When Rebecca Crescenti decided to move out of her career as an administrative manager she realized that what she really wanted to do was go back to college and finish what she had started after high school - before marriage and children took her on a different path.
With her children now firmly planted on their own paths - one in the Air Force, one a 2009 graduate from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on her way to law school in Chicago, and one a student at Merced College who plans to transfer to UC Merced to major in anthropology - Crescenti has returned to student life.
After earning her associate degree with high honors at Fresno City College, she transferred to UC Merced in Fall 2009 to major in literature and cultures , and minor in writing .
Finding her way back to student life after decades focused on career and family has brought Crescenti face-to-face with the unique challenges and culture shock that non-traditional students deal with on campuses across the country.
"As a non-traditional student it has been very difficult learning how to maneuver through the school system and the social system without taking it personally," Crescenti said of the differences in age, experience and interests. "During (new student) orientation I was told that as a parent I should go to another room."
Crescenti says every day she grapples with not fitting in, but the pros of being at UC Merced outweigh the cons.
"I chose to be in the situation, so it's up to me to make the best of it," she said. "I have to keep in mind that I'm not the only one, so I want to get people together to talk about what they're dealing with and use it as a strength instead of feeling isolated."
Determined to make the situation work, and recognizing that she is not alone in her struggle to find a niche for herself; Crescenti contacted other schools in the UC system to find out how they reach out to non-traditional students. From there, she was able to weed out what has worked and what hasn't. As a result, she is working to establish a re-entry club for students who are returning to college life after a long hiatus.
"The group is made up of people who listen to you when you need to talk," she said. "They're going through it with you."
For now, the meetings are informal. Members get together for dinner, walks and occasional hikes in Yosemite, which encourages conversation and connection.
"We're in the process of becoming a formal club, but first we have to get all the members in the same room at the same time," Crescenti laughed. "It's difficult with non-traditional students because we all have jobs, families, and well, non-traditional lives."
Crescenti is back where she wants to be and has the advantage of experience reminding her of that every day. This deep understanding is the driving force behind reaching out to other non-traditional students.
"There is no such thing as instant gratification," she said of the road to graduation, "and there is no guarantee at the end of the process. But it is worth it."