Podcast 4: The Things I Learned as an Older Online Student

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In 2009, I went back to school to pursue a Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing. I’d already earned one master’s degree in Professional Writing from Towson University, but when I secured a full-time teaching position at Stevenson University after having a career and owning my own consulting firm, I needed a “terminal” degree to help me grow as a faculty member. After investigating several Ph.D. programs in communication, yet always knowing my passion is writing, I chose the terminal degree in Creative Writing. I also had small children and a husband with a demanding career, so the best option for me was an MFA. With my schedule of teaching full-time classes and raising my children, I selected the online program at National University.

It was very appealing as you looked at it from afar. I could still manage my day life of teaching during the day, picking up my children from school, helping them with their homework, getting them to activities, making dinner, and getting them to bed. After all of that, I would hibernate in my office and get to work, often working from 9 p.m. until 1 a.m., when I would then have to get up and do it all again.

For 20 months, I was a teacher, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a chef, a nurse, a taxi driver, and a full-time student. In some ways, I can’t believe I made it through that period of my life, and I honestly wouldn’t have if it were not for my husband. My constant cheerleader, he lifted me up and took over as needed. On the weekends, he took the kids out of the house for one day, while we saved the other day for family time. It was insanity.

But it was also life changing.

I earned that degree in Creative Writing, and it’s pushed me in ways I’d never been pushed before. I loved the program that National University offered. I learned things I never would have learned, and I became super organized with what I needed to accomplish each week. My professors were all knowledgeable and encouraging. I especially loved a course I took in Charles Dickens, and perhaps that course was what pushed me to write From Humbug to Humble, a sort of follow-up book as to what might have happened to Ebenezer Scrooge after he saw the ghosts in A Christmas Carol. You develop things that are close to your heart when you learn as an adult, that’s for sure. I learned how much I love writing and storytelling, and that I can’t imagine not having this outlet in my life.

One of the biggest takeaways for me as a student in the MFA program was that it made me a better teacher. From analyzing other students’ writings, I learned how to be a better evaluator and how to give the best feedback. It fostered stronger critical thinking skills and it exposed me to things I hadn’t been exposed to before. As a teacher now for 29 years, it was fun to be on the other side of it as someone in my 40s. I realized how much fun learning can be as an older person, and how we are the only ones who can put limitations on our ability to learn.

An oldie – Editing the novel I wrote in my MFA Program, Beneath the Mimosa Tree. After 20 years, I finally wrote it during the program and published it in 2012, nine months after completing the program.

The whole process made me a more curious person. I have so many interests, that sometimes I’m frustrated that I can’t participate in them all. I also love reading and writing, and I have to budget my time accordingly to be able to do both. Being in graduate school later in life helps you balance things out.

And finally, here’s the biggest lesson of what I learned as an older online student—learning is what you make of it. If you have the passion and the drive, it will be an incredible journey. I loved the guidance, but also the autonomy of being an online student. I had the discipline to schedule what needed to be accomplished each week, and I loved it. Checking things off my list is so inspiring, and I continue to do that to this day. People often ask me how I accomplish everything I do, and I tell them, it’s easy. It’s all about prioritizing what’s important.

Once you do that, whether it’s an assignment or a task for work, you begin to get accustomed to working in that manner, and you create your own system.

I’m so glad I went back to school for a second master’s degree. I never would have published my first book had I not enrolled in that program. For twenty years I had had a book idea in my head and I never published. But the push from National University to write a novel began a cycle that I continue to do long after I earned the degree.

I think that’s a pretty cool thing to learn.

Stay positive and bright,


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