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Seasoned students add spice to Palo Alto's diversity

By Denise L. Johnson | Pulse staff reporter

Non-Tradational StudentsMary Recio, Maria Sampayo and Lawrence Romney are three of Palo Alto College’s typical students. They are part of an exclusive faction called the non-traditional or returning student. All three students have one major characteristic in common: they are all over the age of fifty.

Recio said, “I tried to get back into the workforce and couldn’t because I had no degree under my belt. No degree, no job.”

Both women said their support system is their family. Their children back them, and their biggest cheerleaders are their husbands.

“My husband made the suggestion that I return to school,” said Sampayo. “He seems to be happier about it than I am.  All my children are in college, as well as five granddaughters. My grandson is the only one who decided not to go back to school.”

Recio’s support group consists of her husband, sisters and even her daughter who is also a student at Palo Alto College.

Both women have received scholarships and grants that help with the cost of tuition, but the most difficult thing that both have had to deal with are Biology and Math, respectively.

“Biology has to be the worst,” said Recio. “I don’t like it, but it’s a class that I have to take. I’ve found tutors in the Science Lab that have really helped me get through this.”

Sampayo said, “Math is something that just overwhelms me, but thank God for the tutors in PASSkey. I tried the tutors in the Math Lab and it just didn’t work for me.”

Recio and Sampayo both belong to Chi Alpha Epsilon, an honor society here at Palo Alto.

“Sometimes I feel out of place, but when I see people my own age here, it makes me feel good about attending college,” said Recio.
Despite suffering a debilitating accident that caused Sampayo’s early retirement, she still keeps going.

“As long as my knees and back will let me, I’m going to continue going to school. I want my degree, and I’m going to get it,” said Sampayo.

Robert Aguinaga, Palo Alto’s administrative analyst, said the prime attendees are students between the ages of 18-21 with a small minority over the age of 50.

In Fall 2011 Palo Alto enrolled 167 students over the age of 51; 1,488 students between the ages of 31 and 50; and 3,181 students between the ages of 18 to 21. Education waivers exist for Texas students, but you have to be at least 55 years old to obtain them. Students 65 and older do have to pay tuition, pending class availability.

Lawrence Romney, a non-traditional student majoring in Agriculture with an emphasis on livestock will graduate in May of 2013.

“Farming is one of my passions,” said Romney, a Virgin Islands native. “I grew up on a farm with my grandparents on the islands. We had every type of domestic animal that one would normally have on a farm.”

Romney said the younger students that he has encountered since returning to school seem disinterested in their studies.

"I get the impression that they are not focused or expect the instructors to babysit and hold their hand instead of really trying to do the work themselves,” said Romney. “It’s almost as if they are lost. I hope they find their way.”

Romney, Sampayo and Recio are three examples of non-traditional students who have found success at Palo Alto College.