North Park University School of Adult Learning Helps Busy Dads Finish Degrees
The University's School of Adult Learning offers evening and online classes to busy students, including dads, who want to complete degree programs.
Dads testify to program's flexibility, faculty understanding, family support
CHICAGO (June 13, 2012) – Ramiro Medrano appreciates that he's been able to include his daughter in his classroom studies, and says his family life has been enhanced. Anthony Isla said his professors were understanding, and enthusiastically talks up his degree program with colleagues. Clinton Frank said convenience and family support helped him finish a degree, and he sees greater career opportunity with his longtime employer.
Thanks to North Park University's School of Adult Learning (SAL), all three dads have made substantial progress toward or completed bachelor's degree programs, each after years of on-and-off college study elsewhere. They have managed to balance the responsibilities of being fathers, employees, and students with help from their families and a program that works and is facilitated by caring and understanding faculty.
"This is at the core of why we have an adult-degree completion program," said Dr. Bryan J. Watkins, associate professor and SAL dean. "Education is important, and so are other priorities. We have to recognize that and offer a program that allows people to balance all of those." It helps that many SAL faculty have been adult learners themselves, experiencing the same pressures of being parents, employees, and students, he added.
Medrano is studying counseling psychology in SAL and expects to finish his degree in 2013. He is senior facilitator at Elk Grove Township Youth and Family Services Challenge Program, and volunteers at his church. Medrano and his wife are parents of a daughter, 9, and a son, 3, and the family resides in Mount Prospect, Ill.
More than 25 years ago, Medrano came to North Park University as a Young Life volunteer, and began to follow his call to youth ministry. Knowing of the University's Christian, multicultural, and urban core values, and recalling his earlier experience, Medrano returned to North Park with a group of youth he was working with, and challenged them to go to school in the city on a diverse campus. "Afterwards, I thought, 'it's time for me to go back and finish what I first started in 2006,'" he said. "If I'm asking students to come here, then I had to be part of the diversity of which I referred. I looked into SAL and I thought it was a great way to connect the dots." The SAL's evening classes were ideal, Medrano said.
Medrano's family life was enriched, too. "The sharing of caregiver responsibilities for my children with my wife has been a great blessing for me," he said. He was able to include his daughter in a psychology course exercise. In another course, he involved his children in learning about plant and animal life, and this summer Medrano will share jazz and classical music selections with his daughter, part of a musical connections class.
Medrano has participated in other University offerings such as the Sankofa program and the recent Justice Summit and Chicago Reload conference, things he's passionate about. And he may pursue a master's degree in social work. "I really have appreciated my time at North Park," he said, adding that he'd like for part-time adult students to have more on-campus opportunities.
Students can select from seven majors offered by the School of Adult Learning.
Isla learned about the North Park University SAL program when his wife, a bilingual teacher, got a notice in the mail for a continuing education program at the University. He knew about North Park, but never considered attending until prompted by the mailer to take a look. Isla had attended college in the 1990s, but stopped and went to work during the growth of the dot-com industry. The Islas are parents of three girls, ages 6, 3, and 1. He works in information technology in the Chicago Police Department. With support from his family and extended family, Isla entered the SAL three years ago, and recently earned a bachelor's degree in management information systems.
SAL professors were very much aware of Isla's family and work responsibilities. "They were accommodating. If you needed more time, they were understanding of the circumstances of an adult student," he said. Isla's North Park degree program was tough, but worthwhile. "There are easier routes to get your degree. I think North Park is more challenging than other adult programs. If you want to learn something, I definitely think North Park is the way to go."
Having a college degree to back up his IT experience has given Isla more career options, and he tells his police department colleagues about North Park's SAL whenever he can. Most need college degrees to advance in the department. "I've had this conversation with numerous people. I'm a big advocate for North Park University. I've always recommended it as a route to go to if you want to finish your degree," he said.
Frank, who attended many different colleges previously, earned a bachelor's degree in business administration after 18 months of study in SAL. He is a product manager with Grainger, Chicago, a company he's been with for 19 years. Frank lives in Grayslake, Ill., with his wife and two daughters, 14 and 5. He attended several SAL classes at the University's Grayslake satellite campus, and took others at the University's Chicago campus or online.
"I've been lucky enough to move up with experience and knowledge of the business," he said. "But in the last few years, I've been running out of runway without a degree. The competition was getting tough. Some people in my position have master's degrees, and I didn't want to miss an opportunity because I didn't have a degree." What attracted Frank to North Park was the University's Christian emphasis, small classes, and convenient satellite location, all with solid support from his family and colleagues.
The SAL's 7-week quad structure allowed him to complete two classes per semester. Knowing the instructors personally helped Frank remain engaged in school, even while he and his family attended to a close relative living out-of-town who was ill during much of that time, he said. Like Medrano, Frank was able to include his older daughter, who will enter college in a few years, in a strategic management class.
Frank may return to the University for an advanced degree, possibly an MBA. "If I'm going to work on a master's degree, I won't even look anywhere else," he said.
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