, education major Barbara Burton exemplifies the kind of commitment and achievement to which Parlato refers. A single mother of seven children, Burton received a Phi Theta Kappa scholarship - a national honor society for two-year students - as well as the Minority Teacher Program scholarship. Believing that teaching is a divine calling for her, Burton maintained an excellent grade point average at Wittenberg while also devoting considerable time to mentoring and working with other adult students.
Though each SCE student pursued the same dream of a college degree, there is no "typical" story. Transferring to Wittenberg from one or more schools and commuting from all around the area - from as far as an hour away - each has faced unique, sometimes daunting, circumstances and traveled very different paths.
But what is typical of most students is exceptional effort and outstanding academic work. As with traditional Wittenberg students, admission to SCE is very selective. Six of this year's graduates are Phi Theta Kappa scholarship recipients, a record number for SCE. The SCE class of 2007 holds a 3.19 cumulative grade point average; 10 of the students will graduate with Latin honors cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude, and eight have gained membership in Alpha Sigma Lambda, the national adult honorary.
"Our students enrich the Wittenberg experience and provide good examples for our traditional students in terms of attitude, diligence and sacrifice," Parlato said. "They raise the standards in their classes and add a new dimension to traditional students' learning."
That is certainly true for Scott Stephens, an organizational leadership major whose path to Wittenberg began years ago in a farmhouse in Tennessee with no electricity or running water. After joining the Marines, working as a jet mechanic and traveling the world, Stephens came to Wittenberg with a Phi Theta Kappa scholarship and went on to receive this year's Excellence in Liberal Studies Award as well as Alpha Sigma Lambda membership.
Just as there is no typical SCE student, there is no typical SCE degree. While 12 will graduate with a degree in organizational leadership, this year's graduating class has pursued a remarkable variety of degrees, including math, chemistry, biology, education, English and art.
Karin Thue and Jaymee Smith are two SCE students who came to Wittenberg to further develop their creative talents. Thue, a successful art major whose portfolio includes photographs, drawings and paintings, will graduate from SCE with high honors. She has exhibited at juried shows and the Ann Miller Gallery, and her work has been featured in the Wittenberg Review of Literature and Art.
Smith, an English major and a single mother who overcame significant personal obstacles while pursuing her degree, has received several Wittenberg awards for her stories and screenplays, including the Lester C. Crowl Creativity Award for best portfolio of creative work and the John W. Ostrom Award.
With 23 students scheduled to graduate on Saturday, this year's SCE class is one of the largest in the school's history. As enrollment in SCE has grown, so has the motivation of its students. Most enrolled students finish their degree in just a few years, despite the many obstacles thrown in their path. Dean Parlato notes that what is unique about today's SCE student is not just their desire for a college degree, but their drive to learn.
"These people have a serious interest in learning - of making the best of a lifetime opportunity to enrich their intellectual lives. Otherwise they would not have chosen Wittenberg in the first place," he said.
Written By: Gabrielle Antoniadis
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