The countdown begins: only two classes remain for College of LifeLong Learning student Donna Bollinger. Starting with a cohort in 2010 that developed at the Chester County Intermediate Unit where she works as a fiscal assistant, Bollinger will graduate this December with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting. It has not been easy!
“My youngest was still in middle school and I had two [children] in high school back in 2010,” she remembers. She recounts how she had to drive her older daughters to high school, come back home and get her youngest ready for school and then put in a full day at work, keep the house running, make time for healthy eating and exercising—and still go to class and complete homework. She was taking classes year-round—when one class would end, the next one would begin.
At one point, Bollinger decided to switch from the cohort-based program to the traditional classroom format, and she began attending classes on campus. This slowed down her incredibly hectic pace, but she was still running from work to class and grabbing a salad or, if she had a 7:20 p.m. class, she would go home, make dinner and sneak in a quick 20-minute nap before flying out the door again. She would spend all day on Sundays cooking meals for her husband and children for the week.
Although her children are grown now and Bollinger has less responsibility for their day-to-day care, she still works full-time and is as dedicated to her classes as when she first began. She currently holds a 3.67 GPA. However, many of her classes challenged her beyond what she thought she could handle. She failed her first round of algebra and spent every lunch period the next semester driving to Immaculata’s Math Center for tutoring sessions that helped her pass the Algebra I requirement. She just finished a demanding online Spanish class and is really looking forward to an online drawing course!
Many students comment that they learn a lot about themselves during college, and Bollinger is no exception. What is a bit different is that Bollinger can explicitly state the direct benefits of her college education. One benefit is the fact that she is much more comfortable giving presentations. She remembers the first time she had to present in front of the class. “I was so petrified, I never thought that I would get over the fear.” However, after having to present many times since then, her fear started to abate to the point that now she is even comfortable getting up in front of her coworkers to present. She’s learned that people are not focusing on your flaws but on the issues—what do you have to tell them? And Bollinger has a lot to say and is passionate about her opinions.
Finding that many of her younger classmates were reluctant to engage in classroom discussions, Bollinger took the lead many times and continually interacted with the professors. She also found that when she first began her classes, she was spending 13 hours reading and re-reading her assignments, trying to comprehend what the professor wanted. Now, she has no trouble keeping up with her classwork and states that her reading and comprehension has increased unbelievably.
Now that she is almost finished with her degree, Bollinger would advise new students to not look too far down the road and just manage today. “Look ahead only as far as your current syllabus,” she says, laughing. From a practical perspective, she suggests that new students should keep organized. “I had every color highlighter that you could imagine, and a notebook that I would custom-create with a cover for each new class.” Her “survival list” for class included five pencils, food, bottled water and fruit.
Another more personal recommendation that Bollinger would offer younger classmates: use your education. Never shy about offering her opinion, she overheard her professor one evening after class ask a fellow student what she was going to do after graduation. When she heard the obligatory “look for a job” reply that seemed to hold little confidence or enthusiasm, Bollinger walked over and said to her classmate, “Let me tell you what—you have an Immaculata education, and it’s a very, very good education. You have the ability to do anything. Don’t cower back—push through and say, ‘I can do whatever I want.’”
Taking her own advice, Bollinger hasn’t let anything keep her from her goal of earning her degree. She is open to the new challenges and possibilities that her education affords her now. She is thankful to have had the educational experience and to know that she can persevere under the most stressful situations.