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Catalyst for Change

01/11/2012

Growing up, Teresa Palano '13 of Pittsfield, Mass., gained a heightened awareness of non-traditional students as she watched her mother strive to earn her bachelor's degree, often times attending class with her. Now a non-traditional student herself, Palano wanted to do something to improve the educational experience for other such students.

A semester-long service learning project, required of a CORE Capstone course entitled "Service Leadership," taught by Dr. Myles Whitney, provided the opportunity.

"My service learning project addresses the needs of nontraditional students in the recruitment process, when they first arrive at the College, and in programs to support them on their journey at MCLA," Palano said.

The sociology major began her project by doing research and by interviewing officials in MCLA's advising, student affairs and learning services departments. She then formulated a survey that she handed out to non-traditional students, to get their opinions.

"My biggest goal is to increase the inclusiveness wanted by many non-trads I have spoken to on campus," Palano said.

While she accomplished what she set out to achieve, the project was only the beginning, Palano said.

"This is an ongoing project where the support of the administration, faculty and especially the students is crucial. Sustainability is one of the biggest issues. There have been other programs for non-trads in the past that did not continue because there was no one to keep them going. I hope to change that."

Although she set out to improve the college experience of others, Palano found the experience enhanced her own education.

"It has gotten me more involved in the MCLA community and given me new perspectives on that community," she explained. "My idea of who the non-traditional student is has expanded.  It used to be it was those who were over 24 years old who did not go to college right after high school, or who took a break from college to have families or work. Now you have students who are of traditional college age, but may have children or are already out supporting themselves in the world. 

"Many of the commuter students I met I feel also fall under the nontraditional student category," Palano continued. "It is amazing what you discover once you really apply yourself outside of the classroom."

Palano hopes to one day work as a life coach for those who need a practical way of approaching life. 

"One of the things I had to do when doing this project was really listen to what students were saying, so I could address their needs properly," she said. "This is an area where I have needed improvement. It is one of the keys to being a good life coach, so it was good experience for me."

The number of events and clubs on campus make it easy to get involved at MCLA, Palano said. She particularly enjoys going to plays and shows such as the Vivid Rhythms Festival. However, she says the best parts of her MCLA experience are her classes and her classmates in them.

"Many of my classes are discussion-oriented and I learn just as much from my classmates as I do my professors. I have made some great friends at MCLA."