Leslie Jones-Steele, 57, is a junior at UCA enrolled in online courses and majoring in Professional Writing with a minor in Communication.
Steele was never able to attend college after high school due to her busy work schedule and life circumstances, even though she graduated at the top of her class.
For 23 years, Steele worked for the same company where she was awarded numerous sales and services awards, but when her supervisor retired, she was let go.
She had a decent online portfolio and several years of experience but when applying for a new job she quickly realized that she needed a bachelor's degree if she ever wanted to find a job in her field.
“I was submitting online applications one night around midnight. After submitting one, I immediately got an automated reply letting me know that my application had been received,” Steele said, “About five minutes later I got another automated email telling me that my application was not selected for further consideration. The only reason that could be was because I could not check the “bachelor’s degree” box.”
Upon realizing that a bachelor’s degree was vital if she wanted to work in her field again, Steele decided it was time to go to college.
Steele married for the first time at age 52 to a disabled veteran whose military benefits were what allowed her to further her education.
Living in Atkins, Steeles first choice was to attend Arkansas Tech University.
Upon entering college though, she realized how difficult it was to go back to school after all those years.
With strictly online classes, she felt even more removed from the college experience and with ATU not having a technical writing program, she made the switch to UCA.
Steele said, “I think the several years I was out of school probably made for a more difficult transition back to school than traditional students have, but I also think the life experience I bring back to classes with me has been very beneficial.”
Steele says she prefers online classes and likes that she does not have to drive to school, and because she is a non-traditional student, she doesn’t miss the lack of social interaction with her peers.
“I’m thinking that traditional students may feel so stressed out that many just want to pass the classes and don’t have time to really appreciate what they have the opportunity to learn, but I could be wrong. I just know that I’m finding my classes so interesting, and I don’t think I would have felt the same way when I was 18” Steele said.
Comparing her life choices to that of a road with many exits, Steele says that because she couldn’t see what lay ahead at the end of an “exit”, she passed on it and continued to travel down the same road.
Once she had passed so many exits or opportunities, she found herself feeling like a victim of her own life choices when the opportunities began to dwindle.
“If I could do it all over again, I would have taken some of the early exits knowing that if they didn’t work out, I could always get back to the main road…maybe try the next exit” Steele said.
Steele is happy to be back in school and enjoying all the learning opportunities she now has.