SHERIDAN — It only took four months for Heather Prosser to realize what she wanted to do with her life.
For years, Prosser has been a stay-at-home mom, caring for her junior-high bound daughter. But when her family needed to bring in extra income, she landed a job at the Children’s Center located on Highland Avenue.
It was there that she found her passion for teaching.
“I love working with kids, I have always been very passionate about kids,” Prosser said. “Working in the day care, I realized that this is what I want to do.”
While she loves her current job and loves where she is at, she doesn’t want to just have “a job” anymore; she wants to have a career. So this fall, Prosser will begin her pursuit of a college degree in early childhood education so she can eventually become a lead teacher in a preschool classroom.
In her late 30s, and after taking many years off from school, Prosser will be one of the many nontraditional students at Sheridan College who will work toward earning an associate degree.
A nontraditional student defined by the National Center for Education Statistics is a person who pursues a post-secondary degree not immediately after college.
After attending orientation earlier this summer, Prosser expects to be one of the older students in her class. But luckily for her, she won’t be the only student who took a break between high school and college.
The average age of Sheridan College students is actually higher than one might think. Last year, the average student at the school was 24.67 years old.
“There were some other people my age (at orientation), which was nice to see,” Prosser said.
Phyllis Puckett, the assistant director of nursing at Sheridan College, is no stranger to working with nontraditional students. In her nursing program, typically one-third of the participants in her program are nontraditional students.
She said that typically they have both strengths and weaknesses. One of their strengths is the ability to multi-task.
“They mostly have the time management thing down,” Puckett said. “For a lot of those students, they already have family and jobs. Adding school on top of that is just one more factor that they usually do OK with.”
Puckett also said that nontraditional students’ interpersonal skills are also generally at a much higher level than their traditional classmates. Additionally, many nontraditional students have life experiences that are invaluable in the classroom.
But they do run into some roadblocks. Puckett said that even though they are generally better at time management, it still can be difficult for nontraditional students to add another responsibility to an already full slate of priorities. Plus, many of the students haven’t cracked a book in quite some time, which can be a barrier in itself.
Prosser admitted that the road to a degree is bound to be a little bumpy. She plans to maintain her full-time job as a preschool aide while she continues to care for her family. Prosser will be taking four classes this fall, some of which she will have the opportunity to complete online.
She plans to receive her certification in two years.
“I’m actually really nervous,” Prosser said. “I barely got out of school and now here I am almost 40 years old and I am about to go to college.”
Another obstacle Prosser is hoping to overcome is the financial aspect. Because she is married and she and her husband don’t fit many of the requirements, Prosser did not receive the financial help they had hoped.
But even if she does have some butterflies in her stomach and some final kinks to work out before the beginning of the school year, she is still excited about the opportunity to advance herself and her career.
“It doesn’t matter when you start, it’s better late than never,” Prosser said.