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Students returning to MSU show resiliency as they face a new set of obstacles, such as technological advancement, family responsibilities, and jobs. Fundamentally, returning students need academic and financial support. R2L offers returning students re-entry support, scholarship funding, and a multitude of curricular and co-curricular support services within the Allen Yarnell Center for Student Success. Through intensive and individualized advising, R2L Scholars improve their academic performance, career focus, and financial literacy.
Here are the stories and testimonials of several of our Return to Learn Scholars.
We asked Brooke about returningto school with The Office of Return-to-Learn;She stated, “I see a direction now. I just wanted to do it for myself. . . [I] came back to finish what I had started– to finish my degree and to get a better perspective on what I wanted to do with it as well.”
Brooke originally came to Bozeman with the intention of graduating from MSU’s film and photography program. She spent several years studying photography until she was pulled away from school by financial and family trouble back in her hometown. Cast adrift by her trouble and devoid of the funding she needed to return to MSU, Brooke moved to Alaska where she became a bartender on a train tour during the more favorable months and a ski instructor during the harsher Alaskan winters.
Brooke recently returned to MSU with the intention of finishing her BA in photography. “I wanted to be doing something where I felt like I was giving something to the world,” Brooke stated. “College in the real world makes a massive difference, and having that actual degree was really important to make my way into the workforce.”
Brooke also expressed how returning to college inspired her own personal projects.
Brooke never struggled in school, instead she lacked direction. She expressed that her years in Alaska helped her figure out who she wanted to be. “I see a direction now.” Brooke continued, “I just wanted to do it for myself. . . [I] came back to finish what I had started, to finish my degree and to get a better perspective on what I wanted to do with it as well.”
Coming back to school, Brooke is now more conscious of what she will be able to do after she graduates. “[Because I'm] constantlygoing, always doings things, always being tired, if I take school out of the equation, that’s still time to work on personal things. In a weird way, it has allowed me to see what I’m capable of.”
Brooke recently graduated with her bachelor’s degreein photography with the help of a The Office of Return-to-Learn and plans to make the most of her own unique experiences.
When Lila talks about why she returned to school she states, “It’s always been there, it’s always something I knew I needed to get done.” Lila recently graduated with her degree in microbiology with the help of The Office of Return-to-Learn.
Lila originally came to MSU to earn a degree in Microbiology. However, three years after beginning her degree, her father’s health began to decline. Recognizing that her family needed her, Lila returned home. A year after returning home, Lila's father passed away and she spent several years helping her family cope with the loss.
When Lila recollectswhy she returned to MSU she states,“It’s always been there, it’s always something I knew I needed to get done.”Lila wants to use her education to research type 2 diabetes, which is a major killer on thereservation sheis from. Lilahopes to use her education to improve her home because,as sheremarks, “IHS (Indian Health Service)isdying out;their budget keeps getting smaller and smaller.”
The hardest part of returning to school for Lila was readjusting to student life. She sates,“I lived in the dorms which was a sacrifice I had tomake. Itjust made more sense… [I] just kept going forward.” yet,throughout her schooling, Lila never lost touch with her family on the Crow reservation. In fact, she helps her nephew “with his homework and stuff over facetime so [they’re] always communicating”
Lila started her first year back in school with a six-week organic chemistry class but was hospitalized by health complications just before an exam. “I had surgery on Monday evening,then I was back to class on Wednesday,and I had an exam that Friday, so I totally, totally bombed it,"Lila continued,“I revived, and I made it through. It was a lot of pushing myself.”
Lila is currently finishing her education with the help of a Return-to-LearnScholarship, among other grants and scholarships she learned about through The Office of Return-to-Learn,“I kept getting emails so that’s one of the first places I hit when I came back” Lila states.
Lila plans on taking the GRE and hopes to eventually earn her Ph.D.
Nathaniel, a senior studying sociology, had this to say about the The Office of Return-to-Learn, "[The Office of Return-to-Learn] was just a great help in getting back into the swing of things. I went fromfeeling all alone to having thesupport of people who really do want you to succeed. It really was an encouragement.”
Nathaniel began his college career by earning a general degree at a two-year university and transferring briefly to Washington State University. Shortly afterwards, he returned to MSU intent on pursuing an engineering degree. He began applying himself to his math and physics classes but couldn’t shake a constant feeling ofdefeat.So, Nathaniel declared, “I’m taking a year off, I’m gonna go hike the PCT.” Hehikedapproximately 650 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail before returning home.
By the time Nathaniel returned to MSU, the Fall semester was well into session. Unsure of whether he wanted to return, Nathaniel talked to an advisor. The advisor pointed Nathaniel toward sociology and provided a class schedule which placed him only three semesters away from graduation. Realizing how close he was to a degree,Nathaniel decidedhe needed to finish.
