U.Va. provides opportunities for older students

School of Continuing and Professional Studies serves learners in and out of the classroom


“Our goal is to serve adult and nontraditional learners [and] provide them with higher education options for the 21st century,” Dean Steven Laymon said. 

Courtesy University of Virginia

We tend to think of college as the liminal period between adolescence and adulthood — the time after teenagers leave their homes and venture into oblivion and the new life ahead of them. However, some don’t follow this conventional path, choosing instead to enter the workforce before pursuing a degree. Experience compels these adults to seek further education, matching professional knowledge with classroom-based comprehension. With the University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, these adults have found opportunities to delve deeper into the college life we often overlook. 

During the 2016-17 school year, the SCPS served over 2,000 adult learners, providing access to education that synthesizes scholarship with professional experience. Comprised of 123 faculty members, 18 certificate programs and a post-baccalaureate pre-med program, the SCPS provides a range of interdisciplinary curricula. Subjects include Business and Health Care Management and Information Technology. 

SCPS Dean Steven Laymon supplies instructors with resources necessary to operate the diverse programs, from a managerial basis and an individualized one. The result is stimulating interaction with students while also regulating the administrative realm of the programs. As dean, he is responsible for ensuring that the instructors guiding students through their courses can effectively translate their lived experiences into pedagogical instruction.

“We make sure that they’re skilled in their sector and effective at teaching,” Laymon said. “We look for people who are accomplished in their particular applied programs, but also people who can advise students, developing the relationships that students can benefit from in the classroom and their occupational landscapes.”

The programs within the SCPS have a multidimensional format, and they provide learners with a range of specialties, cultivating graduates with well-rounded educational and professional skills.  

“Our goal is to serve adult and nontraditional learners [and] provide them with higher education options for the 21st century,” Laymon said. 

Jane Paluda, the assistant dean for marketing and communications for the SCPS, oversees all forward-facing matters, ranging from publications to communications with prospective students, current students and faculty. 

“We serve adult learners by providing access to educational experiences that blend academic scholarship with workplace relevance,” Paluda said. “A large percentage of our students are working professionals coming back to school to either earn their degree or complete a certificate in order to enhance their skills, advance in their career or maybe even change their career.”

The amalgamation of academic scholarship and workplace relevance, as Paluda said, provides a unique mix of intellect and experience one may not receive by simply attending a lecture.

“Many of our students bring to the classroom their work experience,” Paluda said. “In their classes when they’re having discussions on various topics, they bring a wealth of background and experience in those classes that someone who is a traditional undergraduate student of 18 or 19 years wouldn’t have.”

Fran Bossi is the senior operations manager for the University’s Office of Undergraduate Admission and received a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from the SCPS in 2016. As overseer of the thousands of applications that flood into the admissions office, she had a different perspective when she decided to submit her own application for a place at the University.

Bossi found it difficult to balance her role as operations manager with her pursuit of a diploma, embarking upon a nontraditional class schedule throughout the years with courses comprised of art, sociology, world politics, history, literature and the judicial system.

“It was hard at times to balance work, school and home life,” Bossi said. “I only took one class each semester, so it took me six years to complete my degree. It also helps to be organized, determined and have a very supportive husband.”

Bossi felt the need to become a part of the University’s intellectual community, to challenge herself and strive for the education provided in the University’s programs designed for people of all ages, backgrounds and passions. 

“I am a very nontraditional student,” Bossi said. “I started my degree 40 years ago with an [Associate in Applied Science] in Accounting. I always regretted not finishing my degree, so when I came to U.Va., I decided it was time to do it.”

The SCPS offered Bossi — and the 1,500 alumni it has served since its founding in 1915 — the chance to take challenging yet stimulating courses, to step outside of their comfort zones and alter their points of view. 

“[The SCPS] works so well because all the students are all in the same boat trying to juggle all the things going on in their lives,” Bossi said. “Although we all come from different backgrounds, have different obligations, are different ages, the students tend to be very supportive of one another and work together.”

At the University, opportunity for educational growth and achievement lies in every lecture hall, in every classroom and in the intellectually stimulating atmosphere alone. Yet this opportunity is not exclusive, catering only to the traditional adolescents attending college out of high school. It is there for anyone with the desire to learn.

“Pursuing my degree at this point in my life was for me, not as a career goal,” Bossi said. “I was not sure my old brain could keep up with college courses, but then I remembered how much I love learning and that we should never stop looking for ways to expand our minds. [The SCPS] made my dream of earning my degree possible.”

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