Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
March 21, 1997

Adult students seek faculty sensitivity

by Anne Dolan
It's the subtle things that sting a little, like referring to students as "kids," or selecting only evening events for extra-credit class activities. The growing "non-traditional" student population at Iowa State isn't looking for unreined freedom, just some sensitivity to their individual situations, says Stephanie Chervinko, program coordinator in the Office of Adult Learner and Student Commuter Programs.

Non-traditional students, she said, benefit tremendously from two things -- respect from teachers and classmates for their experience and flexibility in their daily schedules.

For record-keeping, Iowa State defines "adult" students as those 25 years or older. About 24 percent of the student body falls under that definition. Chervinko said her office relies more on students' life circumstances to identify "non- traditional." Included are single parents, those starting college after serving in the armed services, students returning to college after working for several years, students commuting from beyond Ames and others.

"We should question the assumptions we make about all our students," Chervinko said. "With non-traditional students, sometimes this is even more important.

"For example, in a history class, if we're talking about the Vietnam War, recognize that I may have fought in it. If I can't come to class because of sick children, don't make me feel like I have done something wrong. I want to be there. If you put something on overnight reserve at the library, give me an option if I don't come to campus every day. Can it go on the Web or at an off-campus location? And recognizing that I'm not on campus every day, don't schedule all your office hours on non-class days, and be accessible in other ways," she said.

"I would encourage faculty to be flexible without sacrificing the purpose or the rigor of the assignment. There are faculty who are doing great stuff," she added.

In making group assignments, some faculty members designate groups for students who don't live near each other and have limited time to work together. Computer assignments that don't require students to log on every day acknowledge that some students have limited access to computers. If a class must be canceled, it's helpful iflong-distance commuting students can call their teacher's audix to receive schedule changes. Providing daytime options for required seminars or special events gives alternatives to students who are unable to attend evening programs because of family, distance or jobs.

Chervinko said there are larger, university-wide issues that would help attract more non-traditional students to Iowa State. Options such as fast-track alternative degree programs, evening childcare and incentives in the faculty reward structure to teach evening classes could attract more non-traditional students, she said.

Resources on teaching non-traditional students are available in Chervinko's office, B6 Memorial Union, and in the Center for Teaching Excellence library. Faculty and staff also may consult with staff members in the Office of Adult Learner and Commuter Student Programs, 4-2364.

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