Nathaniel isintent on graduating with a bachelors in sociology, a field that he finds incredibly interesting. Nathaniel states that he loves sociology’s “grey area, [he likes] social interactions and knowing why people do certain things.” He states, “it’s fascinating.”
Nathaniel’s take-away is overall, a positive one. “I would definitely endorse time off, it definitely helped me reassess what I wanted to do, recharge, and get going and [The Office of Return-to-Learn] was just a great help in getting back into the swing of things. I went from feeling all alone to having the support and people who really do want you to succeed. It really was an encouragement.”
When we asked him about his experiences returning to school Paul, a Return-to-Learn Scholar who recently graduated with a degree in kinesiology, stated that he was grateful for the time off, “It was those experiences that led me to doing what I’m doing now. My ability to coach and connect and work with people has a lot to do with my background.”
Paul first attended college to give his father, who had recently received a concerning medical diagnoses, peace of mind “because then at least he’ll be there knowing that his son is going to college.” After his dad passed, Paul and his mother moved from Arizona to Bozeman.
One year after transferring from college in Arizona to MSU, Paul decided that he wanted to play college basketball, shifted his life back to Arizona, and began playing for a community college. However, at the start of his first game, right before taking his first step onto the basketball court, Paul had a staggering realization—he didn’t want to play basketball anymore.
Paul spent some time on the ski slopes of Arizona before transitioning back to Montana to actively pursue a skiing career. Looking back, Paul declared “I was going to be in the magazines and in the movies. . . skiing took over my entire life.”
Several years later, Paul did well in his first competition and entered the season in a promising way. Even though he had recently returned to MSU for architecture, Paul told his teachers, “I’m in a unique situation, I don’t know if I’ll ever have this opportunity again” and left MSU a second time. Paul began living his dream alongside the rise of fat skis, sports films, and Red Bull.
Paul returned to MSU for the third and final time to earn a Kinesiology degree after a successful skiing career.
When asked about the The Office of Return-to-Learn Paul stated, “I have always looked at the program as people in a department that want to help people who didn’t have a clear path, or an easy path, to the finish line.”
Paul’s background helped him open Epic Bozeman, a gym in town. “It was those experiences that led me to what I’m doing now. My ability to coach and connect and work with people has a lot to do with my background.”
|Francesca recently graduated with a degree in liberal studies. When we asked Francesca
about The Office of Return-to-Learn she stated, "Everyone I’ve worked with [at The
Office of Return-to-Learn]; their hearts are in it and everyone’s passionate about
helping new students.”
Francesca began her journey at MSU with the intention of earning a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies. As Francesca neared graduation, her family split and the possibility of continuing life in the house she occupied during her internship,became nonexistent. Francesca simply couldn’t afford to come back to Bozeman. Shepersevered, found a place to live, and began finishing her last semester.
Overwhelmedwithstressand a week away from completing her bachelors, Francesca wasn't able to turn in several of her final papers—failing some of her required courses. Following theend of thesemester,Francesca declined to continue her education despite her hard working, scholarly nature anddevoted herself to her personal life.
At the same time, Francesca began to work for Little Big Horn Community College as a manager for a program titled “The Green House Project”. Francesca worked hard and became indispensable to the program. Later, as the Green House Project’s grant money fizzled out, Francesca was immediately picked up by the Office of Public Instruction on the Northern-Cheyenne reservation as the School-Community Liaison. “I believe they hired me because of the achievements intheGreen House Projectand for myskills incommunity outreach,” Francesca stated.
Francesca excelled as a Liaison. So, when the school improvement grant that she was workingonended, Francesca was offered a permanent position with the school district. However, Francesca’s priorities remained rooted in Bozeman. By the summer, Francesca was back among the community that her daughter and she had grown to love during their time at MSU. Francesca applied to and became employed at MSU as the Graduate Program Coordinator for Native American Studies.
Several years later Francesca appliedfor, andwas acceptedinto,the Return-to-Learn Program as areturning scholar.
Francesca states, “Everyone I’ve worked with [at The Office of Return-to-Learn]; their hearts are in it and everyone’s passionate about helping new students so I’m just really grateful for that.”
Jack, an Environmental Design majorwho graduated in May 2018, stated this about the Return-to-Learn Program, "Return-to-Learn has me feeling greatly appreciated at MSU. I am a Senior set to graduate in the spring and need all the encouragement I can get!
I am very excited by this opportunity and want to thank R2L for all the support!"
| When we asked Trevor why he returned to school he stated “Mentally, I was really like not stimulated by my former job. It was a lot of fun
but like cerebrally I was just sort of bored all day. now I go to school and, you
know, I’m learning about new equations and reactions and behaviors and all kinds of
stuff so it’s something new every day. [School] usually sparks my interest where I
want to like google something outside of class, you know, and just figure out more
of what’s going on.”
