Graduating high school in the spring, entering college in the fall and working towards a bachelor’s degree at the age of 18 is the norm for starting students. The academic path is often different for parents, full-time workers, or veterans.
The extra responsibilities of non-traditional students can cause them to feel disconnected from the college community. The Adult Reentry Center of Cal State Fullerton took note and started the student organization, AWARE (Adults Who Are Returning to Education), during fall 2014, becoming an official club in spring 2015.
“I wanted to do something that would connect people more of my age,” said Ana Luisa Orosco, AWARE president. “Before AWARE, I always felt like an outsider. I couldn’t really relate to my classmates.”
Orosco, an accounting major, entered the workforce right after graduating high school and worked for 12 years before she decided to return to school to further her education.
“While I was working, I was trying to go to school in the evenings, one class at a time,” Orosco said. “That doesn’t get you anywhere, so I did that for almost seven years before I transferred to CSUF as a full-time student.”
Working full-time in the day and rushing to classes at night left club member Aura Gonzalez, 34, with little opportunity to engage in CSUF activities held throughout the day.
“I was just coming at night, and everything (on campus) was closed,” said Gonzalez, a sixth-year accounting major. “I was kind of disconnected from everything, from all the activities.”
The AWARE club was built to work around the non-traditional students’ busy schedules. Monthly meetings are held from 4 to 5 p.m. in University Hall in the WoMen’s and Adult Reentry centers. It provides resources for non-traditional students, including scholarship incentives, a quiet study space and aid in developing leadership skills.
“It gives you more information of what’s around the school and all the benefits that you may get,” Gonzalez said. “You might have just heard about it, but not really know what they really offer.”
AWARE is also a place to gain social support and the opportunity to network with other non-traditional students, said Jose Contreras, the Adult Reentry Center’s assistant coordinator and adviser of the AWARE club.
Junely Merwin, a first-year transfer student, heard about this social support through CSUF’s Guardian Scholars Program. The 21-year-old mother attended AWARE’s November meeting and shared her story.
“I was a teen parent in the foster care system not living a traditional family-oriented lifestyle,” Merwin said. “I am a young mom that faces different responsibilities from other youth my age that do not have children.”
Originally started as a “25 or older club,” AWARE has realized that a non-traditional student, like Merwin, can have more aspects than just age, Contreras said. AWARE welcomes any student who may be facing a non-traditional college experience.
“This is their last mile; they’re not going to get another chance,” Orosco said. “Whatever they did in the past, if it was good or bad, they cannot change that anymore. This is the time for them to change.”
Orosco hopes AWARE will become more than just a club, but also a support system for students.
“I wouldn’t like our AWARE people to be called members. I would like them to be called supporters,” Orosco said. “Anybody who wants to be part of this crowd is basically supporting us. They don’t have to join anything, they can just show up.”
As the semester comes to an end, the club will be hosting a “Bowling Social” on Saturday, Dec. 5 at the Titan Student Union’s Bowl and Billiards for its supporters.