After many twists and turns in Trevor’s life he found himself unable to continue his college studies. He spent the next several years as a scuba diving instructor, as a backpacking guide, and then as a barista at Starbucks before finally becoming a guide for the Wilderness Treatment Center in Kalispell.
While Trevor enjoyed helping people like him, who suffered from similar dependencies, as a wilderness guide he was frustrated by a lack of upward mobility. “[I] realized that I was going to be doing the same thing, taking orders from the same people for the rest of my life and I felt like I had more potential than that.” Trevor continued, “Mentally, I was really like not stimulated by my former job. It was a lot of fun but like cerebrally I was just sort of bored all day. Now I go to school and, you know, I’m learning about new equations and reactions and behaviors and all kinds of stuff so it’s something new every day. [School] usually sparks my interest where I want to like google something outside of class, you know, and just figure out more of what’s going on.”
Trevor is now chasing a dream that began to develop after he re-committed himself to school during his transfer to MSU. Trevor is studying applied psychology and plans to attend medical school. Originally, Trevor believed that he would return to school as a C student, but he surprised himself. Trevor states, “I never-ever thought that I would be a straight A student, I don’t think I’m smarter than other people. I think I work a lot harder than most people.” When it comes to helping others and achieving his dream, Trevor won’t be taking no for an answer.
When asked about The Office of Return-to-Learn Trevor states, “Every interaction I’ve ever had with all the staff at Return-to-Learn has just been like, people genuinely wanting me to succeed. . . There, I feel a lot of compassion and understanding.”
|Randall recently returned to school to take the next logical step in his career. When
we asked Randall about education he stated “You can always learn something new. I've been a welder, I've been a heavy equipment
operator, I've done carpentry, I built my first house when I was thirteen; nobody
ever told me that I could only be one thing, so I started getting into everything."
Randall was ready to pursue his dream. Excited to transfer from junior college to MSU, he stated “I've always wanted to be an engineer. Just when I was younger I was never patient enough, just couldn't sit still. Just to sit and think about stuff.”
However, three years into his degree, Randall was drawn away to care for his wife after a difficult surgery. A year later, Randall returned to finish his degree in electrical engineering and his minor in computer engineering.
During his school internship, Randall wrote computer code and created fiber optic pathways for a private military company. Randall states “It was quite an experience but that was probably the best experience being at school here. You know everybody's going through the same thing, doing all the same math, and all the late nights, same exams—getting that experience is probably what separates everybody.” Randall is proud of the practical knowledge that he gained and lasting impact he had within the company—they still use lines of his code today.
Randall’s hope arises from a deep belief in the power of personal effort. He states, “You can always learn something new. I've been a welder, I've been a heavy equipment operator, I've done carpentry, I built my first house when I was thirteen; nobody ever told me that I could only be one thing, so I started getting into everything." Randall, a husband and father of 4, plans to harness his past experience as a welder, mechanic, and hardworking student to become an engineer.
|Roper recently returned to MSU to pursue a career in counseling. When he speaks about
returning to school he states “going back to school means stepping away from a lot
of other things-ittakes a lot of time so this [community] makes that first step a lot easier.”
After two decades away, Roper returned to MSU to finish his degree in literature and pursue a career in counseling.
Roper returned to college numerous times before he decided to continue to follow his entrepreneurial life. “In the early ‘90s I went back to MSU to get a literature [degree] with the intention of going to law school and at some point, and it’s hard to exactly recall why I did it, I just decided I did not want to go to law school. I had a photo business that was starting to really take off,” Roper said, remembering his decision to leave MSU.
To initiate his return, Roper promptly made an appointment with an advisor in the English department. Many of the classes that Roper had taken in the ‘90s no longer existed. The requiremens for a literature option had changed considerably. Fortunately, after some deliberaton and exceptions, Roper’s advisor told him that he would be able to obtain his bachelor’s degree in just one semester. Sixteen credits later, Roper graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Literature. He then began studying for the GRE. Roper wasn’t just ready to start something new—he’s ready to finish it as well.
Accepted into the Graduate School at MSU, Roper is pursuing a master’s degree in counseling. He believes his investment into education is worth it. According to Roper, “we have a growing level of working poor that can’t afford health care [in Bozeman]- that can’t afford mental health care. You look at places like Community Health Partners and [they] are, by all accounts, just jammed. They’re just jammed. There’s just not enough help to go around.” Roper emphasizes that it is important to “…go into this final phase of [his] life and feel like [he] gave something back.”
When Roper speaks about the Office of Return to Learn, hentions the community that R2L offered him while pursuing his bachelor’s degree. Roper says “going back to school means stepping away from a lot of other things- it takes a lot of time so this [community] makes that first step a lot easier.”
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